22 States Don't Have Ongoing Police Psych Evaluations; Colorado May Start
A slow clap for Colorado? Maybe. On Monday, December 21st, the board in charge of screening law enforcement officers will decide on whether to mandate that every enforcement applicant complete a psychological and physical evaluation, pre-hire and between positions. Shocker: this was not previously mandated in the state. Colorado, being the budding liberal state that it is, wasn’t exactly tossing guns at trigger-happy cops or having a free for all with bullet filled piñatas–there was still a pre-hire mandatory evaluation–but the terms weren’t as tight, and the repercussions not quite as harsh.
Under the new policy, “If a person doesn’t comply […] they’ve got the potential to not be allowed to be certified as a police officer,” says John S. Camper, Grand Junction, Colorado police chief. The future of this policy hinges on one word from Camper’s quotes, “potential.” Despite implementation, the new policy isn’t codified in state law.
Prior to Monday, all applicants had a pass an evaluation before hire, but post badge and gun, not much more. Hired cops could drift to new positions, rise up in police hierarchy, and swap city posts, without a question of mental standing. This would be cool and fine if policing was not a traumatic occupation, or if our brains were unchanging rocks. Unfortunately, to the credibility of a one-time psych evaluation, news media and the most basic science show neither to be true. Age and experience shift long-term psychological standing, and one pre-hire test is by no means an adequate assessment for a career as such.
Discrepancies aside, the new hiring policy is admittedly a positive step forward, in light of a steep increase in police brutality charges. It’s especially pressing in light of violent encounters like officer Timothy Loehmann shooting and the killing of Tamir Rice. Prior to the tragedy, Loehmann had been deemed unfit for hire, released from a prior position, and despite retrospective concerns, cycled into a new Cleveland position after passing another exam.
There’s still reason to doubt police reform and roll your eyes at weak legislation. At least 22 states do not mandate evaluations. Ohio seems to say eh to required mental evaluations, and that it “may” require them of applicants, but not always; New Jersey, which is making headway to reform, has postponed any obligatory testing until this June. This lack of enforcement is an easy loophole for municipalities low on candidates, one that allows applicants to be hired more easily. Even among states that do mandate psychological tests, there is no nationally standardized test, meaning the state-by-state standards shift every time you cross a border line. Big yikes.
Proper and enforced evaluations are definitely needed, but they are by no means the pot of gold at the end of a shining red, white, and blue rainbow of upstanding policing. Far from it, many officers pass some mental evaluations in flying colors and go onto commit terrible brutalities, such as in the case of Loehmann. His psych test wasn’t the exam to wave a little red flag, but his written cognitive exam was. He checked out psychologically, but his cognitive test raised concerns about his maturity and temperament. One seemingly compromised for a another, and he was given a new post.
Needless to say, evaluations of all kinds–psychological, cognitive, and every form of mental fitness–should be required, correlated, and standardized. Most importantly, as evident in the case of Loehmann, they need to be standardized and mandated to a caliber, to cut the reek of brutality coming from our police force. Hopefully, new Colorado legislation will help curb the stink.
Images via Fusion and LA Times.