Home Introduction to psychology APPLYING PSYCHOLOGY TO POLICING


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We have discussed behaviour-genetic influences and environmental influences. The .unit on it also served to introduce us to other units in this course. You can now explain what we mean by ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’. In addition, you can explain the relative influences of nature and nurture on human behaviour. It is now time for you to study another interesting and practical unit: Applying psychology to policing. We will now consider what policing involves. Let us take a look at what other contents you should learn in this unit as specified in the objective below.


By the end of this unit, you should be able to:
provide examples of how psychology can be applied to policing the environment.


3.1 What Policing Involves

In the previous units, we have seen some of the ways in which psychologists conduct their research and gather information. We have noted that only by carefully considering internal and external factors can we hope to understand or offer explanations for human behaviour. We have also seen that theories and research findings can be applied to many everyday situations. Throughout this course you will encounter a great deal of information that you can reflect upon in explaining your own and others’ behaviour.

One of the areas to which psychology can be applied is policing. A great deal of policing involves interacting with others, be they citizens in distress, witnesses, colleagues, suspects or whatever. Psychology can be of great benefit in helping police officers understand human behaviour and so deal with others in a more effective way.

Policing involves the use of a. wide range of skills, and over the years police organizations in Nigeria have built up array of techniques that help their officers do their job. There is the need for police officers to accept that psychology can be of benefit to individual police officers and to the organization. Police psychologists may, for example, offer advice on the selection of the most able candidates for promotion, or help counsel those who have been traumatized by particular incidents, and so on. They will also be able to help with a number of practical policing tasks including hostage negotiation, interviewing of witnesses and suspects, and even offender profiling. It is important for you to note that even where police forces do not employ psychologists directly, there are many areas of applied psychology that will be of great benefit to officers within the service.


Describe how you will persuade police officers in your state of origin that psychologists can offer valuable help and understanding.

Let us go on with our discussion. Having read this unit, it should be apparent that psychology can be extremely useful when applied to the area of policing. Remember that psychology can never be a substitute for knowledge about the law, powers of arrest, and so on, but it can add to other knowledge and hopefully improve individual officers’ effective and efficient functioning within the society.

3.2The Psychological Consultant

Most psychologists who work with law enforcement agencies act as consultants. The degree to which a consultant can be effective in police work depends a great deal on who the consultant serves and to whom the consultant reports. If the consultant has been retained and have initial contact with upper management; there will probably be a good deal of involvement in organizational diagnosis and development issue. The higher the level of interaction, the more likely the psychologists will be evaluating the department’s states and making recommendations for problems solving. This might include such issues as poor upward communication among negative discipline.

It is important for you to note that every consultant can expect a good deal of initial caution and hostility on the part of the people he or she works with. Suspicion and distrust may accompany the stereotypes on both sides of the interface. Remember that openness and sensitivity are required, and the psychologist must readily present these qualities. An attitude of humility and willingness to listen is helpful. The psychologist working as a consultant must be willing to accept and tolerate the slowness of change commonly found in bureaucratic institutions. One of the most important attributes for the consultant is patience (Reisen & Klyver, 1987).

If possible, the consultant should report directly to the chief. By having a close association with the highest possible level in the organization, the consultant can obtain the support necessary to effect recommendations involving change and innovation. The advantages and disadvantages of a psychologist serving as a consultant might be summarized as follows: Advantages

  1.  Autonomy and distance can be maintained 
  2.  There is somewhat less bureaucratic interference with the psychologist’s job 
  3.  There is a minimizing of dual relationship problems 
  4.  It is easier to maintain confidentiality 
  5. There are fewer pressures for the psychologist to be all things to all people. 
  6. The psychologist has the opportunity to serve other agencies 
  7. It allows for the introduction of broader applications and newer psychological techniques. 


  1. A ‘distance’ or a barrier between the psychologist and the staff tends to exist because the law enforcement officers form a ‘closed society’. 
  2. The range of services is generally capped at the narrowest level, for fiscal and administrative reasons. 
  3.  Psychologists rarely get complete feedback on the services they provide 
  4.  There is less opportunity for research 
  5. The psychologist is viewed as an outsider and in some instances does not get the full story as to how and why services are being requested. (The Open University of Hong Kong, 2001) 


To whom should the psychological consultant report? State reasons for your response.
Well done, let us continue.

3.3 The In-House (Staff) Psychologist

The psychologist who is a staff member in a law enforcement agency has certain advantages as a member of the establishment. There is a ready access to confidential personnel information. The psychologist acquires credibility and confidence as member of the department.


  1. Salary is predictable. 
  2. There are health and retirement benefits. 
  3. There is a sense of identification and involvement with the organization. 
  4. The Psychologist knows the clear-cut lines of authority and his or her responsibilities. 
  5. The psychologist learns the unspoken and unwritten rules that are practicalised. 
  6. It is easier to initiate new kinds of services, by first exploring them informally. 
  7. The psychologist is able to develop a network that helps in dealing with conflicts and opportunities


  1. The psychologist is a staff member subject to the bureaucratic stresses
  2. and the anatagonisms of entrenched staff members who may feel threatened by ‘psychology’ 
  3. The staff member may be overwhelmed with requests and demands for 
  4. service far beyond his/her realistic capabilities. 
  5. Along with other law enforcement staff members, the psychologist is 
  6. subject to a host of minor criticisms and resentment. 
  7. Continual stresses and pressure occur as the psychologist deals with 
  8. expectations and demands of staff members that may involve serious ethical dilemmas. 


In this unit, you have learnt what policing involves. You have therefore learnt that the psychologist may be a consultant in police organizations. We also learnt the advantages and disadvantages of the psychologist who is a staff member in a law enforcement agency.


  1. What you have learnt in this unit concerns what policing involves. 2. In some cases this will involve a psychologist working within the organization, but in others it may involve psychological theories and principles being incorporated into the training of police officers at various stages. 


  1. . List any 4 groups of citizens with whom the police interacts b. State one specific instance in which psychology may be of use to the police c. Mention 2 advantages and 2 disadvantages of a psychologist as a consultant 


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