RAPID CITY, S.D. - One of the most importance aspects of law enforcement may not be what many of us think it is. Agencies are increasingly recognizing the importance of psychology in effective law enforcement. Pennington County just recently hire a new psychologist.
Dr. Roger Belisle spends a great deal of time thinking about what happens out here, on the street, where there's sometimes sudden danger and the sudden requirement for quick thinking and good judgment. It's a lot to ask of anyone. That's why law enforcement agencies are turning more and more to people like Dr. Belisle.
"Because psychology does intersect a lot with law enforcement. There's a lot of applicability to the two
fields. And it really is underutilized. It only recently started to gain momentum," said Dr. Belisle.
So, the emotional status of officers is something that law enforcement agencies pay close attention to, and devote resources to. Pennington County's Human Resources Director Stephanie McCoy says the application of psychological resources plays a large role in her hiring evaluations.
"So I guess we've been, what I like to believe, ahead of the curve as far as understanding the importance of the psychological component and the mental well-being of our staff," said Stephanie McCoy, Pennington Sheriff's Office Human Resources Director.
A psychological evaluation is part of every hiring process. While it's the last step, it's not done just for the sake of the officers.
"They're going to be out there working autonomously with firearms and people and there's all kind of
potential, so there's also the public safety aspect that we have to make sure we're taking care of as well," said McCoy.
Dr. Belisle says, the application of psychology doesn't go away once the officer is hired. It's used in training to teach an effective approach to dangerous situations.
"As, for example, how an officer might read a situation and how they would interpret verbal and nonverbal cues to be able to not only assess, but anticipate risk so as to be able to mitigate that risk and avoid a potential unnecessary physical altercation," said Belisle.
But sometimes situations do turn physical and deadly. That's when officers often need help cooping with what they've seen and been through.
"They're out there because they are good people and they were selected because they're good people, and you know, they...it's easy for them to blame themselves," said Belisle.
"If deadly force is used, the officer is put on paid administrative leave so that there can be the proper
investigation of the incident, and also so that they can take a step back and deal with what they need to deal with," said McCoy.
That brings up one of the impressions the public often sees as the classic psychological characteristic of a law officer. Having a "thick skin." Psychologists have another term for it.
"Resiliency. And that is an individual's ability to be able to kind of, in laymen's terms, to be able to bounce back from a very difficult situation," said Belisle.
That ability to come to terms with the serious nature of what happens in the field may one of the most
important characteristics for a good law officer.
Dr. Belisle will also be playing another role, referred to technically as forensic psychology.
"Thing's like hostage negotiations, like assembling criminal profiles, assisting with investigations," said Belisle.
Dr. Belisle will also spend time with detectives out in the field. He hopes to make a significant difference in the work he does. He will be providing services to not only Pennington County, but other public safety agencies as well.