Force Science News #84:
Readers Speak Out About Officer’s Mass Slayings
Readers speak out about officer’s mass slayings
In Transmission #83, we explored the nationally headlined incident in Crandon, WI, in which a rookie sheriff’s deputy and part-time municipal officer shot and killed 6 high school friends during a pizza party, including an ex-girlfriend who had rebuffed his attempts at reconciliation.
The involved lawman, Tyler Peterson, who later killed himself, was 20 years old and had been hired at 19 by both departments without pre-employment psychological screening.
Force Science News readers flooded us with comments. A representative sampling, edited in some cases for brevity and clarity follows. The opinions expressed are personal and are not official statements of the agencies involved.
Misguided politicians are part of the problem
Do I think cops should be at least 21…yes! Do I think there should be mental health testing…again yes. Is there an easy fix for Crandon, or future Crandons…No.
One area that needs to receive some of the critical comments are the state, county, and local elected officials. Police are tasked to do more and more…with less and less. Departments staffing levels are cut because elected officials generally believe they know how law enforcement works, many times based on TV or rumors, especially in small towns. Our officers are working more and more overtime and are denied vacations or other days off. Stress hits you at every level.
Budgets again come into play when the elected officials ask, “Why do we need a shrink to check someone out?” If you bring up Crandon…well, “That won’t happen here.”
Ofcr. Craig Kadinger
Columbus (WI) P
No money? No cops!
The excuse that “we can’t afford it” is frequently heard, regardless of whether the topic is psychological screening, better tactical and weapons training, or simply a new patrol car.
Jurisdictions that will not appropriately budget for law enforcement should not be permitted to employ police officers.
Sgt. John Converse
Rockville (MD) PD
Career-long counseling visits should be mandatory
Even large police agencies don’t do enough to weed out the unstable. Baltimore PD contracts with a psychologist to provide anonymous counseling at no charge to the officer. But attendance is only mandated after 3 reports of use of force in a 6-month period, or in the rare case when a supervisor thinks there is a problem with an officer.
The former leads to an under-reporting of use of force, and the latter can be used as a way of getting even with an officer the supervisor wants to get rid of. Too many trips to the psychologist equals an unstable officer, hence one that needs to be removed.
Regular mandated visits could detect problems before they hit the newsstands. As an officer ages and gets more exposure to the usual horrors of police work, psychological counseling and testing for fitness for duty should be as ubiquitous as in-service training.
PO John Scott (Ret.)
Baltimore (MD) PD Academy
A lot to learn at 19
I was hired by a small department when I was 19. At that age, I didn’t have the life experiences yet that would help me relate to the problems I had to deal with on a daily basis. It’s hard to help someone solve their problems when you never imagined things like that existed, never mind experiencing them for yourself.
You are exactly right about the pressures of policing in a small town. When I was 19, all my friends wanted to do was party. I couldn’t do that because I was under 21 and couldn’t break the law. They couldn’t understand and we drifted apart. I was left feeling isolated and alone. I’m just lucky enough to have gotten through it OK. I believe 21 should be the minimum age for anyone wanting to do this job.
Det. Sgt. Robert Brenzel
Scranton (PA) PD
Psyche testing is “spot on”
As a 30-year veteran who has worked worked for 5 years as the Hiring Officer for my department, I agree wholeheartedly with mandatory pre-employment psychological testing by qualified authorities. My department does this, and I’ve found that in nearly all cases, the assessment has been spot-on, either adding to or confirming information developed in background investigations. To neglect either of these areas is to invite problems.
Det. Steve Shake
Tacoma (WA) PD
“We become very good at lying”
No screening method is 100% effective, especially when we are talking about interviewing and testing cops. Cops, by nature, know the tricks and methods of deception very well.
I know of one officer who was depressed and having suicidal thoughts. When a fellow officer was speaking to him about this and threatened to have him sent in for an evaluation, the officer said he would just talk his way out of it because he knows what and what not to say. We become very good at lying.
Ofcr. Ben Johnson
Blaine (MN) Centennial High School
1-year academy training should be the bare minimum
We have to realize that given the complexity of the job and the multiplicity of tasks required of an officer, extensive training in basic academies is needed-a year, at a minimum. We are putting officers on the street unarmed when it comes to really knowing the law well enough to handle their tasks. When queried as to what is emphasized the most in the academies-knowledge, skills, or decision-making-almost all officers answer readily with knowledge and skills, with little of decision-making.
Yet we have learned that decision-making is critically necessary when it comes to the use of deadly force.
Gallagher-Westfall Liability Management Group
The seasoning of age
Granted there are those at 20 who have the maturity of a 40 year old, and there are those at 40 who are still fools. For the most part, though, young persons lack the good judgment and experience of those who are older.
For example, when I first started work in LE at age 21 I had very little concept of the problems parents have raising children. Not being married I did not understand how a husband and wife could actually get into a physical fight. I thought surely I could talk to a drunk and make him understand. And no one would hit me just because I was doing my job.
With age comes experience that allows us to view life from different perspectives and to draw strength from perseverance gained through the adversities that we ourselves have gone through.
Capt. David Davis
Pecos (TX) PD
What’s wrong with this picture?
1. In Florida, officers receive about 900+ hours of training; however, massage therapists receive over 1,200! Officers are expected to be proficient at a wider range of tasks with less training.
2. I think a military training model works, where recruits are put in the field, doing live-fire and mock-combat scenarios and other hands-on activities, so the drill instructors can observe how you behave, not just score on a test. This would help screen recruits and focus on areas needing retraining or warranting dismissal due to the inability to respond.
Det. Rey Coll
Professional Standards Coordinator
Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office
One man’s trash….
I’ve always found it interesting that we do not hire some people because of background problems and red flags on their psych evals, yet several months later I often will see those same people working full-time for neighboring agencies. This has certainly not done wonders for my confidence in the officers of those agencies!
Sgt. Mike Walsh
Rochester (MN) PD
What was in the offender’s behavior profile?
The decision to attack can evolve rapidly or over time. What indicators of grievance, ideation, planning, preparation, etc., were either noted or missed by those closest to this offender in the days or weeks leading up to this event? What was his profile regarding his level of confidence or fearfulness in making decisions outside of his area of expertise and his flair for the unpredictable end of behaviors (i.e., prefers spontaneity over planning, likes to shake things up more than keeping things calm and paced, resistant/resentful to correction or reigning-in by administration), as well as the impact of any recent management interactions on his decision-making behavior?
I believe he was acting out of some fear that was affecting his self-worth or sense of dignity and control over his world – a sense of loss.
Alice Guy, MA
VP, Assn. of Threat Assessment Professionals
Psych testing after a personal crisis is valuable, too
The content of your article is right on. Our department employees 15 full-time officers and 3 part-time. All department employees, telecommunicators included, receive psychological testing before employment. We have also used psychological testing after employees have been hired and experience some type of crisis in their lives, such as divorce (which sometimes combines with other job performance and anger issues).
This process has washed out many potential employees in the hiring process and assisted in dealing with problem employees by identifying potential psychological issues. We have placed some veteran officers back in field training to evaluate their interaction with the public.
I know this can be a costly resource issue for smaller agencies, but you cannot afford not doing this.
Dpty. Chief Jerald Paul
Columbia (IL) PD
“We must stop ignoring warning signs”
The personality disorders/mental health issues involved in this incident did not develop in the short time this young man worked for his department. They were there and had been there for a while, and it is fairly safe to assume a good test would have revealed traits that made him an undesirable candidate.
As LE administrators we must stop ignoring the warning signs or tolerating the mid-level supervisors who fail to intervene and document personnel who fail to keep their behavior within appropriate boundaries. Well-trained and professional supervisory staff can identify “early warning” signs and refer an officer to a fitness-for-duty evaluation.
As for the age, 19 is too young, period. I have a difficult time hiring 21- to 23-year-old candidates, with the exception of those who have a military service background. They often prove to be very na�ve and immature.
Undersheriff Paul Howell
Douglas County (NV) SD
A vote for 25
In my experience, the age limit for law enforcement should probably be at least 25, given the stress and responsibility and the standard we are held to.
Dpty. II Randolph Grimes
Alameda County (CA) SO
“A lawyer’s dream”
In today’s world of litigation, this incident is a lawyer’s dream and quite possibly a ticket to an early retirement. Has no one ever heard of vicarious liability?!!!
Being “cash strapped” and not doing a proper background and psychological is not going to be a good reason to any jury in the world. If these are command decisions, someone needs to re-evaluate who’s in command.
I started at a small department and I had to ride with a seasoned officer for 6 months before I was allowed to go it alone. And then I was shadowed on every call or traffic stop, regardless of how minor the call might be.
Det. J.R. Janek
Ashtabula (OH) PD
If you cannot purchase a handgun until you are 21, then why should you be able to become a police officer before then? It is scientific fact that part of the brain (lateral prefrontal cortex) in teenagers and young adults is not fully developed. This area helps us choose a course of behavior by letting us mentally assess the alternatives.
An officer has to make quick, on-the-spot decisions every day. Some of these will affect him/her or others for the rest of their lives.
International Code Council
What were they thinking?
My concerns would surround the individuals in the agency who trained, supervised, and worked with this officer. I am not blaming them but would ask questions relating to what they observed about a 19 year old that led them to believe he should be a member of a SWAT team.
We are professionals. We are to evaluate, train, and supervise those we are responsible for. And then, we are to evaluate what we observe, train again, and supervise those results.
Sgt. William Babcock
Santa Clara County (CA) SO
No easy answers
The issues raised are complex and the ramifications are extensive….
A prerequisite for pre-employment assessment of law enforcement candidates is the realization that the population to be assessed is non-clinical. Therefore, the only valid procedures will be those developed for assessing a non-clinical population. Very few psychologists have had training in how to perform such a procedure.
The critical task is to determine who is that relatively small percent of the non-clinical population suitable for police work. The task is complicated by the multivariate needs that exist in law enforcement services. The same criterion is not applicable across the entire domain of law enforcement. Criteria suitable for entry are not necessarily appropriate for supervision, administration, special operations, investigation, forensic science, and criminal intelligence.
Nor does pre-employment psychological assessment address sustained mental health for a police career. The human being is constantly changing. It continues to learn, and to modify behavior by adaptation. Therefore, assessment at one point in the life cycle does not necessarily have meaning to the performance of an individual at another point in the cycle….
If one were to utilize an understanding of human development and apply what is known about the maturity of various functions, processes, and traits, the most appropriate entry age would probably be 25. That age is most realistic for not only the maturity of the functions but, equally important, their integration and synthesis….
Donald Rossi, Ph.D.
Director, Behavioral Science Section (Ret.)
Michigan State Police
Written by Force Science Institute
November 3rd, 2007 at 7:24 pm
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.