Part 2: The Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Examination: What every police officer should know

By Laurence Miller, PhD
Police Psychologist

Final installment in a special PoliceOne series

In Part 1, Police Psychologist Dr. Laurence Miller explained the Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Exam, what may lead an officer to be directed to take one and what you can do to be prepare yourself for the experience.

In Part 2 of this series, Dr. Laurence explores the final report that follows testing and how the findings of the test may be used.


Ultimately, the examiner will prepare a report that will almost always first go to the referring agency. Again, there is no single universally format for such reports. However, following the IACP guidelines, Rostow & Davis, in their comprehensive volume on the subject, A Handbook for Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations in Law Enforcement , (Haworth Press: 2004) provide a useful and practical format for psychological FFD evaluation reports, which I outline here along with my own comments and suggestions.

The exact style and content of the report may vary according to the needs and preferences of the individual psychologist and police agency, but should contain the following basic elements:

Identifying data.

The officer’s name, identifying demographics, departmental referral identification, name of the evaluator, and dates of the evaluation.

Reason for evaluation.

This describes the main incidents, issues, and referral question(s) that have led the officer to the psychologist’s office. Although a wide range of data may be relevant to the individual’s overall psychological functioning, the focus of the evaluation itself should be relatively specific to the referral question at hand.

Sometimes, officers are referred without clear indications for why an FFD evaluation is being ordered (“He’s got an attitude problem”). In such cases, the psychologist may have to take responsibility for helping the referring agency refine its referral question (“What problematic behaviors is this officer showing that reflects his bad attitude?”).

Also, somewhere at the beginning of the report should be a statement that clarifies the issues of informed consent and the uses to which the evaluation findings may be put.

Background information.

The information in this section can be narrow, i.e. what took place during the arrest incident that led to the citizen’s complaint? Or broader, i.e. what has been the officer’s general experience and style of handling intoxicated or belligerent citizens or of dealing with people generally? Again, the scope and range of such background data are defined by their relevance to the referral question(s).

For example, conflicts with previous employers may be relevant; history of physical abuse as a child may not. Details of the officer’s dealings with drug suspects on duty may be pertinent if they affect his or her job performance; marital infidelities or weekend barhopping may not, if they have no impact on job effectiveness.

Clinical interview and behavioral observations.

Consistent with the importance of speech content, voice tone, eye contact, body language, and general appearance, much useful information can be gleaned about a subject from a good clinical interview. How the subject answers questions is just as important as what he or she says. Clinical status – anxious, depressed, delusional, angry, evasive, intoxicated, hung-over, angry, guilty, lackadaisical – can be determined most accurately only by a one-on-one interpersonal interaction with the subject. Another important feature of this interaction is to develop a rapport with the subject sufficient to allow accuracy of responding and test-taking.

Review of records.

Depending on the individual case, the volume of pertinent records can range from a few sheets of paper to literally cartons of documents delivered by truck (this is an occupational hazard for any forensic psychologist). Not all of these records may be directly pertinent to the present case, but I won’t know that until I’ve rolled up my sleeves and sorted through them.

For me, distilling this raw data down to a few paragraphs or pages that will summarize the main points useful for the reader, and then integrating this with the information gained from the clinical interview and test findings, is one of the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of report writing (Mark Twain once wrote, “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter”).

Psychologists should clear about the sources of the records they cite: they may be expected to justify every statement they make at a subsequent deposition or trial.

Psychological test findings.

Once again, there is no universally accepted psychological test battery for FFD evaluations, and each psychologist has his or her preferences (some use no psychometric testing at all), but there are certain standards as to what kinds of diagnostic issues should be addressed by these instruments. Some psychological tests are specifically designed for law enforcement assessment, while others are general tests of psychological traits that can be adapted to the law enforcement FFD referral question(s).

The basic areas that should be covered by these measures include: general intelligence; cognitive functioning (attention, concentration, memory, reasoning); personality functioning; assessment of mood (anxiety, depression); and screening for psychotic symptoms (delusions or hallucinations).

Some psychologists insert specific measures for malingering to gauge if the subject is being truthful in his reports and in his test responses. In this section, the psychologist should be sure to document both the actual test scores and their interpretation. For example:

    “A full-scale IQ score of 103 on the WAIS-III places this officer’s overall intelligence in the average range.”

    “A T-score of 86 on the Psychopathic Deviate scale of the MMPI-2 suggests high impulsivity and a characteristic disregard for rules and authority.”

Conclusions and discussion.

This is where the psychologist puts it all together. This section should be a succinct summary of the main points relevant to the FFD question(s), with documentation of the examiner’s reasoning on each point. For example:

“Psychological test findings are essentially within normal limits, with the exception of a tendency to disregard rules and conventions and to responding impulsively under stress. This is supported by the officer’s statement that, ‘If I know the SOP is wrong, it’s my responsibility to do it the right way, isn’t it? If I try to go through channels and make any recommendations to the brass, they just blow me off. That’s why I went ballistic in the lieutenant’s office when he told me I could be suspended.’

This is further corroborated by records indicating three prior disciplinary actions in his present department, and at least one prior suspension in his previous job.

“Overall findings are consistent with an officer of average intelligence, no major mental disorder, high ability and skill in certain job-related areas (firearms and vehicles), but with a long-standing tendency to disobey authority and respond impulsively, but not violently, under conditions of stress.”


This is perhaps the most challenging section of the report, because here the psychologist has to boil down his or her findings to a specific set of recommendations that will affect this officer’s future life and career. Again, although there is no one standard model for expressing this, the protocol of alternatives offered by Rostow & Davis (2004) is both psychologically valid and practical:

    • Unfit for duty. The officer is unfit for duty and is not likely to become fit in the foreseeable future, with or without psychological treatment. Examples include the effects of a traumatic brain injury, a longstanding severe personality disorder, or a substance abuse problem that continues to get worse.

    • Unfit but treatable. The officer is currently unfit, but appears to be amenable to treatment that will restore him to fitness in a reasonable amount of time. For example, a depressed, alcoholic officer agrees to enter a 12-step abstinence program, attend psychotherapy sessions, and take prescribed antidepressant medication as needed. Following the recommended course of treatment, the officer will usually be referred for a post-treatment evaluation. The recommendations of that evaluation may include maintenance of abstinence and continuation of psychological treatment in some form, or the officer may be discharged from treatment with recommendations to follow up as needed.

    • No psychological diagnosis. There is nothing in the results of the psychological FFD evaluation to suggest that the officer’s unfitness for duty is related to a mental disorder or mental heath diagnosis. In such cases, the officer will usually be referred back for administrative coaching or counseling, further education and training, or disciplinary action (see article on Police Discipline). We psychologists sometimes need to remind ourselves that people can exhibit lousy behavior for any number of self-serving reasons without having to peg it to a psychological “disorder.” When that’s the call, we need to make it.

    • Invalid evaluation. The officer has failed to cooperate with the evaluation, has not been truthful, and/or has shown malingering or other response manipulation on psychological tests. This can range from an officer sitting in stony silence, arms crossed, opening his mouth only to say, “I’m not saying nothing to no damn shrink without a lawyer;” to a subject waltzing into the exam all smiles, talking a blue streak, telling a long and involved tale of woe (“I was framed!”) and working just too damn hard to ingratiate himself with the evaluator.

    Alternatively, the subject can behave appropriately, but his account doesn’t jive with the records. Or the test findings are inconsistent and invalid.

    Again, aside from a few psychometric indices on some tests, malingering or response manipulation is often not something that leaps off the page and identifies itself, but has to be carefully teased out, put together, and documented by the evaluating psychologist. This, too, is part and parcel of a competent clinical evaluation and good report-writing skills.


One of the purposes of an FFD evaluation is to make recommendations for education, retraining, counseling, or treatment. This topic is treated in detail in a separate article.

To summarize, the best use of an FFD is to help find ways to salvage and rehabilitate a problem officer. Humaneness aside, it is much more costly to train and supervise a new officer than it is to rehabilitate an established one. For this reason alone, discipline and dismissal should be a last resort. More importantly, law enforcement agencies who treat their officers fairly reap dividends in terms of morale and enhanced performance.

Ask the Doctor

Have a question, comment or topic you would like to see covered by Police Psychologist Dr. Miller? E-mail him directly or call him at: (561) 392-8881.

About the author

Laurence Miller, PhD is a clinical and forensic psychologist and law enforcement educator and trainer based in Boca Raton, Florida. Dr. Miller is the police psychologist for the West Palm Beach Police Department, a forensic psychological examiner for the Palm Beach County Court, and a consulting psychologist with several regional and national law enforcement agencies. Dr. Miller is an instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute of Palm Beach County and at Florida Atlantic University, and conducts continuing education and training seminars around the country.

He is the author of numerous books., his latest being Practical Police Psychology: Stress Management and Crisis Intervention for Law Enforcement (Charles C Thomas, 2006) and the forthcoming Mental Toughness Training for Law Enforcement and Street Psychology 101 from Looseleaf Law Publications .


Author’s disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to provide specific clinical or legal advice.

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