How to Become a Police Psychologist

Police psychology applies psychological principles to law enforcement and public safety. Police psychologists employ a wide range of behavioral science techniques when conducting criminal investigations, and may even perform psychological autopsies in an effort to reconstruct what a person was thinking, feeling, or doing before he or she died. The duties of a police psychologist are varied, but might include: conducting psychological screenings of law enforcement personnel before they are hired or brought onto special squads; conducting psychological evaluations of current law enforcement personnel to determine whether they are fit for duty; working in hostage negotiations; or providing stress counseling in law enforcement environments, according to a description of the profession in the Handbook of Police Psychology.

In addition, all branches of the armed forces employ clinical and industrial-organizational psychologists, providing ample employment opportunities beyond police psychology, according to an American Psychological Society career profile.

What degree is required to become a police psychologist?

Aspiring police psychologists generally have a background in law enforcement and pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology to meet licensure requirements for professional practice of psychology. Students looking for a traditional or online degree for police psychology will be hard-pressed to find one, although many degree programs are available in the closely related area of forensic psychology. Students who do not enroll in police psychology online degree programs often take selected elective courses in areas of police psychology during their graduate training in clinical psychology.

The Society for Police and Criminal Psychology (SPCP) maintains a great list of master’s and doctoral programs that are either related to police psychology or that offer course work in police psychology. While not required to enter the profession, you may seek board certification in police psychology through the SPCP, which awards the Diplomate in Police Psychology to those who hold a doctoral degree in professional psychology, are licensed to practice psychology in their state, and who complete the necessary written and oral examinations. This credential may make you more attractive to employers who are seeking to hire someone with proven expertise in police psychology.

How long does it take to become a police psychologist?

After completing a baccalaureate program, students must commit 12 to 18 months to a master’s program in psychology. For example, the Adler School of Professional Psychology’s master’s in police psychology program allows students to graduate from the program in 18 months if they take two courses per semester. In addition to a master’s program, students must commit four to seven years to a doctoral program in professional psychology.

Doctoral degrees are lengthy programs because they incorporate rigorous course work, comprehensive exams, dissertation research, and a year-long internship. These are essential components of any psychology program because they prepare students to meet state licensure requirements. To become licensed to practice professionally, you must have a doctoral degree in psychology, completed an internship, one to two years of professional experience, and passed the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What is a police psychologist’s salary?

The median yearly salary for psychologists was $68,640 in May 2010, according to the BLS. That breaks down to $87,330 for industrial-organizational psychologists; $66,810 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists; and $89,900 for all other psychologists, the BLS reports. The BLS does not provide data specifically for police psychologists, but you can get a good idea of your potential salary by considering the salaries of psychologists across the board. Keep in mind that no particular salary is guaranteed, and salaries vary a great deal depending on the part of the country you live in, the size and type of your employer, and your level of experience.