December 14, 2001

Psychiatry, police team up to assess new recruits

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Dr. David Shaffer

Psychiatry, police team up to assess new recruits

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s department of Psychiatry and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department are exploring the possibility of working together—a partnership that would benefit both the Nashville community and the department of Psychiatry.

Emmett Turner, Nashville’s Chief of Police, joined Dr. Howard Osofsky, professor and chairman of Psychiatry at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, and Marlon Defillo, Chief of Policy and Planning for the New Orleans Police Department, at a packed Psychiatry Grand Rounds recently, titled “Academic and Community Liaisons: Linking Psychiatry and the Police Department.”

Dr. Michael H. Ebert, James G. Blakemore Professor and Chair of Psychiatry, said that Osofsky and Defillo were invited to share details about their current partnership, and Turner, who has a strong interest in behavioral health, was invited to share his thoughts as the two departments consider how they might collaborate in the future.

“We look forward to possibly working with Vanderbilt to try to improve our department,” Turner told the group last week. Osofsky said his department has worked with the New Orleans Police Department since 1992 and has been reviewing all police department recruits since 1997—conducting about 1,800 evaluations in nearly five years.

When the LSU psychiatry department first began reviewing applications, the NOPD made the final decision about whether an application was approved or denied. But after an incident in which an off-duty woman police officer, whose application had not been recommended for approval, shot and killed two co-workers at a restaurant where she worked part-time, the department began letting the psychiatric department’s recommendation stand on its own.

“We put together a procedure, a quite remarkable procedure,” Osofsky said. “We evaluate all applications and our reports go to the police department with the recommendation that the applicants be either accepted or not accepted. Then we evaluate all police officers after they go through the police academy, when they’re out on the streets, and at the end of their first probationary year.

“The purpose of this procedure is to improve the quality of the recruits, to have a fair and expedient recruitment process and to ensure the continuation of a high quality performance,” Osofsky said. “The New Orleans Police Department went from being known for its corruption to being known for its high quality police department.”

When evaluations of new police officers result in counseling, some police officers have actually told the police department that they’re appreciative and that they feel like they are better police officers.

The psychiatry department is also involved with the police department’s Violence Intervention Program, a program that works with certain parts of the New Orleans community to reduce a child’s exposure to violence. “We’re working to decrease violence exposure, but also to decrease the effects of exposure to violence,” Osofsky said.

Defillo, who has been with the NOPD for 20 years, said that the pairing with LSU’s psychiatry department was welcomed when department administrators realized that poor quality recruits were being hired.

“In the 1980s we had basically been told to forget about hiring ‘A’ police officers, to just hire ‘C and D’ police officers,” Defillo said.

Citing the woman police officer who shot and killed the two restaurant workers, Defillo said, “had we been able to deny her hiring, we would not have been in the position we were in. Now, with the process we use, if Dr. Osofsky or someone in his department says the recruit is unacceptable, they’re unacceptable.”