Last week, California’s Alameda County Sheriff found that 47 of his deputies had failed the psychological evaluations required for their police hires. This came to light after the department reviewed the background of a deputy arrested on suspicion of an “execution style” murder of a couple. This prompted a broader audit of the Alameda deputies’ psychological backgrounds. While the scale of the issue in Alameda may be unprecedented, the problem certainly isn’t new.

Mental health concerns relating to law enforcement are important for many reasons. First and foremost, police have disproportionate rates of suicide, domestic violence, and post-traumatic stress. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize how suffering from mental and emotional struggles can impact an officer’s job performance and critical decision making, potentially jeopardizing their own safety and the safety of the public.

Fortunately, Washington state has recently strengthened its administrative rules for psychological evaluations of candidates for law enforcement positions. This comes as part of the overall strengthening of the standards for our state’s law enforcement officers through the implementation of E2SSB 5051. The new rules increase the scrutiny on candidates to help ensure that law enforcement agencies have the best information possible on which to base solid hiring decisions and give adequate support to those they hire. These changes make Washington state’s psychological backgrounding practices among the most thorough in the nation.

For example, examiners must now attain training in issues regarding discrimination, implicit and explicit bias, and police-community relations, as well as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The ability of examiners to identify issues in these areas is essential, particularly in light of the continued lack of diversity within the law enforcement sector. Examiners themselves can be biased — as alleged at the Washington State Patrol. It’s also essential that examiners understand current community expectations of police so that they can consider psychological suitability with those expectations in mind.

Another rule change relates to how examiners convey information to hiring agencies.

Examiners must now create opportunity to speak directly with hiring authorities in addition to sending a written report. Not every chief has time to read every word of a detailed psychological evaluation. This allows an examiner to summarize attributes and concerns, answer questions directly and provide other context for the well-being of the officer if hired.


Washington’s new rules also increase the minimum number of written tests an examiner must administer from two to three. These assessments — such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and California Psychological Inventory, as well as assessments for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury — are industry standards that ask a series of direct questions the answers to which provide insight into a candidate’s suitability.

The assessments are heavily researched and provide an extensive assessment of the candidate’s personality traits, along with potential emotional and psychological issues, biases, trauma-related symptoms, and other traits that could cause significant performance-related issues if hired as a law enforcement officer. The data from the written assessments guide and inform the examiner’s in-person interview with a candidate. For this reason, the new rules also clarify that interviews must be conducted after the assessment results come in.

Finally, the new rules authorize the state to audit the backgrounding conducted by local agencies. Such audits can help ensure that Washington does not see the kinds of problems just exposed in Alameda County.

With a nationwide crisis in police recruiting, the pressure is on to hire and train qualified officers. Washington state has set a new bar to help ensure that psychological evaluations are conducted with the rigor required to determine whether a police recruit will contribute to public safety or put it at risk.