When Cops Aren’t Psychologically Stable

There’s a slogan, ACAB, which came out of the reality, largely revealed by pervasiveness of video over the past decade, that there are a lot, far too many, police officers who engage in acts of such cruelty and depravity toward other human beings that it’s difficult, if not impossible to square their actions with what any decent human being would do under the circumstances.

This isn’t all cops. This isn’t all conduct by cops which the unduly passionate condemn because the outcome fails to meet their fantasy world views. But it happens with more than sufficient frequency to give rise to a very serious question of whether guns and shields are being given to people who are psychologically unfit to exercise the authority they’re given. All the training in the world, any accreditation required, means little if the guy holding the gun breaks under stress.

Surely, they test these men and women before handing them a gun and sending them out on the street with the power to use it? This aspirational assumption was tested by the Alameda County Sheriff’s office, and to a shockingly large extent, it failed.

Forty-seven Alameda County sheriff’s deputies were stripped of their weapons and badges over the weekend after an audit revealed that they had received unsatisfactory scores on psychological exams.

This was about half the force. Not the one outlier psycho cop, the mythical “one bad apple,” but half the force. Weren’t they subject to psychological tests? Well yeah, they were, not that it apparently mattered. It all began with a double murder.

What triggered the audit was a double homicide several weeks ago when 24-year-old Deputy Devon Williams was arrested for killing a husband and wife in their Dublin home. It was later revealed that he had had a relationship with the woman and failed his law enforcement psychological exam.

The young deputy was given a psychological test and he failed it. Yet there he was, gun in hand, when he murdered a woman with whom he was involved and her husband. Why, if he failed the test, was he on the street? An audit was conducted to figure out whether there were any other deputies who failed their psychological tests and were put on the street with guns as well. And, indeed, there were, 47 of them.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that psychological testing standards have changed since 2016 and the 47 officers reassigned to desk jobs will undergo a new round of screening. They said the earlier scores were due to immaturity.

“A lot of young people out of college don’t do as well on the psychological exam as someone who has much more life experience,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly. “This has nothing to do with substance abuse issues or mental disorders or diagnoses. We believe testing scores will go up based on the number of years of service”

But they failed the test, which presumably was given for some purpose, and yet were still given guns? Why they failed is certainly an open question, and it’s disingenuous to wave away real problems such as drug abuse or mental illness as a cause. How would they know? And while immaturity may very well be part of the reason why they failed, lacking the breadth of life experience to learn how not to let emotions control actions, to overcome the narcissism of youth and be capable of real empathy toward others, that does nothing to explain why failing the test didn’t preclude their being sent out to harm others and ruin lives.

Ladoris Hazzard Cordell, a retired Superior Court Judge and former Independent Police Auditor for the City of San Jose, pointed out that the psychological exam measures more than just age.

“The whole purpose is to determine whether or not that person is suitable to do the work of a law enforcement officer,” said Cordell. “Free from emotional and or mental conditions that might adversely affect the exercise of the powers of a peace officer. Is that person psychologically suitable for the work?”

There is no training exercise needed to teach a cop not to gratuitously beat another person. And while some cops “grow up” into the job, others are grown up and still lack the emotional and mental condition necessary not to be a bastard.

And what of the effort to destigmatize mental illness? As much as we don’t want to return to the days when mental illness was a character flaw, something to ridicule and mock, and thus compel people to keep their mental health hidden and avoid seeking help, the mental health of a cop is secondary to the physical health of the person they might beat or shoot.

Jim Hammer, former San Francisco Assistant District Attorney, believes these candidates should’ve been flagged years ago.

“No job that requires more discretion, more good judgment, more balanced psychological state than someone with a badge and a gun charged with enforcing the law. So, whoever allowed them to go on to duty with a D- score I hope they are not in authority anymore,” said Hammer.

“Hope” isn’t good enough. Of course they should have been flagged years ago. Why weren’t they? Why give tests and then ignore failed scores?

It’s a positive step that the Alameda County sheriff decided to conduct an audit following the double murder, and in a sense, the department should be commended for not crying “one crazy apple” rather than addressing the departmental failure to deal with routinely putting deputies on the street or in the jail who were psychologically unfit for duty. But it still fails to answer the question of how it’s possible that nobody noticed these deputies were unfit before handing them guns and shields.

And what of other departments? Is this just an Alameda County problem, or are there other police and sheriff’s departments that give psychological tests and then file away the failed outcomes without bothering to notice that they’re handing guns to potential killers? Which begets yet another question, whether there are departments that can’t be bothered figuring out whether their cops are the sort of people who should be allowed anywhere near power, discretion and guns.


21 thoughts on “When Cops Aren’t Psychologically Stable

  1. Mike P.

    Easily fixed by simply changing the tests so that those who would have registered as psychopathic on the previous one will now go unflagged, which has been done elsewhere for years.

      1. Howl

        To be honest, didn’t think of that one, Admiral. I hope my mind isn’t deteriorating, I hope I’m not going . . . psycho?

        1. Bryan Burroughs

          I don’t have video privileges, but Queen always has you covered, if our dear host will oblige.

          [Ed. Note: Sigh, WTF.]

      2. Guitardave

        Take it easy on the assumptions, boss (I wasn’t in da house this AM..in fact, I was outside building a nice privacy fence…ironically, to keep the psychos OFF MY LAWN!) …anyway…you know i love Joni, and IIRC I’ve played that cut in the past…but hey, there’s so much blogging fodder for crazy/psycho/twisted, man/woman/cop, all the above tunes can be on SJ’s Greatest Hits album.
        …and yes Jeff, I think this version really kills it..

  2. RCJP

    That whole thing is very weird. Not mentioned in the article is that Devon Williams was previously fired by another agency. That alone should be

    But I wonder about the word failed. That seems loaded.

    1. SHG Post author

      I was unaware he was a “gypsy” (I don’t think that word is permitted anymore) cop. Yeah, that should have been a huge red flag. But that still doesn’t address the bigger issue.

  3. B. McLeod

    Testing standards (i.e., what they are screening for) aren’t always uniform, and sometimes, the testing standards will provide that officers with specified training certifications can be exempted. So, get a failing score, take another pass after completing the certification that allows exemption. Probably not what the drafters of the standards intended, but departments with recruiting difficulties (i.e. most departments today) can’t afford to be too picky.

      1. B. McLeod

        I understand. The certifications inherently don’t address the psychological deficits, so the exemptions aren’t rational. Nevertheless, the testing standards frequently provide for them. Have a look at the MPTC guidelines for New York State, June 2022, p. 4. IV.A. second paragraph “An employer may choose to exempt an officer that possesses a valid MPTC Basic Course for Police Officer certificate”.

  4. Mike V.

    Wow! In Tennessee, and other states I’m familiar with, you don’t get hired if you don’t pass the psych exam. Given the liability, I can’t understand why any agency head would hire someone who doesn’t pass.

    I was tempted to say it was crazy because that is a lawsuit just waiting to happen. I can’t imagine their insurance carrier’s reaction to the news that they’re on the hook in a lawsuit because the agency hired someone obviously unfit for the job. Yeesh.

  5. C. Dove

    A minor correction, if I may be so bold: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office employs more than 100 deputies as you note above. Sworn staff, including non-LEOs, exceeds more than 1,000. (Source: from personal experience being a resident of, and work for, Alameda County. Also, see the SO’s website: https://www.alamedacountysheriff.org/about-us. [I’m being mindful of your general policy against links, but have nevertheless offered it.]) Having said all that, and being unable to say more, I will simply remark that, whether it is 47 out of 100 or 47 out of 1,000, that is by no means insignificant.

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