Historical, Legal and Ethical Issues

Historical, Legal and Ethical Issues


For a long time in the past years, the enforcement of the law had resisted the incorporation of the psychologists. However, in recent years, the police have turned to the same psychologists to help them solve the problems affecting the quality of the policies across the country. The use of psychological services in the law has continued to grow ever since. The wide acceptance of psychology shows a positive change in culture (Walton, 2014). They not only determine how the policies are created but also how the authority delivers their services to the public. However, different issues either ethical, historical or legal have arisen from the inclusion of psychology in the law enforcement process.

Historical Development of Psychology as it is applied to Law Enforcement

The Law Enforcement Assistant Administration (LEAA) provided the money required by the federal government for them to be able to screen the police and other high ranking officials using the psychological tests. These funds were critical in making psychology an essential player in operational areas such investigations of criminal activities and police departments. Psychology then helped in the development of programs for counseling officers and training them. In 1890s psychology started to become important in the process of criminal trials across different countries in Europe such as Germany (Melinder & Magnussen, 2015). However, in the United States, it was until World War II when it gained vital importance. Psychologists were being utilized as witnesses in court cases during the 1940s, but they were considered to be infringed as compared to medical specialists. During the years of 1954 in the case between the board of education and Brown, many psychologists testified in court in support of defendants. The role of psychologists has changed in the past three decades. The courts used to depend on more on psychologists’ opinions in the process of developing essential policies across the country. They now work in an administrative capacity by taking an active role in the formulation and implementation of the law. They focus more on how the law operates and to continuously improve the legal system.

Professional Issues

Within the profession of law enforcement psychology, different issues such as training for professional competence, professional practice, and public policy usually arise and need to be addressed. The psychologists must receive training of the highest quality to understand the law and application of psychology. Offering these training and education in this field may be made difficult due to a few reasons such as inadequate funding. However, with the introduction of technology, this has been made easier as it helps in breaking down the problems. In their roles as counselors, psychologists evaluate their clients to establish the real cause of their current situation and then offering them with solutions on how to overcome them without causing adverse consequences (Melinder & Magnussen, 2015). They counsel issues such as career, drug abuse and problems in relationships. Psychologists have developed an essential role of evaluator in courts. During proceedings for criminal activities, they provide expert witness through defendant evaluations to determine whether they are competent to stand for trial. They also evaluate any witness for essential cases and give their opinions to whether the individual is a truthful witness. The government has been able to include criminal and witness evaluation into their national law. For psychologists to be able to undertake these roles in courts, they need adequate training and learning.


Legal Issues Regarding Police Psychology

As the incorporation of psychology in law enforcement continues to increase, several legal issues arise which psychologists must learn to obey and adhere. The first and most common legal issue is confidentiality. The information that psychologists collect about their clients during cases and investigations has to be handled with a lot of care. Any interference with the secrecy of the data may lead to conflicts with the existing laws and the code of conduct that all psychologists have to follow. Another legal issue that may have an impact on operations of psychologists is legal activities. Psychologists in this field have the right to gather information regarding the defendant and can use it during court proceedings. However, mishandling of such information by giving public statements that are not true may prompt the defendant to move to court and sue the psychologist. In 1990, the government of the US passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. This law prohibits individuals from discriminating people with disabilities across the country in critical areas such as schools, hospitals, workplace, transportation and any other place used for public gatherings. Psychologists are therefore warned to take note of such laws when evaluating people in courts. Forensic psychology is vital in courts as it establishes the mental stability of the defendant or the witness. It is vital in court proceedings to know whether a witness is mentally stable or not.

Ethical Issues

Several ethical issues face psychologists who work in law enforcement units. These include confidentiality, competency, responsibilities and the designing of researches and making use of the results found. They may be required to establish the effectiveness of a given police service, and therefore they have to consider all these issues (Roberts, 2015). The opinion of psychologists is essential in helping the court or police department to choose, and therefore lack of competency may result in a loss either legally or financially. These ethical issues can be solved through adequate training and planning. The most important ethical guidelines for police psychologists are respect and dignity. They need to respect the rights of their clients, and through dignity, they acknowledge the right of other people to confidentiality and privacy.


In conclusion, psychology has been a critical player in the process of improving public policy. It has been able to promote justice in society to ensure that every individual has the right to live a well and free life. The application of psychological science in the police departments and courts has to be increased since its knowledge is crucial for effective law enforcement strategies and behaviors. It is recommendable for courts to ensure that they include psychological science during criminal proceedings to help establish the mental stability of both the witnesses and the defendants. However, as they incorporate psychologists into their operations, different issues either professional, legal or ethical may arise which requires to be handled with care to attain effective law enforcement. Through forensic psychology, investigations for criminal activities have been made easier. Law enforcement has for many years been in a bad relationship with the public, but this has changed with the introduction of psychological science.




Walton, G. M. (2014). The new science of wise psychological interventions. Current Directions in Psychological Science23(1), 73-82.

Melinder, A., & Magnussen, S. (2015). Psychologists and psychiatrists serving as expert witnesses in court: what do they know about eyewitness memory?. Psychology, Crime & Law21(1), 53-61.

Roberts, L. D. (2015). Ethical issues in conducting qualitative research in online communities. Qualitative Research in Psychology12(3), 314-325.