Interview with Dr. Debra F. Glaser: AKA L.A.P.D SHEif Police Psychologist.

Thank you so much to Dr. Glaser for being so open to being interviewed by the #WomensAdvocacyClub. It was such an honor to collaborate with her to find out more about her professional background in the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D) as the SHEif (AKA Chief) Police Psychologist.  Please read below the questions we asked and her authentic responses.

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  1. What is your background in education and how did you decide you want to work for the LAPD?

I have a Masters in Social Psychology from New York University and a Masters and Doctorate in clinical psychology from CSPP-LA.  I started working for the LAPD ‘by accident’; at the time that I went to graduate school LAPD had a practicum program. When I was not offered a position at the site that I wanted, I was given an interview with LAPD and got the position. I stayed at LAPD for 26 years and went from practicum student to staff psychologist to Chief Police Psychologist. I retired from LAPD as Chief Police Psychologist, a position that I held for 9 years.

  1.  What steps would someone have to take in order to have an opportunity to work in the LAPD as a Psychologist?

 The psychologist position for LAPD is a staff position as an employee of the City of LA. A good  clinical background is essential. Some experience working with law enforcement is helpful, but not essential.  Someone looking for a staff position should check the City ofLos Angeles website for job openings and requirements as the latter can change.

  1. Can psychologists have other positions in the LAPD? If so, what are they? And have you done them?

 The LAPD has staff psychologists who work for the Behavioral Science Services Unit.; there is also a psychologist who works at the Police Academy training site.  The City of LA has other psychologists who perform pre-employment screening for first responders as well as fitness for duty evaluations; these psychologists work for the Personnel Department.

  1.  Did you face any challenges as a women working in the LAPD? Were you always taken seriously or  did you needed to establish a serious tone ?

 When I first started at LAPD in 1980 women were just starting to be hired as police officers; prior to that they were “police women” and went to a ‘modified academy’ and couldn’t hold all of the positions on the Department that they can now.  When I was promoted to Chief Police Psychologist in 1996 I was the first woman to hold the rank of Commander. Since the psychologist positions are civilian and not sworn, that achievement was pretty much ignored by all.  But not by me.

  1. What did your most challenging day at the LAPD job look like?

 I’m not sure that I had a most challenging day; there were several. I can remember my first formal meeting with the Chief and the Command staff; I was the first woman to attend that meeting who wasn’t taking notes or getting coffee.  It was awkward for some of the ‘guys’ as they weren’t sure how to treat me while I was in the meeting. They were all helpful and friendly outside of the meeting, but the protocol for how I should be treated in the meeting hadn’t been established. The experience reinforced for me the need for a ‘thick skin’ or the ability to work within an existing system, a predominantly male system, and slowly become an accepted member of the team without taking things personally.

  1. What was your most memorable day at your LAPD job?

Again, I had many memorable days. Some were good, some were challenging and some were difficult. As the Chief Police Psychologist I was also the supervisor of the Employee Assistance Unit which housed the Peer Counseling Program and Chaplains Program and was in charge of line-of-duty-death funerals. I can recall helping to set up funeral services for officers killed in the line of duty; nothing was more difficult than dealing with the emotions that surfaced for everyone during those situations.  I can recall being at a hospital with an officer on life support and being there when the family had to disconnect him.  While my being a woman in a man’s organization had it’s challenges not all challenges were gender related.

  1. What type of personalities do you suggest go into the LAPD mental health department?

I don’t think there is a personality type that would be best suited for the job. Having traits such as flexibility, compassion and an ability to think on the go would be helpful.  An understanding of the law enforcement culture is essential if one is to navigatethe world of law enforcement.

  1. Have you considered teaching a course on mental health and the police department?

 I have taught several policy psychology courses at Alliant for the clinical forensic program: introduction to police psychology, the police psychologist as a field consultant to SWAT and the Crisis Negotiation Team, and stalking.

  1. How important is it for police to seek mental health services?

 Anyone in a  stressful job should have mental health services available to them. The LAPD was perhaps the first law enforcement agency in the world to create an in-house Behavioral Science Services Unit in 1968; many other departments have followed that model and created their own version of the psychological services section. Police and other first responders are often put in life and death situations with but a second to make a decision; they are scrutinized by the media, the public and their own Departments to ensure that policing is fair, unbiased and appropriate. All of this on top of the actual job creates stress for officers and therefore having access to mental health services is essential. 

  1. Have you ever been on a crime or crisis scene and provided your services?

I have been at many crime scenes, seen dead bodies, injured police officers, grieving police families. I was a member of the Crisis Negotiation Team which deployed with SWAT in the event of a barricaded suspect, hostage taker(s) or jumper. I have participated in negotiations and the debriefing that followed.  Anytime a psychologist is deployed they are expected to assist, it is part of the job.

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