Chapter 4 Assignment – Psychology and policing

Before I give you instructions for this assignment, read what I have put together.  Some of you might be interested in a career in forensic psychology.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is the national police force of the Republic of SouthAfrica.  Its 1,138 police stations in South Africa are divided according to the provincial borders, and a Provincial Commissioner is appointed in each province.

The Mission of the SAPS is to – 1. Prevent and combat anything that may threaten the safety and security of any community; 2. Investigate all crimes that threaten the safety and security of any community; 3. Ensure offenders are brought to justice; and 4.  Participate in efforts to address the root causes of crime.

The duration of the training police officers is 24 months, of which 12 months will be at the Police Academy and 12 months in the workplace.

I have the highest regard for law enforcement.  However, with the difficulties of our country one could write an essay on questions such as the effectiveness of the training of our police force or the quality of service our police provides or why do so many police officers transgress the laws they are supposed to uphold.

One sub-discipline in psychology is forensic psychology. We use the term forensic psychology any time psychology is playing some role in relation to the justice system. Currently in South Africa you can only register with the Board as a psychologist in one of the following categories:

  • Clinical 
  • Counselling 
  • Educational
  • Industrial
  • Research

As you can see there is currently no registration for Forensic psychologists, Neuropsychologists, or Sports psychologists, or any other type of psychologist for that matter. The Board for Psychology is looking into creating the additional categories of Forensic and Neuropsychologist, but they are not open for registration yet. So, at the moment nobody can call themselves a Forensic Psychologist, because you may only describe yourself in the category you are registered. This however does not mean that psychologists in South Africa cannot perform activities associated with these other categories. You may just not call yourself a Forensic, Sports, or Neuropsychologist, on your letterhead or business cards or reports. 

Getting exposure to the policing or investigation field is difficult due to the sensitive nature of these fields. You could however go to any court and listen to a criminal court case being prosecuted. All course cases are open to the public, unless the trial being held ‘in camera’ which means only court staff may be present inside the courtroom. This is often the situation with cases involving minor children, or when the victim of a sexual offence is testifying. The daily court role is posted at the entrance of each Magistrate or High Court, and you can see what cases are being tried in the different courtroom. During an adjournment you can go up and speak to the prosecutor to ask about the case. 

I have several past students who entered this field. One being Dr Gerard Labuschagne.  In the police, he was the first Section Head of the Investigative Psychology Section (IPS). The IPS is responsible for assisting the SAPS with investigations of psychologically motivated crimes such as serial sex offences, murders, and stalking. The Section is also the only unit with a mandate to compile offender profiles for the SAPS. The IPS is the South African Police Services’ equivalent of the Behavioral Analysis Units of the FBI.

Another past student is Micki Pistorius, who has a doctorate in psychology, spent six years as a profiler with the South African Police Service.  She was involved in more than thirty serial killer cases and participated in the training of more than a hundred detectives in the investigation of serial homicides.  She is the author of Catch me a Killer, Strangers on the Street, Fatal Females, and Profiling Serial Killers and other crimes in South Africa, all published by Penguin.

If you are interested in this field, you could attend the African Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (AfATAP) annual conference, the first of which will be in October 2020. Other conferences like the bi-annual Criminological and Victimological Society of Southern Africa conference is another area you may get exposed to interesting topics. You can also listen to Dr Labuschagne’s  Podcast on iTunes called ‘Profiler’ or on other platforms as ‘Profiler Africa’.  

Chapter 4, written by Jennifer Brown, begins with the beginnings and development of the contributions of psychologists to the criminal justice system in the UK and the USA.  Again, you will soon understand that  psychology in SA has a long way to go to make a meaningful contribution to policing. 1) Begin by getting a grip on the scope of the duties of applied psychologists in these countries (p. 64).  Write a short introduction on the work and skills required of psychologists in policing. Obviously the percentages of the services provided do not apply to the SA context. But, I am looking hopefully to the future of SA’s policing and forensic psychology in particular. 2) Psychology’s contribution to operational procedures:  We can learn much about eyewitness testimony and the use and value of “cognitive interviews” (pp. 65- 67). In this section Brown


What are the difficulties in being a witness? What factors affect a witness’s recall?

What is your understanding of the stages and techniques used in a cognitive interview?

3) Extract (pp 67-69) your understanding of “offender profiling”.

4) Conclude with your thoughts on a psychologist working alongside police officers. Note Brown’s observations:

Note that there is again in this chapter much to say about psychology in the work place. If you have a family member or friend in SAPS consider asking them about their work, or your own experience of contact with and exposure to SAPS,  add some experiences or insights in your conclusion which connect with or tie into some or other theme from this chapter.

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