Cop shrinkMartin Reiser

A psychologist, Reiser was working at a clinic in southern California when he saw a job ad that interested him: full-time staff psychologist for the Los Angeles Police Dept. It was December, 1968; TV police procedurals Dragnet and Adam-12, depicting LAPD detectives and patrol officers, respectively, were in their heyday. “In those early years, police and mental health professionals were skeptical and suspicious, if not openly hostile, toward each other,” Reiser said years later. “Police tended to view psychologists as fuzzy-minded, cloud-nine types who had trouble finding the restroom. You had to be crazy to talk to a shrink.” But he applied for the job, and thus became the first full-time staff psychologist for any police department in the country.

The job sounded like he needed his own department: “I needed to provide counseling to the 9,000 sworn and civilian employees plus family members. I was expected to respond post haste to officer emergencies, barricade and hostage situations, and teaching requests at the academy. I was also responsible for psychological program development, organizational consultation, research, and addressing the gamut of other crises that might surface.” And once he was up to speed, he started writing textbooks for those who would follow him. That humble one-man start led, in 2010, to police and public service psychology becoming a board-certified specialty. Reiser “was the father of police psychology,” says Susan Saxe-Clifford, herself a police psychologist who started working at the LAPD under Reiser in 1970, when she was still a graduate student. “There’s not a lot out there today that he didn’t suggest or implement in the 1970s and 80s.” Reiser instituted some of the first “critical-incident debriefings” to try to head off post-traumatic stress disorder among officers, and instituted peer counseling training so officers could help each other through the stresses of the job. Dr. Reiser died from leukemia on April 11. He was 87.

From This is True for 19 April 2015