Ellen Scrivner, PhD, ABPP
Ellen Scrivner, PhD, ABPP, is a board certified police and public safety psychologist with 35 years of experience in the public sector. She is recognized as a national expert on criminal justice policy, public safety and policing issues. Scrivner earned her doctorate from Catholic University of America, and worked as a police psychologist both pre- and post-doctoral achievements. Among many accomplishments, Scrivner was appointed by President Obama to serve as the deputy director of the National Institute of Justice in 2009. Additionally, she has served as a police psychologist for two major police departments, was deputy superintendent for administration for the Chicago police department, and was deputy director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS Office — US DOJ). Scrivner was president of Div. 18 in 1992. It was an honor to interview Scrivner about her career over the phone earlier this month.
Your career has been quite varied, spanning clinical work, policy development, research, and leadership roles. What are you doing now?
I’m doing a lot of consulting in the area of public safety transformation and police reform. I work as a monitor for the Department of Justice to ensure that police departments implement constitutional policing and see if there are patterns of unjust police behavior. For example, I will help look at a police department to judge whether they are practicing policing that is fair and constitutional. Do they have a hiring program that uses sound psychological testing? How are they training their officers? Do they have a program in place to promote officer wellness? Is there excessive use of force? This type of work is an opportunity for psychology to make real change in police reform and the safety of communities.
When you were a graduate student, is this the career you saw for yourself?
No! In college, I minored in business administration. I had absolutely no idea that I would ever be doing this – at that time, just being a psychologist as a woman was a bit of a risk. Most of my friends were nurses and teachers. After graduate school, I expected to go the traditional clinical route.
Who mentored you?
There really were no mentors around at that time because police psychology was a new field. People that were doing the work sought each other out, and we started our own consultation group. We supported each other and helped think through questions emerging in police psychology. If I’m testing someone for fitness to be on a S.W.A.T. team, what happens if I say I wouldn’t recommend them? There were a few people who took an interest in our work. They encouraged us to be more involved in professional organizations and to submit papers and form panels at professional conferences. They really helped police and public safety psychology move forward.
What do you think a crisis intervention team (CIT) should look like?
Police across the country need to be trained in de-escalation skills to prevent situations from getting out of control. But, just training officers is not the best CIT team. A team approach that combines officers with mental health professionals is what I recommend. The police need diagnostic information in terms of how to interact with citizens, whether to hospitalize them, and mental health professionals have that background knowledge.
In a 2002 perspective piece for APA, you suggested, “Psychology’s resources could be applied to addressing significant national policy issues, such as the interactions between police and citizens in their communities.” In 2016, how can psychologists work with both the community and law enforcement to curb officer-involved shootings?
After 9/11, policing went in a different direction. It went from community oriented policing to intelligence-led, predictive policing. Now, with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, they are talking about bringing back community policing. There is a real opportunity for psychology to become involved in changing the direction as to where community policing needs to go. We can help rebuild that trust.
Do you have any general advice for students and early career psychologists?
I encourage all new psychologists to be active in the APA and in their divisions. Look to people who are actively involved in the field, and find out if there are local clinical opportunities to train in that specialty. Don’t look at your psychology degree as something that limits you to an office or a classroom. Look at your psychology degree as something that you can also use to make an impact on the community. You can make a difference.
What about advice for those of us interested in Police & Public Safety psychology?
There is a tremendous opportunity to be involved in the rebirth of community policing. There has been a major cultural shift; now there is Black Lives Matter where before it was MLK Jr. The movements have the same desire, but it is expressed differently. A younger psychologist will understand that cultural shift better, because they are in the middle of it. Any last thoughts?
I always tell new psychologists: Don’t be afraid to take a risk, look for the doors you want to open and open them. Reach out to people you see doing things that you might like to do, and I’m sure they would be happy to talk to you.