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Free access to Sage journals gives you a chance to read all about science and pseudoscience in policing

Once again Sage Journals is throwing its archive open – you can get free access to all Sage journals until 31 October if you register first. A great opportunity to stock up on articles in journals that you or your library don’t subscribe to.

Can I, in particular, recommend you take a look at the latest issue of Criminal Justice and Behavior? It’s a special on “Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs” pulled together by guest editor Brent Snook. Scott Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield’s overview of science and pseudoscience is just ok (I don’t think it’s as good as it could be), but there are useful reviews (among others) of hypnosis in a legal setting (Graham Wagstaff), of detecting deception (Aldert Vrij), and of false confessions (Saul Kassin). These reviews will prove invaluable if you’re new to these areas of research or need a refresher.

Also in this issue, Snook and colleagues examine why criminal profiling is so seductive, when much of what passes for profiling is simply – according to the authors – “smoke and mirrors”. They conclude:

There is a growing belief that profilers can accurately and consistently predict a criminal’s characteristics based on crime scene evidence… We contend that this belief is illusory because a critical analysis of research on CP [criminal profiling] showed that the field lacks theoretical grounding and empirical support.

And there’s an extraordinary and provocative critique of the FBI’s programme to introduce Critical Incident Stress Debriefing for its agents, co-authored by a former agent who was involved in the programme. The authors bemoan the fact that although the business of “law enforcement is inextricably tied to facts, objectivity, organization, and high standards of proof” (p.1342), the FBI did not (according to the authors) apply the same standards when evaluating a stress debriefing programme for its agents. The evidence for the effectiveness of CISD is scant, argue the authors (and there is some evidence that CISD may even be harmful to people exposed to severe trauma). So, the authors explain: “We are thus compelled to consider how an idea so poorly grounded and so seriously discredited came to hold so tenacious a footing in the employee assistance practices of what is arguably the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement agency” (p.1342). Newbold, Lohr and Gist’s concluding comments could serve as an epitaph for the entire issue:

Pseudoscience finds its foothold where the blurring of boundaries allows the imperatives of evidentiary warrant shared by both domains to become compromised. It takes many years of training and experience to become competent as either a law enforcement agent or a psychologist, and either role requires strong focus and strict boundaries to be executed effectively. Police officers who want to play shrink and psychologists who want to play cop run a serious risk of blurring those boundaries.

Here are the contents in full:

  • Brent Snook – Introduction to the Special Issue: Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs
  • Scott O. Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield – Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement: A User-Friendly Primer
  • Michael G. Aamodt – Reducing Misconceptions and False Beliefs in Police and Criminal Psychology
  • John Turtle and Stephen C. Want – Logic and Research Versus Intuition and Past Practice as Guides to Gathering and Evaluating Eyewitness Evidence
  • Brent Snook, Richard M. Cullen, Craig Bennell, Paul J. Taylor, and Paul Gendreau – The Criminal Profiling Illusion: What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?
  • Graham F. Wagstaff – Hypnosis and the Law: Examining the Stereotypes
  • William G. Iacono – Effective Policing: Understanding How Polygraph Tests Work and Are Used
  • Saul M. Kassin – Confession Evidence: Commonsense Myths and Misconceptions
  • Aldert Vrij – Nonverbal Dominance Versus Verbal Accuracy in Lie Detection: A Plea to Change Police Practice
  • Katherine M. Newbold, Jeffrey M. Lohr, and Richard Gist – Apprehended Without Warrant: Issues of Evidentiary Warrant for Critical Incident Services and Related Trauma Interventions in a Federal Law Enforcement Agency
  • David C. Flagel and Paul Gendreau – Commentary: Sense, Common Sense, and Nonsense

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  1. [...] ‘wizards’? Another discussion piece, which appeared earlier this year in a special issue of Criminal Justice and Behaviour focusing on scientific and psuedoscientific practices in law…, was by Aldert Vrij who issued a challenge to law enforcement professionals to focus on verbal [...]

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