Fitness-for-Duty of Law Enforcement Officers



Law enforcement personnel are often at greater risk of exposure to critical incidents involving serious trauma and public safety events. Psychiatric sequelae of these events can include increased risk for trauma-related symptoms, substance use, and possibly suicide. Fitness-for-duty issues arise both for clinicians treating law enforcement officers and in disability-related assessments pertaining to an officer’s return to work. These include whether the officer is able to perform essential functions of the job, is able to function in a prior role, or in any role within the police department, whether the job would require access to and handling of firearms, and whether any ongoing symptoms could be accommodated with special arrangements in the workplace. In general, fitness-for-duty evaluations for law enforcement officers require expertise in forensic assessments given the complexity of issues and risks involved especially when the inquiry involves access to firearms. This discussion reviews case examples, the basic legal landscape that an officer may face in a fitness-to-work assessment, as well as clinical factors and recommendations related to fitness-for-duty evaluation assessments.


Law enforcement  Firearms  Employee Assistance Programs  Police  Fitness for duty  Disability  Workplace  Accommodations  


  1. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A) Google Scholar
  2. Anfang, S.A., Wall, B.W.: Psychiatric fitness-for-duty evaluations. Psychiatr. Clin. N. Am. 29, 675–693 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bonsignore v. City of New York, 683 F.2d 635 (2d Cir. 1982)Google Scholar
  4. Broun, K.S.: The medical privilege in the federal courts—should it matter whether your ego or your elbow hurts? Loyola Los Angel. Law Rev. 38, 657–705 (2004)Google Scholar
  5. Brownfield v. City of Yakima, 612 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2010)Google Scholar
  6. Carlier, I.V., Lamberts, R.D., Gersons, B.P.: Risk factors for posttraumatic stress symptomology in police officers: A prospective analysis. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 195, 498–506 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, J.M.: Selections of professionals for fitness-for-duty evaluations, Chief’s counsel. The Police Chief (August), 12–13, 2011Google Scholar
  8. Conte v. Harcher, 365 N.E.2d 567 (Ill. App. 1977)Google Scholar
  9. Cygan v. City of New York, 165 A.D.2d 58 (N.Y.A.D. 1991)Google Scholar
  10. Davey, J.D., Obst, P.L., Sheehan, M.C.: Work demographics and officers’ perception of the work environment, which add to the prediction of at risk alcohol consumption within an Australian police sample. Polic. Int. J. Police Strateg. Manag. 23, 69–81 (2000)Google Scholar
  11. Decker, K.P.: Fitness for duty evaluation in law enforcement personnel: Theory and practice. Presented at 33rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Newport Beach, California, Oct 2002Google Scholar
  12. Estate of Turnbow v. Ogden City, 254 F.R.D. 434 (D. Utah 2008)Google Scholar
  13. Finn, P., Esselman-Tomz, J.: Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and their Families, Issues and Practices in Criminal Justice. National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC (1996)Google Scholar
  14. Finn, P., Esselman-Tomz, J.: Using peer supporters to help address law enforcement stress. FBI Law Enforc. Bull. 67(5), 10–18 (1998)Google Scholar
  15. Fischler, G.L., McElroy, H.K., Miller, L. et al.: The role of psychological fitness-for-duty evaluations in law enforcement. Police Chief, 78, 72–78, (2011)Google Scholar
  16. Flynn v. Sandahl, 58 F.3d 283 (7th Cir. 1995)Google Scholar
  17. Gold, L.H., Anfang, S.A., Drukteinis, A.M., et al.: AAPL practice guideline for the forensic evaluation of psychiatric disability. J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 36(Suppl 4), S3–S50 (2008)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hem, E., Berg, A.M., Ekberg, O.: Suicide in police—A critical review. Suicide Life Threat. Behav. 31, 224–233 (2001)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Indiana Code, Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 14 (IC 35-47-14), Proceedings for the Seizure and Retention of a Firearm.
  20. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Police Psychological Services Section: Fitness-for-Duty Guidelines. Denver, Colorado. (2009). Accessed 21 Jan 2012
  21. Janik, J., Kravitz, H.M.: Linking work and domestic problems with police suicide. Suicide Life Threat. Behav. 24, 267–274 (1994)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson v. Mers, 664 N.E.2d 668 (Ill.App. 2 Dist., 1996)Google Scholar
  23. Kapusta, N.D., Voracek, M., Etzerdorfer, E., et al.: Characteristics of police officer suicides in the Federal Austrian Police Corps. Crisis: J. Crisis Interv. Suicide Prev. 31, 265–271 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kopel, H., Friedman, M.: Posttraumatic symptoms in South African police exposed to violence. J. Trauma. Stress 10, 307–317 (1997)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kureczka, A.W.: Critical incident stress in law enforcement. FBI Law Enforc. Bull. 65(3), 1–10 (1996)Google Scholar
  26. Levenson Jr, R.L., O’Hara, A.F., Clark Sr, R.: The badge of life psychological survival for police officers program. Int. J. Emerg. Ment. Health 12, 95–101 (2010)Google Scholar
  27. Maplewood and Law Enforcement Labor Service, 108 LA (BNA) 572 (Daly 1996)Google Scholar
  28. Marzuk, P.M., Nock, M.K., Leon, A.C., et al.: Suicide among New York City police officers, 1977–1996. Am. J. Psychiatry 159, 2069–2071 (2002)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McNally, V.J., Solomon, R.M.: The FBI’s critical incident stress management program. FBI Law Enforc. Bull. 68(2), 20–26 (1999)Google Scholar
  30. Mendoza v. City of Los Angeles, 66 Cal. App. 4th 1333 (1998)Google Scholar
  31. Miller, L.: Officer-involved shooting: Reaction patterns, response protocols, and psychological intervention strategies. Int. J. Emerg. Ment. Health 8, 239–254 (2006)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Miller, L.: The psychological fitness-for-duty evaluation. FBI Law Enforc. Bull. 76(8), 10–22 (2007)Google Scholar
  33. Mohandie, K., Hatcher, C.: Suicide and violence risk in law enforcement: Practical guidelines for risk assessment, prevention and intervention. Behav. Sci. Law 17, 357–376 (1999)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Neylan, T.C., Metzler, T.J., Best, S.R., et al.: Critical incident exposure and sleep quality in police officers. Psychosom. Med. 64, 345–352 (2002)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. North, C.S., Tivis, L., McMillen, J.C., et al.: Psychiatric disorders in rescue workers after the Oklahoma city bombing. Am. J. Psychiatry 159, 857–859 (2002)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-596, 84 Stat. 1590 (amended through January 1, 2004), Accessed 21 Jan 2012
  37. Peñalba, V., McGuire, H., Leite, J.R.: Psychosocial interventions for prevention of psychological disorders in law enforcement officers. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 16(3), CD005601 (2008)Google Scholar
  38. People v. McRae, 469 Mich. 704 (2004)Google Scholar
  39. Pinals, D.A., Price, M.: Forensic psychiatry and law enforcement. In: Simon, R., Gold, L. (eds.) The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic Psychiatry, 2nd edn. American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, DC (2010)Google Scholar
  40. Richmond, R.L., Wodak, A., Kehoe, L., et al.: How healthy are police? A survey of life style factors. Addiction 93, 1729–1737 (1998)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rivard, J.M., Dietz, P., Martell, D., et al.: Acute dissociative responses in law enforcement officers involved in critical shooting incidents: The clinical and forensic implications. J. Forensic Sci. 47, 1093–1100 (2002)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Rostow, C.D., Davis, R.D.: Psychological fitness for duty evaluations in law enforcement. Police Chief 69(9), 58–66 (2002)Google Scholar
  43. Rostow, C.D., Davis, R.D.: A Handbook for Psychological Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations in Law Enforcement. Haworth Clinical Practice Press, New York (2004)Google Scholar
  44. Scott v. Edinburg, 101 F.Supp.2d 1017 (N.D. Ill. 2000)Google Scholar
  45. Sims, A., Sims, D.: The phenomenology of posttraumatic stress disorder: A symptomatic study of 70 victims of psychological trauma. Psychopathology 31, 96–112 (1998)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stephens, C., Miller, I.: Traumatic experiences and posttraumatic stress disorder in the New Zealand police. Polic. Int. J. Police Strateg. Manag. 21, 178–191 (1998)Google Scholar
  47. Stuart, H.: Suicidality among police. Curr. Opin. Psychiatry 21, 505–509 (2008)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tüchsen, F., Andersen, O., Costa, G., et al.: Occupational and ischemic heart disease in the European Community: A comparative study of occupations at high risk. Am. J. Ind. Med. 30, 407–414 (1996)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Valentino, A.M.: Police trauma: Psychological aftermath of civilian combat. Policing: Int. J. Police Strateg. Manag. 23, 268–272 (2000)Google Scholar
  50. Violanti, J.M.: Predictors of police suicide ideation. Suicide Life Threat. Behav. 34(3), 277–283 (2004)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Violanti, J.M.: Homicide-suicide in police families: Aggression full circle. Int. J. Emerg. Ment. Health 9, 97–104 (2007)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Violanti, J.M.: Police suicide research: Conflict and consensus. Int. J. Emerg. Ment. Health 10, 299–307 (2008)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Violanti, J.M.: Suicide or undetermined? A national assessment of police suicide death classification. Int. J. Emerg. Ment. Health 12, 89–94 (2010)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Violanti, J.M., Vena, J.E., Marshall, J.R.: Suicides, homicides and accidental deaths: A comparative risk assessment of police officer and municipal workers. Am. J. Ind. Med. 30, 99–104 (1996)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Watts v. Alfred, 794 F. Supp. 431 (D.D.C. 1992)Google Scholar
  56. Work Loss Data Institute. Fitness for duty. Encinitas (CA): Work Loss Data Institute: Various p. (2010). Accessed 22 Dec 2011
  57. Wuertz v. Wilson, 922 S.W.2d 268 (Tex. App. 1996)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forensic Education, Law and Psychiatry Program UMass Medical SchoolWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.Law and Psychiatry Service Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations