COLUMBIA, S.C. — Becoming a law enforcement officer in South Carolina will require psychological testing under a new requirement aimed at weeding out people not suitable for the job.
The board that oversees the state’s Criminal Justice Academy voted unanimously Wednesday to mandate the screening for all aspiring officers. Starting Jan. 1, all law enforcement agencies’ potential new hires must bring proof of the testing to enroll for training.
“In the environment we’re policing in today, with the scrutiny of law enforcement, obviously this is more important than ever,” said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, chairman of the Law Enforcement Training Council.
Psychological screening is already a standard part of the hiring process for the 59 agencies in South Carolina that are either state or nationally accredited, said the academy’s director, Jackie Swindler. But there are nearly 300 law enforcement agencies statewide.
Lawmakers provided $550,400 for the tests in the budget that took effect July 1, as the council requested.
That will be used to reimburse agencies, up to $300 per screening, Swindler said.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster called the funding a “blessing.”
“So many agencies — especially small, rural agencies — are not able to afford a psychological evaluation and testing,” said Foster, a council member.
Screenings take several hours and include online and written tests as well as an interview, said Andrew Ryan of Columbia, a retired NCIS chief psychologist and former chairman of psychological services for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
After an analysis, candidates are deemed suitable, not suitable or marginally suitable, meaning some answers are concerning, Ryan said.
The goal is to “make sure we don’t let anyone into the system that there’s some question about because it’s very hard to argue down the road if a mistake is made, ‘Well, we thought he was a good guy,’ or, ‘He looked like he was going to be a good guy.’ No, this is the validation,” said Ryan, a Columbia native who started his police psychology career in 1990 with a research project at the academy, testing people already enrolled.
Generally, less than 10 percent of candidates are obviously not suited for the job and roughly 20 percent are questionable, he said.
The screening isn’t a catchall, but it is a useful prediction tool before someone’s hired, Swindler said. The new mandate requires only that the screening occur. Each agency’s chief or sheriff remains responsible for the hiring decision.
“We do not make them show us the results. That’s on that agency. That’s where the liability falls,” Swindler said. “Hopefully, people will use it properly.”