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University News | 03.27.24

Improving police-community relations: Adler launches new public safety psychology course

This is Adler series logoEditor’s note: Adler University offers a variety of unique learning experiences that train socially responsible practitioners across its three campuses. This is Adler is a monthly series that highlights these unique programs, courses, and people that help the University educate the advocates of tomorrow.

In the wake of incidents involving law enforcement officers’ use of force, polls show Americans feel less confident in police than ever before. These encounters have affected how communities view police officers.

In improving these strained relationships, forensic mental health clinicians — with training in police and public health psychology — have an outsize role to play.

“There are implications when community members don’t feel safe or feel that those who are supposed to protect them aren’t responding to their needs,” said Ryan Tobiasz, Psy.D., Master’s in Forensic Mental Health Leadership (FMHL) program director and assistant professor.  “Forensic mental health clinicians can advocate for those communities by working with police and public safety officers to better addressing those needs at a community level.”

It’s the reason why the FMHL program on Adler’s Chicago Campus is launching a new course dedicated to training students to assist law enforcement and other public safety personnel and agencies in carrying out their mission and societal functions more effectively, safely, and ethically.

“Our students recognize the social and political issues related to effective or ineffective police work,” said Dr. Tobiasz. “They want to make an impact by fostering greater connection between community members and public safety officials, particularly here in Chicago.”

The Police and Public Safety Psychology course will begin during the Summer II term. It will be taught by Gary Goines, who is joining Adler University as an adjunct professor. He is a former U.S. Capitol police officer and has taught forensic psychology since 2014.

Key topics covered by the course include police culture and diversity; police psychology screening and training; critical incidents and traumatic stress, such as officer-involved shootings and line-of-duty deaths; operational stress and crisis management; fitness for duty evaluations; police-community relationships; the police and use of force; law enforcement family life and organizational support.

Ryan Tobiasz sits in front of a blurred background

Dr. Tobiasz

The learning outcomes of the course include a broad understanding of what public safety is and the roles of law enforcement officers.

“When we talk about public safety, it’s really any individuals or groups engaged with the community,” said Dr. Tobiasz. “Along with police officers, that includes first responders, firefighters, and correctional officers who work in prisons and jails. Given the strains on our current health care system, we can include our nurses and health care providers.”

These professions often see a significant amount of violence and deaths, and it’s the role of forensic mental health clinicians to help them manage and address that trauma.

“This new course will teach our students how to assess these officials and provide individual or group counseling,” said Dr. Tobiasz. “I encourage those interested in a career working with public safety professionals and making an impact in their relationship with the communities they serve to take this course.”

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