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Deficient Police Psych Reviews Prompt Revamp

After a Houston psychologist was discovered vouching for the mental health of would-be police officers without even meeting them, the state is revamping its approach to screening the psychological and emotional health of law enforcement applicants.

Harris County Sheriff's Office headquarters in Houston, Texas

*Correction appended

After discovering that a Houston psychologist was vouching for the mental health of future police officers without meeting them face-to-face, the state's law enforcement licensing agency is revamping its entire system of screening police, jailers and dispatchers to prevent those with apparent mental issues from joining any Texas police force.

Gretchen Grigsby, the government relations director for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, said the agency is reviewing all of its requirements and procedures surrounding the psychological examination required before someone joins a police agency as a dispatcher, jailer or peace officer.

"The form, the process, the whole thing," Grigsby said.

For about 30 years, Houston psychologist Carole Busick screened would-be law enforcement personnel seeking a review of their "psychological and emotional health" to comply with state rules. The Harris County Sheriff's Office had a contract with Busick since 2012 to perform evaluations as needed for its 4,000-plus workforce. On Wednesday, the agency said Busick had performed evaluations on nearly half — 1,888 — of its workers. 

Last spring, according to a search warrant affidavit, an undercover commission investigator walked into Busick's Montrose office, paid $100 and was handed a "well worn" copy of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — one of the most popular personality exams given in the mental health field. The undercover investigator noted that the tests he was given had "tick marks" next to some answers, apparently made by previous test takers. At no time was he asked for his identification, the investigator said.

Shortly after taking that test and another one, investigator Jason Hufstetler left with a signed document, known as an L-3, verifying he had been examined by the psychologist and was cleared for hiring by any police department. Hufstetler never saw Busick during his visit, according to the search warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune.

"I did not speak with Dr. Carole Busick at any time during my visit," Hufstetler wrote of his April 29 visit.

Two weeks after Hufstetler left Busick's bungalow office, commission agents seized her files, and in August she and her husband Donald were indicted by a grand jury on three counts of tampering with a government record. Their cases have not come up for trial. The State Board of Examiners for Psychologists, in a separate move, placed Dr. Busick on probation. The couple's lawyer, Mike Hinton of Houston, confirmed she is out of the police exam business entirely. 

The Busicks declined to comment on their case. Hinton said Dr. Busick, gave the L-3 tests for 30 years and wasn't told she had to conduct face-to-face interviews or check IDs until the day her files were seized.  

"They handed her the letter that listed those requirements, but it's a little bit late when they're executing a search warrant," Hinton said. "She would have been glad to have done that. She would have been doing that immediately."

Six months after her files were seized, the commission cannot provide a count of how many officers in Texas used Busick for pre-employment evaluations. 

The Harris County Sheriff's Office paid more than $700,000 over several years to Busick for the exams, according to Ryan Sullivan, a sheriff's office spokesman. The police agency for Houston METRO, the city's transit service, confirmed that it has 81 officers who used Busick as their examiner. And at least one sheriff's office in the Houston area confirmed to the Tribune that it has seen cadets coming out of area police academies who have used Busick. 

The couple's lawyer said Harris County began requiring Busick to do a face-to-face interview with all of its potential hires in 2013. 

The licensing agency is encouraging but not requiring police officers to redo their psychological evaluations if they used Busick as their examiner, saying it's in their "best interest" to do so. 

Grigsby said the tests are important because they protect both the police agencies and the public. But, she said, officers who used Busick will keep their peace officer licenses even if they chose not to have another psychological exam. 

"There are some practical implications there," Grigsby said. "It's not a cheap thing to have that done."

But lawyers warn that psychologists, police officers and departments could face liability if psychological testing isn't properly done for a police officer whose behavior on the job comes into question.

"If an officer is violating someone's civil rights that didn't get the proper mental health screening. I think that creates a liability for the county or the doctor," said Chris Tritico, a Houston criminal defense lawyer.

The purpose of such testing is vital as a safeguard.

"Obviously, there's a system in place, an early warning system to make sure officers are mentally sound," said Philip H. Hilder, a Houston criminal defense attorney. "They do have very stressful jobs, and the purpose of having a psych eval is to safeguard the public. And if that's not being done, it's really problematic." 

The commission's rules allow any psychologist or psychiatrist in the state to conduct the pre-employment exams, and the results are not sent to Austin. Instead, the L-3 forms are kept by individual police agencies.

Also, Grigsby said the commission does not keep track of how many or which clinicians evaluate law enforcement personnel. Some police agencies, such as the Houston Police Department, perform their own pre-employment screenings. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect year for when the Harris County Sheriff's Office began contracting with Carole Busick to perform evaluations as needed for its workforce. The office had a contract with her since 2012.

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