Comparing Forensic Psychology Subspecialties

Topic: Professional Psychology
Words: 637 Pages: 2

Forensic psychology comprises several subspecialties: police psychology, criminal psychology, correctional psychology, victimology, and legal psychology. This paper aims to discuss similarities and differences between legal psychology and police psychology. These subspecialties differ in their area of application and the tasks performed. However, both of them aim to assist other professionals in the criminal justice system, and the primary objects of their jobs are the defendants, although they can sometimes work with victims.

The first difference between legal and police psychology is the area of application. Legal psychology is applied in courts at different stages of litigation. They often serve as trial consultants to lawyers and assist them with various tasks related to trials. In contrast, police and investigative psychology is used in law enforcement. In the police, forensic psychologists help law enforcement officers with investigations and interrogations.

Since legal and police psychologists work in different areas of the criminal justice system, the tasks they perform are also different. One of the key duties of legal psychologists is violence risk assessment. It means that forensic psychologists are required to evaluate to what extent one is likely to be dangerous to oneself or to others (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Risk assessment is crucial in the judicial system because it helps the judges to decide whether the suspect should be detained or released on bail or choose between probation and incarceration (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Another task performed by legal psychologists is sanity evaluation, which involves the assessment of the defendant’s mental state at the time when the crime was committed. When accomplishing this evaluation, forensic psychologists gather a lot of background information about the offender and conduct interviews, and their conclusions help a jury or a judge determine whether the defendant should be held responsible (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Furthermore, legal psychologists examine defendants’ competencies, such as competency to stand trial. The tasks accomplished by these specialists provide great assistance to lawyers and judges in deciding criminal cases.

In contrast, police and investigative psychologists perform duties related to the work of law enforcement. First of all, they conduct different types of profiling to help police officers identify suspects in complicated criminal cases. In particular, they can carry out crime scene profiling that may provide an insight into the general characteristics of the offender if this procedure is done correctly (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Another type of profiling is a psychological autopsy, using which forensic psychologists try to uncover the victim’s thoughts and behaviors shortly before death (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Psychological autopsy is applied to cases in which the victim’s suicide is questionable, which is why forensic psychologists performing this task can work for insurance companies. One more task completed by police psychologists is helping law enforcement officers with interviews and interrogations. Forensic psychologists’ aim in this setting is to mitigate the confrontational style of questioning and ensure a lower likelihood of coercion and false confessions (Bartol & Bartol, 2020). Police psychologists also work as researchers in the field of interrogations to help the police develop more humane and less confrontational ways of interviewing suspects.

Although legal and police psychologists perform different tasks, one may find several similarities in their work. For example, even though these specialties operate in different areas of the criminal justice system, both of them assist other professionals dealing with criminal cases. In their work, both legal and police psychologists use various demographic and background data to analyze individuals’ behaviors and make relevant conclusions. Although both specialties work with suspects or defendants, they can also evaluate victims. For example, legal psychologists can assess the impact of the crime on a victim and include it in the PSI report, while police psychologists may analyze victims’ behaviors prior to death during psychological autopsy. Thus, both subspecialties significantly contribute to the effective operation of the criminal justice system.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2020). Introduction to forensic psychology: Research and application (6th ed.). SAGE Publications.

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