Home PageBlogInvestigative Hypnosis: The Beginnings of Police Psychology at The Los Angeles Police Department

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 23 seconds

Written by Joyce Bavlinka, M.Ed, LISAC

As we reorganize the Foundation’s book collection, I have come across several noteworthy books featuring those who have made strides in the fields of hypnosis and psychotherapy.

One such book was discovered in our historic book collection. It is the Handbook of Investigative Hypnosis (1980) by Martin Reiser, Ed.D. Reiser was director of Behavioral Science Service (BSS) for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and founder and director of the Law Enforcement Hypnosis Institute. He also served as president of the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies.

Born in Philadelphia in 1927, Reiser received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Temple University. He was in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He later taught at Penn State University and worked at Camarillo State Hospital in California. Reiser died in 2015.

In 1968, Reiser was appointed staff psychologist for the LAPD, the first such position offered at a major U.S. police department. His tasks were to meet the psychological needs of 9,000 department employees and their families, develop mental health standards for recruits, respond to crises, and provide psychological assistance on cases. He developed a model for training, hostage negotiation, and management of job-related stress that is still in use today.

In 1972, Reiser initiated a program on investigative hypnosis, and in 1975, began training police investigators to use non-therapeutic hypnosis with witness and victims in criminal cases. Reiser consulted on high-profile cases, including the late-1970s case against Kenneth Bianchi, aka, the Hillside Strangler. Reiser’s career took off when police departments began to utilize hypnosis for interviewing witnesses, but courts questioned the use of it. Due to possible confabulation, it is not recommended to use hypnosis to refresh the memory of witnesses.

The home page of the BSS website(www.lapdbss.online) credits Reiser as being the father of modern police psychology. Today BSS “provides police psychological services across four major domains: 1) Intervention, 2) assessment, 3) operational support, and 4) organizational consultation. Services include individual and relationship counseling for all employees and their significant others, responses to critical incidents, 24/7 on-call rotations to assist with on- or off-duty related crises, and managerial and operational consultation, including serving on the SWAT Crisis Negotiation Team.” LAPD currently has 17 staff psychologists.

Reiser presented at the first two Ericksonian congresses in 1980 and 1983. He wrote many articles for professional journals and authored three other books, including The Police Department Psychologist (1972); Practical Psychology for Police Officers (1973); and Police Psychology: Collected Papers (1982).

At the first congress, Reiser presented “Erickson and Law Enforcement: Investigative Hypnosis.” The transcript can be found in Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy (Zeig, 1982, Chapter 31, pp. 349-356). It is also included as a chapter in Police Psychology. Reiser states that Erickson considered hypnosis to be “…a most valuable tool in securing correct information from witnesses and victims of crime.” Reiser also discusses that hypnotized witnesses were sometimes disqualified from testifying due to hyper-suggestibility, confabulation, accuracy of recall, and memory distortion.

At the 1983 Erickson congress, Reiser presented “Investigative Hypnosis: Scientism, Memory Tricks and Power Plays.” This can be found in Ericksonian Psychotherapy, Vol. I: Structures (Zeig, 1985, Chapter 31, pp. 511-523). Reiser discusses the use of hypnosis in victim and witness recall and investigative hypnosis. He says, “Investigative hypnosis is a specialty within the police science arena rather than a therapy domain … and memory is not tainted by hypnosis.”

In Chapter 18 of the Handbook of Investigative Hypnosis, entitled: “Additional Induction Techniques, Direct and Indirect,” Reiser includes a lengthy section on Erickson’s naturalistic induction techniques that was taken from Erickson’s article published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (1958, Vol.1, pp. 3-8). He also discusses Erickson’s indirect rehearsal observation, and pantomime techniques. The bibliography includes seven citations from Erickson’s writing and a citation of a personal correspondence in 1978. The book includes transcripts of a hypnosis session and sketches made by artists of witnesses under hypnosis.

In Police Psychology: Collected Papers, Daryl Gates, former LAPD chief of police, calls Reiser the “dean of police psychologists…” “Some have gained more notoriety,” Gates says, “but none is more understanding of the psychology related to police problems, or more skilled in seeking out available solutions to these problems.” John Monahan, PhD, School of Law, University of Virginia, states that Reiser was a “breath of knowledge of stress, hostage negotiation… [and] hypnosis.”

Reiser’s legacy lives on through the many psychologists he trained and supervised, including, Dr. Susan Saxe-Clifford and Dr. Debra Glaser.

I got in touch with Saxe-Clifford, one of the psychologists who worked with Reiser. She said that Reiser was her mentor and influenced her in her career. Saxe-Clifford was a student at University of California when she started out doing part-time research, and in 1970, was hired by the LAPD as the first full-time psychologist. She served on the crisis response team and responded to critical incidents and attempted suicides. She was part of the team that attended an all-day training with Erickson in Phoenix in August 1978.

Saxe-Clifford worked for the LAPD for 14 years, and later for Reiser at the Law Enforcement Hypnosis Institute. She is the founder and past chair of the American Psychology Association Police and Public Safety and founder of Police Psychology, which trains police departments. While on the LAPD team, she consulted with the FBI on a case of missing evidence and used relaxation and hypnosis to assist an accused FBI agent in recalling the details of the case.

Saxe-Clifford provides pre-employment psychological evaluations, psychological fitness for duty evaluations, critical incident debriefing, training on a variety of topics, and management consultation to several public safety agencies throughout California (www.policepsych.com).

Saxe-Clifford coauthored with Reiser several reports and articles, including “Comparison of Three Police Applicant Groups Using the MMPI,” and “An Early Warning Mental Health Program for Police Sergeants.” She describes Reiser as a brilliant man ahead of his time. “Reiser set the field in motion,” she says of her former mentor who influenced her in her career.

I wondered if there was still anyone at the department who had worked with Reiser, so I called and emailed the LAPD. Several weeks later, I got an email from Dr. Debra Glasser.

Glaser was among the first to be hired by Reiser. She interned as a graduate student and later as a post-doc. Her career path was set once she began working with Reiser. Glaser worked for LAPD for 26 years, and when Reiser retired, she became the chief police psychologist. She served in that position for nine years. She was the first female commander at LAPD. Since 2008, she has taught police psychology at colleges and universities.

Glaser recounted how Reiser opened the field of police psychology to graduate students. “He was brilliant, determined, and a great mentor. He was reserved and innovative. He was good at what he did and had the perseverance to carry on.” While there was some resistance in the department to the use of hypnosis and psychology, Reiser stressed the importance of establishing connections and trying new things, even when others said it could not be done. He encouraged his staff and offered assurances, telling them that they had the skills and ability to get things done, despite difficult situations.

Building on the work of Reiser, was Roy Udolf, who wrote Forensic Hypnosis (1983). Udolf was from Hofstra University in New York. He trained in psychology and law and in his book discusses “…the psychology of hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena as it relates to forensic applications and the legal principles and cases law related to these applications.” Udolf cites Reiser’s work at the LAPD.

I casually picked up Investigative Hypnosis and it became a fascinating journey. As I investigated Investigating Hypnosis, it led me to those who worked for Reiser and to the legacy that he was building when he was alive.

I plan to feature more of the Foundation’s books and interesting people. So, look for future articles.

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