I have a line-up of clients to see today. First up, four young men so eager to be cops they will be vibrating with excitement. And anxiety. They’re here for the dreaded pre-employment psych screening. I’m the Kenilworth Police Department psychologist, the last and biggest hurdle they have to pass. My job is to make sure the cops KPD hires are emotionally stable and fit to do the job. Hiring the wrong person can have disastrous results. My first year on the job, Ben, a troubled young rookie I was counseling killed himself and left a note blaming me. My ex-husband did Ben’s psych screening. I blamed him. Turns out we were both wrong.
I listen for the knock on my office door. It will be forceful, then tentative. As though this is a test, a demonstration that the applicant has the requisite range of behavior to be a cop—compassion and courage, fearlessness and self-restraint. I’ll open the door and there he’ll be, like a bright shiny penny, so eager to get the job he’d work for free. He doesn’t know what I know, that in five short years, the wear and tear of the job will start to show and he’ll be putting in an overtime slip every time he has to work fifteen minutes past the end of his shift.
In thirty years, he’ll look like the veteran cop I’m scheduled to see this afternoon. On the verge of retirement, terrified of losing his identity, his purpose in life, and his friends, he is only just now confronting what it means to exchange the perks of authority for the anonymity of civilian life. Not to mention trying to repair a marriage frayed thin by playing second fiddle to the job.
KPD is a moderate size agency of 70 officers. Joke all you want that KPD cops prefer lattes and vegan-schmeared whole grain bagels to donuts, there’s crime in this valley. The cops are busy. So am I. The second year I worked for KPD, Officer Randy Spelling shot an unarmed pregnant teenager after mistaking her cell phone for a gun. As KPD’s only female street cop, she struggled to be accepted by her male colleagues, until she killed Lakeisha Gibbs. Then she became an overnight hero. She rejected the praise as soundly as she rejected my efforts to help her with her PTSD. When she tried to apologize to the dead girl’s family, the results were catastrophic.
Now I’m dealing with Officer Manny Ochoa, primary investigator of the Internet Crimes against Children task force. KPD is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s a terrible irony that the pedophiles Manny chases have better computers than he does. I can see the job is hurting him and his family. His wife Lupe begged to see me today. She’s asked Manny to come with her. I doubt he’ll show up. Cops are resistant to seeking help. They think it means they are weak. I think it means they are human.
Chief Jay Pence, appointed Manny to the task force. He should have asked me if I thought Manny, a new father, was emotionally prepared to do this job. He didn’t. In my short tenure at KPD I’ve worked for three different chiefs. With the exception of Chief Jacqueline Reagon, a capable but damaged woman, it’s a race to the bottom between that atrocious fireplug of a man, the now banished Chief Baxter, and Pence who fires then hires me back about every other month. Now that Manny’s in trouble, he’s leaning on me to fix the problem.
Why do I put up with him? I care deeply about my cops. My fiancée, Frank. thinks I’m too dedicated for my own good and that I take chances I shouldn’t. I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet for dragging him to a hip-hop club, pretending I liked the music, when I was actually looking for a missing murder suspect. Now the tables have turned. The daughter of his beloved photography teacher, JoAnn Juliette (known as JJ), has gone missing. Manny thinks JJ’s provocative photos of her daughter are responsible for the child’s disappearance. So does everyone else at KPD. Except Frank who seems to think JJ can do no wrong. I have no reason to suspect him of being unfaithful, but I didn’t suspect my first husband either until he dumped me for a younger woman. My friends think Frank is the best thing since sliced bread. Pickings are slim for 50 year-old women. My mother thinks so too. She’s desperate to see me married again before she dies. She’s in good health, but I can’t shake the feeling that my staying single is the only thing keeping her alive and she’ll drop dead the minute we tie the knot. If we tie the knot.
Sorry. Here’s the knock I’ve been waiting for. As predicted, two hard hits followed by two soft taps.
You can read more about Dot in The Fifth Reflection, third in the “Dot Meyerhoff” mystery series.
A missing child. An eccentric mother. An obsessed and troubled investigator. A police psychologist trying to help them all―at her own peril.
Police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff is pulled into the vortex of a terrible crime involving an eccentric photographer whose images of nude children make her a prime suspect in the disappearance of her own daughter. The principal investigator in the case is a young officer whose dedication to work and obsession with finding the missing child is tearing his own family apart. Trapped between her allegiance to the investigator, her complicated connections to the photographer, and her unstable relationship with the police chief, Dot must find a way to help everyone involved. As Dot’s psychological expertise and determination contribute to solving the mystery, her involvement with the missing child’s extended, dysfunctional family brings her face-to-face with painful psychological issues of her own. The Fifth Reflection delivers a chilling, up-close look at the psychological strain of investigating Internet crimes against children, the complexities of being married to a cop, and the deadliness of jealousy.
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About the author
Ellen Kirschman Ph.D has been a police psychologist for 30 years. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement as well as Sisters-in-Crime, Mystery Writers of America and the Public Safety Writers Assocation. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association’s 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association’s 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology. In addition to the Dot Meyerhoff mystery series Ellen is the author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. Ellen lives in Redwood City, California with her husband, a retired remodeling contractor turned photographer.
She maintains a website at www.ellenkirschman.com and blogs with Psychology Today and The Lady Killers.
All comments are welcomed.