Dr. Bonner Recognized for Psychology in Public Interest

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Dr. Mkay Bonner has been recognized as the 2020 recipient of the Award for Psychology in the Public Interest by the Louisiana Psychological Association,
announced last month by the association officials.

The recognition is given to an individual who has made significant scholarly or
practical contributions to the health and well-being of the general public through their
work in psychology, said officials.

Dr. Bonner is an industrial-organizational psychologist who has worked closely with the police in Northeast Louisiana for decades. She is the Public Safety Psychologist for several police, sheriff, and fire departments. For almost 20 years, she has conducted a variety of evaluations for pre-employment, fitness-for-duty, and officer-involved shootings. Dr. Bonner is also an Associate Professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and teaches in the Criminal Justice & Psychology Departments, is a reviewer for the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, and authored or co-authored many journal articles and book chapters.

Dr. Bonner and her husband, Assistant Chief of Police at University of Louisiana at Monroe, Dr. Mark Johnson, serve on the Advisory Council of the Northeast Delta Crisis Intervention Team, known as CIT, covering 12 parishes in the northeast part of the state. She and her husband have now trained over 1300 individuals, mostly in the
law enforcement field, through a combination of more than 100 classes, ranging from 4 hour continuing education classes through the 40 hour complete CIT class. Johnson recently finished his EdD in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in Law Enforcement
training and evaluation.

The nominating psychologist said, “During the events following the tragic death of George Floyd there have been calls for radical police reform, perhaps even wholesale police abolition. Louisiana has a heritage of excessive police behavior and much to overcome. Yet some of us see this as a moment to apply the solutions that Dr. Bonner has been advocating throughout our state and beyond for a long time. We see an opportunity for hope in the midst of our current despair.

“For over 16 years Dr. Bonner has been working quietly, working intensely to provide evidence-based training to prevent police misconduct and to minimize police use of
deadly or inappropriate force. This work has occurred at an organizational and at a tactical level. At an organizational level she and her team have analyzed systemic and
institutional conflicts that result in disparate use of deadly or inappropriate behavior. They have subsequently worked to change specific dysfunctional cultures or systems associated with excessive applications of police use of force and of cultures of racism associated with citizen abuse by first responders. Interventions like this by nature do not get publicized. They are confidential. Who wants their region, their own jurisdiction, their town, most of all their police to be labeled and singled out? But change seems effective and reasonably long term, perhaps a source for a bit of optimism in the present American confusion.”

The nominating psychologist continued, “At a more tactical level Dr. Bonner and her colleagues’ work has developed theory-based training to address common situations involving crisis intervention that police and other first responders frequently encounter. Mental illness is one of these problems. Racism is another. This work is not unique, but I believe it is uniquely effective. There are numerous programs in the country for police and first responders that address race, class, and poverty. Many more attempt to train providers about general mental health issues. But the data shows that they are not particularly effective and don’t do much good over the long term. Perhaps this is because they too often teach generalities rather than train specific skills for high risk situations. They may succeed in raising awareness but do not impart lasting behavioral changes because they do not apply discrete knowledge to risky, emotionally charged situations and back it up with practice and continued training.”

Dr. Bonner is a regular participant and presenter at the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology, an eclectic professional organization that encourages the scientific study of police and criminal psychology and the application of scientific knowledge to problems in criminal justice.

Bonner has also presented at the professional conferences of the Society of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and Professional Training Resources, Inc. Examples include, A Successful Rural Mult-jurisdictional CIT Program: A
Quantitative & Qualitative 10 Year Review
, presented at the 2017 APA Annual
Conference; “Recruiting and hiring minorities into policing, with international
considerations,” in International Journal of Crime, Law and Social Issues; “The Intersection between law enforcement and persons with a mental illness,” in Crime, Punishment, and the Law; and “Doing more with less: The advantage of reserve officers in law enforcement,” in Innovations in Police Volunteering.

Dr. Bonner has taught multiple courses at the North Delta Regional Police Academy, including courses such as Emotionally Disturbed Persons–Mental Illness, Deescalation, Stress Management, Cultural Diversity, and Police Survival.

The nominating psychologist said, “Dr. Bonner’s and her colleague’s work has been different because it trains police and first responders to think through these necessary specifics. She addresses unusual situations, but situations that might not be unusual to first responders.

“Evidence shows that they reduce the use of deadly and inappropriate police actions by giving participants opportunities to learn and to think through and rehearse. They do not provide miracles, but they help us come closer to where we all want to be as a society.

“She, her husband, a former detective, with a great deal of ‘street credibility,” and colleagues can reach the people, the fellow officers, the paramedics, the fire personnel, the prison guards and correction personnel, that most of us academics just cannot. They can, have, and will continue to be able to address racism, culturalism, classism, and inequalities because they have an authenticity gained through years of experience and a much-earned trust.”

In a recent Times interview about Police Psychology, Dr. Bonner said that not only do psychologists need to stick to their scientific base of facts, but to be truly helpful and comprehensive, psychologists must learn the culture and work environment law-enforcement personnel.

“We must learn and understand the culture and environment that they work in,” she
said. “We cannot leave our office, open a book, lecture to them for two hours on mental illness, and expect it to make a difference. We must spend time with them, go on ride-alongs –at midnight, experience some of their training classes. We must understand them, how to talk to them, the best methods for them to learn…” she said.

“Psychology has much to offer. However, we cannot dabble in research and training with law enforcement,” she warns. “We must be committed and remember our roots of scientific research and competencies. That is how we can make a difference. And, it is an extremely worthwhile endeavor.”
Selection for awards were made by
members of the Louisiana Psychological
Association’s awards committee composed
of Drs. Mike Chafetz, Beth Caillouet
Arredondo, Brian Mizuki, Kim VanGeffen,
and Laurel Franklin. The committee
accepts nominations from the community
at-large.

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