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Dr. Hurwitz shares his experience teaching FBI agents

We recently chatted with Dr. Hurwitz, who is a full-time faculty member at Tiffin University in the School of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences. Dr. Hurwitz recently taught at the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group’s Criminal Investigative Analysis Training Program.

Tell us about the training program that you were invited to teach.
I was invited to teach for a day as part of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group’s Criminal Investigative Analysis Training Program. This is the training program at all new FBI Supervisory Special Agents (SSA) assigned to the Behavioral Analysis Unit attend.

What attracted to you to this program?
Several things. First, I was invited by one of our alumni, SSA Jake Hardie. Jake got his bachelor’s of criminal justice in forensic psychology and then several years later came back to get his master’s of science in criminal justice in forensic psychology. Jake was the supervisor at the Toledo office of the FBI when he was in the master’s program. Just as he was finishing, he was accepted into the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He thought that there were some things that I did in the graduate program that would be helpful for the training program. Second, it was certainly prestigious to be asked to teach for a day as part of the training for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. That is where many our forensic psychology students, both undergrad and grad, aspire to work one day. Finally, it held a personal meaning for me. When I was a graduate student at Syracuse University, my mentor was Dr. Murray Miron. He was the first person I met at Syracuse. He did consulting work for the FBI and eventually he hired me to assist on working cases. The work he did was for the FBI Laboratory in Washington D.C. When I was getting ready to graduate, the supervisor from the lab had come to Syracuse University to visit Miron and she gave me a FBI patch as a thank you for the work I did. That was almost 30 years ago. I have kept that patch pinned on my bulletin board all this time and I brought it with me that day. When I introduced myself, I explained that this was like coming full circle for me coming back to do something for the FBI all these years later.

What was the topic of your teaching, and why is this subject critical to students in the CJ field?
The topic was criminal thinking errors, based on the work of Dr. Samuel Yochelson and Dr. Stanton Samenow. Their book, The Criminal Personality, was groundbreaking when it was published back in 1976. It challenged many of the ideas people had about psychological and sociological causes of crime. Their work now serves as the basis for a program called Thinking for a Change that was developed by the National Institute of Corrections. It is used throughout the country in both prison and community-based rehabilitation programs. It has been adopted for both adults and juveniles. It is important work for anyone who works with offenders because it gives you insight into how criminals think. This was one of the reasons I was looking forward to this presentation. Yochelson and Samenow’s work is widely used for programs that focus on getting criminals to become aware of and understand their faulty patterns of thinking that leads to criminal behavior. The goal is to change these thinking patterns which will reduce their likelihood of committing more crimes and increase their likelihood of becoming responsible people. I was very curious to see how it would be adaptable to audience whose work is arresting criminals.

What are the main takeaways from criminal thinking errors?
Yochelson and Samenow wanted their readers to understand that crime is a choice. For the most part, offenders are not mentally ill (and they did their initial study with prisoners who were in a psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C.) and that there is no single set of family or early life circumstances that predicts future criminal behavior. Criminals have distinctive patterns of thinking and these patterns are common across all types of offenders regardless of the specific crime they committed. People tend to look at some of the things criminals do and think they must be “crazy” for doing these things. But when you begin to understand the behavior from the perspective of how criminals think, it becomes logical. When I teach this material, I refer to is as rationality within irrationality. The behavior makes no sense to someone looking at from the outside but within the irrational thinking of the criminal, it is quite rational.

If a student is interested in joining the FBI, what about TU’s programs prepares students for this career?
We have several alumni working for the FBI in different capacities. They are special agents. Jake is a Supervisory Special Agent and Intelligence Analyst. Some of our more recent alumni work in professional support positions. The BCJ in forensic psychology gives students a dual focus in criminal justice and psychology. They develop a full understanding of the criminal justice system and the many ways in which psychology applies. The emphasis on research and critical thinking skills prepares them for different roles within the Bureau. The MSCJ continues this education with a more in-depth focus. The program is a blend of clinical and research based courses. Students get substantive content related to criminal behavior in psychology and law, psychopathology of criminal behavior, advanced proseminar in clinical and experimental forensic psychology, sex crimes and paraphilia and substance abuse (Volume III of Yochelson and Samenow’s work is devoted to the drug user). They further hone their research skills and learn assessment and forensic counseling methods. These skills are relevant to working with offenders outside of clinical contexts. That was one of the main messages of my presentation to the BAU.

How much of this training is taught in your classroom at TU?
I touch on this a little in my undergraduate psychology and law class. And I devote about seven weeks in my graduate advanced proseminar in advanced clinical and experimental forensic psychology. It is the focus of the second half of the course and students read most of Yochelson and Samenow’ s book, “The Criminal Personality, Volume 1.”

What was your favorite part of this training program?
My favorite part were the conversations I had with agents in Jake’s unit within the BAU. I appreciated the positive feedback I received on my presentation. As I mentioned earlier, this was a very different audience than the traditional one for this type of presentation and I was very curious to see if they found it applicable to their work. I really enjoyed discussing some of the research that people in that unit have done. There were framed reprints of articles they had published in some prestigious forensic psychology, academic journals. We talked about the importance of research in the work that they do.