Analysis of police selection process changes by thompson valley police service

Police Selection Analysis

Analysis of police selection process changes by thompson valley police service


This paper will review and assess the proposed impact of the Thompson Valley Police Service (TVPS) Commissioner’s decision to remove completion or partial completion of tertiary education for aspiring police recruit applicants, as well as the removal of psychological testing from the selection process, with the aim of doubling police recruit intake numbers over a three-year period. Firstly, this paper will examine the current literature surrounding police recruits and tertiary education, and then examine how the removal of current recruit criteria might impact both the quality of new applications as well as the volume. Secondly, this paper will examine the literature surrounding psychological testing for recruit applicants, look at why modern police forces are currently using this evaluation tool, and what potential outcomes might be involved in its removal. Throughout this paper, a variety of empirical research evidence from multiple countries with highly developed police bodies will be used. This paper will then conclude with a recommendation regarding Police Commissioner Jason DeVillain’s proposed changes.

Literature Review of Police Education Requirements

Currently, the available literature on police education requirements varies widely depending on the specific questions being asked. To look at the overall state of the relevant literature would be impractical, but we can review certain points of interest relevant to the TVPS proposed changes. Why has the trend in law enforcement agencies been towards increasing or implementing education requirements, and what do those agencies get out of them? Bostrom (2003) conducted a 3 year study on all sworn officers in the City of Saint Paul Police Department, and after controlling for experience, age, gender and ethnicity, he concluded that Officers with higher education degrees had less disciplinary actions, fewer traffic accidents, used less sick time, and were awarded commendations more often than non higher educated officers. Stevens (1999) discusses in his study of police officers (N = 2,461) that tertiary education as a requirement for recruits is a step towards the goal of better policing. Moreover, Roberts, Herrington, Jones, White, and Day (2016) found educated career police officers had more appropriate critical and creative thinking skills when faced with complex problems. This is further shown by Carlan (2007), who conducted a study (N = 1,114) of sworn officers and found that tertiary degrees improved officer communication skills, patrol and investigation procedures, and critical thinking skills. Also, Paoline and Terrill (2007) concluded that encounters involving educated tertiary police ended up being resolved with significantly less use of force than their less educated colleagues.

Moreover, Telep (2008) released a study of police officers (N = 925) with the conclusion that officers with tertiary education are less tolerant of corruption. Following on from these data-driven studies, Flores (2012) discusses in their paper how changes in the law enforcement environment, primarily additional focus on community policing and requirements to respond to mass casualty threats or events, have exponentially grown over the previous decades and that these now require more sophistication and refined policing in modern officers to effectively be dealt with. Furthermore, it has been previously established that higher education levels in sworn officers are a strong predictor of career progression (O & Armstrong, 2001). Finally, Maggard (2001) discusses the merits and benefits of higher education for police officers concluding that if there is a commitment from police leadership regarding higher education standards, it can lead to increased police professionalism and enhanced community service. These examples attempt to define the positive reasons why an education requirement might exist for police recruits in the first place. There is a substantial but variable benefit to having tertiary educated police officers. These types of qualifications appear to provide the structural support an officer needs to outperform their non-tertiary qualified counterparts (Shernock, 1992).

Analysis and Review of Education Requirement Removal

After reviewing the previously mentioned work, there are benefits for tertiary educated police officers over their non-educated brethren. Therefore, by reducing the number of educated tertiary officers or simply diluting the workforce, the TVPS will be making its workforce less efficient, lowering staff satisfaction and in some cases opening potential risks with officers using more force. Given the previously established benefits of having more police attain higher education, there is merit to these requirements being established in the first place. However, how do they impact recruit figures? A study by RAND Centre on Quality Policing (Ridgeway, et al., 2008) found that when the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) needed to increase police applicants to reach its authorized operating size, they could drastically increase recruit numbers by better targeting recruiting resources, making efficiency improvements in recruit screening and updating testing practices with modern infrastructure. They did not need to lower their education standards to receive a significant buff in application numbers. However, a similar study (Ashcroft, Daniels, & Hart, 2004) that surveyed U.S police agencies (N = 1,270) conceded that increasing applicant education requirements may have restricted overall recruit numbers.  However, there is also evidence that exists from a review of multiple different data set, that agencies requiring a bachelor’s completion or higher increased the volume of applications received from people with minority backgrounds (Taylor, et al., 2005). This is important to note because a successful police force is one that reflects the diversity of the community it serves (Drew & Prenzler, 2010).

By decreasing minority applicants either voluntarily or involuntarily, the hiring results may be impacted by hiring biases that reduce diversity in the police workforce. Another review of police hiring practices, focused on the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) found that raising education requirements would cut total application numbers by up to 30% (Decker & Huckabee, 2002). Regardless of conflicting studies, logic dictates that as the requirements are raised, the opportunity will be available to fewer people. So, removing the requirements would have an inverse impact. However, the amount of impact that this will have on inbound application numbers will largely depend on the demographics of the TVPS recruitment base and the surrounding area. Nonetheless, we can anticipate that the proposed changes to requirements for application will increase the overall volume of, but maybe not necessarily the quality of, successful applications.

Literature Review of Psychological Testing in Recruits

The second of the proposed changes that this report will look at is the removal of psychological testing from the recruit selection process. Cochrane, Tett, and Vandercreek (2003) have established through their work (N = 355, n = 155) that the uptake rate for police agencies using psychological testing as part of their recruit evaluation processes has drastically risen over the last decades. These type of tests are employed to allow police institutions to weed out potential recruits who would be prone to violence,  incapable of handling stressful situations, or susceptible to substance abuses (Varela, Boccaccini, Scogin, Stump, & Caputo, 2004). One of the most commonly used and accepted tests across multiple occupations, known as the five-factor model (FFM) measures Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism and Agreeableness (Oswald & Hough, 2011; Ono, Sachau, Deal, Englert, & Taylor, 2011). However, other models exist, such as Emotional Intelligence (EI) and the Inwald Personality Inventory (IPI), however, FFM is the test being more commonly used in police recruiting (Forero, Gallardo-Pujol, Maydeu-Olivares, & Andres-Pueyo, 2009), or as the primary part in a combination of tests (Arrigo & Claussen, 2003). Detrick and Chibnall (2006) were able to link FFM testing results as reliable indicators of job performance within the entry-level police fraternity. Each of these criteria tested shows a relative relationship to employee performance. Potential recruits and current officers who undertake these tests and score well receive fewer complaints from community members they interact with, are involved in fewer accidents and are rated higher by their management (Detrick & Chibnall, 2006; Ashkanasy, Bowen, Rohde, & Wu, 2007).

Appropriate scoring in these tests also indicates a potential recruit’s compatibility with modern policing tactics like community oriented policing, as mentioned earlier in the education requirement literary review (Ono, Sachau, Deal, Englert, & Taylor, 2011). By using psychological testing during their recruit application process, law enforcement agencies are better able to measure and evaluate potential recruits and their ability to handle the work, as well as assess potential performance indicators. This type of evaluation shows why many police agencies are now employing these resources to rank would be candidates and why TVPS would currently utilise this type of selection criteria. Evidence also exists that applicants who ‘stumble into’ the police field, and could potentially be filtered out by testing, report lower job satisfaction and perform lower than their counterparts (White, Cooper, Saunders, & Raganella, 2010).

Analysis and Review of Psychological Testing Removal

But what impact on recruit numbers do these psychological evaluations have? In response to a series of police officer misconduct accusations and subsequent firings, the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) instituted new psychological evaluations that resulted in 22% of applications being rejected (Diedrich, 2005). In a large study (N = 3,550) on applicants self-withdrawing from job selection eligibility, Ryan, Sacco, McFarland, and Kriska (2000) found that after being presented with a form of psychological testing, 42% (n = 1,517) of the applicants withdrew themselves from being considered for the role, a further 20% (n = 682) failed, and only 38% (n = 1,351) of the total cohort passed. From this review, psychological testing requirements artificially constrict the volume of recruit applicants. However, as Rostow and Davis (2002) point out ‘failure to properly select an officer is a form of negligent hiring’. Without psychological testing tools in place, TVPS may be opening itself up to potential issue in the future by using negligent hiring practices. A New Zealand report regarding a four year total of 22,993 police applicants shows that after vetting losses (n = 6,592), only 10% ( n = 1,503) candidates where successful after being confronted with a multitude of tests including psychometric and personality evaluations (Stewart, 2018). Additionally, Matthies (2011) points out that police recruit applicant numbers are tied to regional unemployment rate figures, as shown by the LAPD’s applicant numbers more than doubling during high unemployment years, while their advertising and other recruitment assets mostly stayed the same. These types of figures show the extent of unqualified applicants who can apply and consume police recruitment resources.

Summary and Conclusion

Without quantitative information on the current recruit numbers, or information available on the demographic figures for the area surrounding the TVPS, it is difficult to conclude the exact impact that lifting these requirements will have on intake numbers. However, by eliminating exclusionary requirements, it can be expected based on the earlier reviewed work that the volume of recruit applications would increase by some level. Whether this would be enough to double intake numbers over three years cannot be determined by this report. More important to consider would be the quality of these new applications. Education and Psychological testing requirements appear to be in place to provide recruitment specialists with tools to improve their efficiency in sorting through potential applicants. It is up to the recruiter to find potential recruits that will have the personality traits and skills required to make a successful police officer. By removing these tools, it not only makes the recruiter’s job harder, but it is also increasing the chances of either progressing recruits to training who will ultimately fail or end up providing police officers whose overall impact will be less than satisfactory or damage the reputation of the police force in the community. There is also a real cost involved in making recruitment resources inefficient, both in the budget sense and waste of training time for recruits who will ultimately not succeed. It is this report’s conclusion that the removal of tertiary education requirements and psychological testing for applicants would be ill-advised.

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