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Psychological Testing and the Selection of Police Officers: A National Survey

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 30 Issue: 5 Dated: October 2003 Pages: 511-537
Robert E. Cochrane; Robert P. Tett; Leon Vandecreek
Date Published
October 2003
27 pages
This article discusses current selection and psychological assessment practices for police officers.
This study examined how police departments differ based on their size and degree of selectivity of applicants. The hypotheses were: (1) police departments would use psychological evaluations to a higher degree than has been found in prior studies; (2) larger police departments and more selective departments would use a greater number of selection devices; and (3) larger departments would use a pass-fail approach to psychological assessment and a minimum cutoff score approach to the selection process. The survey was mailed to personnel departments of municipal police agencies located throughout the United States. The results showed that psychological assessment of police candidates has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, with 52 percent of agencies using psychological screening in 1988 compared to more than 90 percent in this study. Police agencies used nine different procedures when selecting new recruits. Although most departments reported using similar procedures (background investigation, medical exam, interview, application, and psychological assessment), great variability existed. The departments differed in terms of specific duties and the amount of time invested in performing different tasks. Although psychological assessment appears to be valued in the selection process, very few individuals were rejected based solely on the results. Whereas the typical agency did not report using norms for most of their procedures, a large percentage did use norms for psychological testing. A significant minority of agencies failed to follow public policy guidelines and other recommendations. The majority of agencies used a pass-fail approach to psychological assessment results. There were few differences found in selection and psychological assessment practices among departments of different size, population served, and degree of hiring selectivity. Larger departments used more procedures to select candidates, but were not more likely to use more sophisticated measures in the selection process. 4 tables, 1 note, appendix, 54 references