Flaws in the System: Police Hiring and Support
Reports of alleged police brutality are a common occurrence in popular media, spurring discussions of excessive force, the abuse of power and all things “unlawful.” Despite the extensive reporting on such instances, accredited individuals believe there is room for improvement when it comes to civic duty.
The process of becoming a police officer is an extensive one. An individual must complete a series of exams before entering a basic application, participate in a video exam meant to assess interpersonal skills and judgment, pass a physical fitness and ability test meant to assess specific job related tasks and undergo an extensive background investigation. The force will conduct a fingerprint check, interview previous employers, talk to school or military personnel and contact previous neighbors and family members. This is followed by a comprehensive drug test and psychological testing comprised of written exams and an interview by a licensed psychologist. The applicant will then undergo a polygraph to verify previously submitted information, will be subject to an “oral board,” made up of members of the hiring authority. The last step is a medical examination, typically after a conditional employment has been offered. After initial employment, officers may be subject to a variety of programs intended to prevent or mitigate potential problematic behaviors. Intervention programs can be direct, usually meaning counseling or crisis debriefing, indirect, entailing training and wellness programs, or broader approaches, targeted to helping populations as a whole.
It is, by no means, an easy task to enter the field of law enforcement. The process is long, and only those the most qualified are employed. There are also measures taken during the course of employment to support the officer and correct areas of potential issues. The question that arises is if there is significant room for improvement in the hiring process or in the nature of police work itself, and if so, where.
“The system actually works quite well when properly implemented,” father of Catalyst writer Haley Jordan, Kenyon Jordan, specialist in police and public safety psychology, gave his opinion on the possible roots of alleged police brutality. “However, these methods become expensive, particularly for small departments that lack a critical mass and sufficient budget to put these processes in the place.”
As a police psychologist, Jordan is part of the assessment portion of the hiring process. He conducts extensive interviews and evaluates a candidate’s fitness for duty. “As a police psychologist, we try to select people with personality traits that enabled them to tolerate stress, respond in a flexible manner and all the while demonstrating high levels of conscientiousness, integrity and respect for others.” Jordan accredits problems with unwarranted use of force to two major sources: the age an officer begins duty, specifically in terms of experience with stressful situations, and an understaffed police force, leading to the overburdening of individuals and stress on their support systems.
“Many applicants have never experienced the type of stress and degree of stress they may encounter as an officer,” Jordan commented. “Some get into the job for reasons related to TV cop shows and fail to realize the massive responsibility of being a commissioned officer.” Jordan noted many “initially pursue police work for glory and excitement, only to find out that it can be long hours during which time you are interacting with the least desirable aspects of society and human nature.” He joked, “You never see this side of policing when you are watching Criminal Minds.”
Chief of Police Michael Kessie also commented on various aspects of law enforcement as a career and noted that the age an officer begins duty is a major consideration in terms of that individual’s preparedness for the stressors of the job.
“A big part of this job is training on the job,” Kessie noted. “There are many different scenarios and things that can happen to you and you can’t go to school and learn everything. The rule of thumb I’ve seen is it takes about five years for an officer to feel comfortable working by himself.” The minimum age requirement for duty varies depending on the state, but generally, officers begin in their late teens or early twenties.
“Police officers in West Germany have a field training period of no less than two years,” Jordan commented on the subject. “Which officers do you think are receiving better training? Field training is often a period of “sink or swim” and from an evolutionary perspective, it might make sense.”
Kessie comments that young officers are “trying to help people but sometimes don’t have a lot of knowledge and life experience to help them,” especially in domestic situations, as many young officers are unexperienced in this specifically. Kessie believes that Florida’s minimum age requirement of nineteen is, “a little young,” but more than age, he accredits readiness to an individual’s maturity. Jordan also mentioned the overburdening of individuals as a major problem that could be the trigger for misconduct.
“Lack of adequate funding frequently leads to unexpected overtime and higher levels of resulting job stress, and ultimately burnout,” Jordan commented. Understaffing in combination with the many possible sources of stress innate to law enforcement, can make for dangerous combination.
“When things are going bad in terms of the economy, everybody is being asked to do more,” officer Kessie noted. “And law enforcement in general, are asked to do so much more with less.” Kessie commented on how often times officers need to be up late and available. “In this line of work, it never really stops… it’s really a 24/7 job for all law enforcement officers.”
Jordan noted that overburdening leads to stress on an officer’s supporting family and friends which can also be a contributing factor. “A primary source of being overburdened for young officers comes from their inability to balance home life and work. They are typically assigned third shift, which means they will be sleeping during the day and working at night. Absence from family activities such as childcare places all the responsibility on the spouse, further stressing a relationship that is a a primary support system for that officer.”
Officer Kessie also commented on the importance of support systems. He noted that young officers need to be encouraged to spend time with people outside of law enforcement, as to not become “entrenched” with like minded individuals sharing many of the same opinions.
There are many individual and intertwined facets of the responsibilities and ultimately risks that accompany law enforcement as a career. Despite the imperfections of individual actions and the system as a whole, law enforcement is continuously evolving, and those tasked with society’s protection, as well as choosing those who protect it, do not take the charge lightly.
“We could take somebody’s life or liberty away from them,” Kessie commented. “You have to think about that every day, it’s serious. This career is not for everybody, but some of the violence or abuse that you see out there is an exception to the rule. Most officers are trying to do the best job they can, they get into it not thinking about making a million dollars, they get into it to help people, and to make a difference in their community.”
Info for this article was taken from http://coloradoassessment.com, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org, http://discoverpolicing.org