Chapter 2

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7 Feb 2011

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PSYC39 Psychology and Law
Chapter 2 Police Psychology
This chapter will deal with a number of issues in the area of police psychology, including
police selection, police discretion and police stress.
Case study
Officer James Leyton gets a call from patrol radio indicating that a domestic
violence dispute has been reported. The report says that neighbours heard
screaming and sounds of gunshots from the house. Officer Leyton and his partner
arrive at the house where they can hear two people arguing. The knock on the
door, which is opened by a young girl who tells the officers that her parents are
fighting in the kitchen. Officer James approaches the kitchen and sees a man and
women. The man is upset. From their conversation, officer Leyton figures out that
the woman has caught the husband cheating on her, and is threatening to divorce
him and move away with the child. At this point, the man reaches for a gun on the
kitchen counter and tells his wife he will kill her if she ever leaves. The husband
points the gun at the wife, but before any shots are fired, office Leyton shoots the
husband in the chest. Officer Leyton radios for an ambulance and the husband is
taken to the hospital, where he dies from his injuries.
The case study above raises many questions about police officers and the nature
of their work. As police psychologists we can ask the following
oWhether Officer Leyton is able to think clearly when he is under pressure.
oIf not, then why was he able to successfully graduate from the police
oDid officer Leyton make an appropriate choice when he decided to shoot
the husband?
oWas there anything else he could have done?
For example use mace or pepper spray OR de-escalate the situation
by asking the husband to calm down and talk things through.
oHow will officer Leyton deal with the death of the husband? Will he be
able to shrug off the incident and go back to his normal ways or will he
need psychological counselling?
Police Selection
The following is from the City of Vancouver Police Department Recruiting
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oOn any given day police officers respond to burglar alarms, console
victims and assist people getting their life back on track. They log events
at crime scenes, apprehend criminals and testify in court. The officers use
skilled investigation techniques. They are required to have sound
knowledge of modern police methods. They also must learn the Criminal
Code and other police policies. Often officers must make detailed
observations, and recall events after the fact for court purposes. They are
trained to deal with fire arms under emergency situations. Finally they
must deal with people who are intoxicated, high on drugs or mentally
From this excerpt police work is complex, demanding, stressful, and a
potentially dangerous occupation. Policing requires intelligent, creative,
patient, ethical, and hard-working individuals.
This requires a use of valid police selection procedures which is a set of
procedures used by the police to either screen out undesirable candidates or
select desirable candidates.
Brief History of Police Selection
The task of selecting police officers is not a new phenomenon for police agencies
or psychology. In the early 20th century Lewis Terman used the Stanford-Binet
intelligence test to assist with police selection in California (Terman, 1917).
This led him to recommend a minimum IQ score of 80 for applicants.
In 1940 personality tests were used for LAPD applicants using the Humm-
Wadsworth Tempermant Scale. This predicted job success with high levels of
By the 1950’s psychological and psychiatric tests became mandatory for all
applicants. Later on police agencies were required to use formal selection
processes, which included measuring cognitive abilities and personality features.
Table 2.1 displays the different selection procedures used and the percentage of
police agencies that use them.
In Canada all police agencies conduct background checks and medical exams for
all applicants. Canada also uses tests that measure cognitive ability, personality
and conscientiousness.
The Police Selection Process
The general stages that a force must go through are the same whether they use a
screening out approach or selecting in approach.
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There are 2 stages to the process
1. Job analysis agency must define knowledge, ability and skill (KSA’s) of a
‘good’ police officer.
2. Construction and validation agency must develop an instrument for
measuring the extent to which police applicants possess these KSA’s. The
agency must also determine the instruments validity to the extent which the
instrument actually measures on the job police performance.
Conducting a Job Analysis
oAn organization psychologist along with the police agency conducts the
job analysis. The psychologists can use many different techniques to
identify the KSA’s including survey methods and observational
oOne of the major problems that can be encountered is that the KSA’s
of a good police officer may not be stable over time. This makes it
difficult to determine what the selection procedures should actually be
testing for.
For example: Pugh (1985a, 1985b) found that at two years of
service, police officers who were enthusiastic and fit in well
were rated as the best officers, while at four years stable and
responsible officers were given the highest rating.
oDifferent types of police officers and different policing jobs will be
characterized by different KSA’s
Ainsworth KSAs that describe the ideal police officers will
not be the same KSAs that describe the ideal police
administrator. Therefore as police officers move up in the
rankings their relevant KSA’s will change.
oAnother problem of the job analysis is that individuals may disagree over
which KSAs are important.
Asking street level cops and senior police administrators to define
characteristics of a good police officer you are likely to get
different answers.
oAinsworth asked street level cops to list qualities that were essential for
effective policing and found that having a sense of humour was on top of
the list. This tends not to be important to police administrators.
oSanders states that the most important KSAs are typically related to
cognitive skills.
oRegardless of how the job is conducted the following KSAs are viewed as
Honesty, Reliability, Sensitivity to others, good
Communication skills, high Motivation, Problem solving skills
and being a Team player.
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