Police Fine-Tune Hiring, Target Interpersonal Skills

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Videos of police officers using excessive force and controversies over fatal shootings surface regularly. In response, many police departments have updated their training on deescalation, mental health and implicit bias, reports Governing. Some cities are taking a more preventive approach. Most police departments require psychological testing of candidates, but it tends to happen late in the hiring process. The tests are primarily designed to eliminate applicants who display worrisome characteristics, such as wanting to join the force because they like guns or driving fast. “Most of our screening tools weed out,” says Beth Sanders, an associate professor at Bowling Green University studies police recruitment. “We don’t use anything that weeds in.”

Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have begun placing a focus on interpersonal skills and testing for them earlier. “The current selection process was not necessarily assessing candidates for that trait,” says Dan Hymowitz, director of performance and innovation for Baltimore. Now, the city uses a new screening test that poses questions to candidates based on videos of officers interacting with the public in situations they might face, such as a driver who is hostile when pulled over or ticketed. The test it replaced focused on reading comprehension, writing and arithmetic — cognitive skills as opposed to interpersonal skills and decision-making. D.C. has been giving a similar test to potential police since 2015. “Decision-making was not a core part of our hiring process before,” says Marvin Haiman of the D.C. police department’s professional development bureau. Focusing on this upfront, he believes, will “decrease negative behaviors or outcomes throughout the rest of their careers.” In Memphis, police recruiters are expanding their college outreach beyond criminal justice departments. They now seek out people with backgrounds in psychology and sociology.

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