Recruitment, Training Standards and Police Certification: Insights from Patterns of Misconduct among Previously Experienced Officers

Article excerpt

Research at a major Canadian police service identified an unusually high rate of misconduct on the part of previously experienced officers within a few years of recruitment. Through an innovative early warning system, patterns of misconduct emerged and characteristics of those with high rates of misconduct were examined. Results indicate that previous experience, context of previous experience, length of training and first assigned district all contributed to rate of misconduct. It is suggested that these findings have implications for current practices and provide direction for adjustments to recruitment, training and certification of police officers.

Police recruiting markets are highly competitive and it may be argued that the stakes for the recruitment and retention of qualified applicants is reaching the peak of a 25-year cycle. Specifically, a boom in hiring in the late 1970's and early 1980's has led to an increase in retirements for officers who have served approximately twenty-five years. In addition to this competition among police services for personnel, it is important to note that private and other government employers are also competing for dwindling human resources to replace their aging work force (Malatest, 2003). It has been suggested that many of these replacements represent a new generation of officers who tend to be more mobile, more willing to relocate for new job opportunities, and whose organizational loyalty appears to be motivated by new factors that are only now being acknowledged (Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Canadian Police Association, 2001). As such, it is clear that an understanding of these factors has the potential to enhance recruitment and retention of professional candidates that embrace positive organizational values.

As a partial response to the competitive environment described above, police services have increased efforts to recruit experienced candidates from other agencies (Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Canadian Police Association, 2001). These Previously Experienced Officers (PEOs) are defined as officers that graduated from a recognized training program and were employed as sworn police officers in another jurisdiction. PEOs (or "gypsy cops") are characterized by their movement between police agencies. Although primarily an American phenomenon, this practice has also generally been accepted in Canadian policing circles as a strategy to hire experience to replace an aging workforce. It may be argued, however, that although PEOs often bring enormous strengths to an organization, they can also bring behaviours and cultural identities that are different from the hiring police service and this may subsequently result in a disproportionately higher number of public complaints against their conduct as compared with inexperienced recruits. There is little to be found in the research literature regarding the subject of PEOs and even less empirical information is available that assesses their conduct. Related research into developing predictive capabilities in police corruption, however, is comparatively well published (see e.g., Lamb, 1994). The results of this research have led some agencies to rely on psychological profiling to determine an officer's pre-disposition to violent behaviour at the recruitment and selection process. Yet, despite the research on psychological profiling, some of the pre-eminent sources of law enforcement information have relatively no information on PEO conduct (e.g., Department of Justice (Canada), Department of Justice (U.S.), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Police Foundation, Police Executive Research Forum, National Institute of Justice, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police).

It should be noted that hiring PEOs is not an entirely new practice. Police agencies can hire a PEO as a strategy to replace experience on the street without the requirement of additional training or with only an abbreviated version of the training. …