Personality of Law Enforcement Officials: A Comparison of Law Enforcement Officials' Personality Profiles Based on Size of Community

By Surrette, Michael A.; Ebert, Joseph M. et al. | Public Personnel Management, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Personality of Law Enforcement Officials: A Comparison of Law Enforcement Officials' Personality Profiles Based on Size of Community


Surrette, Michael A., Ebert, Joseph M., Willis, Michael A., Smallidge, Tara M., Public Personnel Management


The idea of psychologically screening for law enforcement candidates is not new, in fact as far back as 1916 behavioral scientists have been involved in psychologically testing candidates. (1) In recent years psychological tests have been found to be valid and reliable predictors of police performance. Communities are seeking to know more about those who will soon be serving their safety needs. In the past, very little data was available on the reliability and validity of such psychological tests. Another reason tests are gaining popularity in police selection is because they have the potential to reduce some of the human influence on recruitment and selection.

It seems logical that different size communities lend themselves to different styles of living and thus placing different demands on law enforcement officials. Every jurisdiction employing law enforcement officers has different tasks, rules and client needs (2). It also appears that although psychological tests have been used for years, it is only recently that the law enforcement field has had a wealth of knowledge available to it concerning when to use the tests and what they best predict. With the knowledge that psychological tests are valid and reliable, coupled with the data that suggests that different size communities create different demands upon law enforcement officials, it seems logical that exploring the possibility that personality profiles exist among different officials in different communities would be beneficial. The exploration of a personality profile of a police candidate was explored using The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire Scales along with 12 measures of psychopathology (3). They found that the majority of police candidates in their study could be categorized in one profile group. The characteristics of the profile group labeled "Typical Cop" were found to be self-disciplined, socially bold, extroverted, emotionally tough and low in experienced anxiety.

A question left unanswered was whether or not the candidates in the study, who were selected from cities across America, fall into similar personality profiles because they were from similar size cities and departments.

Questionnaire data were collected from 830 randomly selected rank-and-file police officers from 15 police departments. There was a significant relationship between organizational tenure, duty assignment, geographical location and variation in the way police roles were performed. The findings are relevant and show the manifestation of how geographical location can alter the way police officers performed. (4)

In elaboration of the importance of geographical location on personality, a longitudinal study investigated risk factors in the development of psychological stress symptoms in a sample of 223 junior police officers. Participants were assessed using a self-reported methodology during training and again 12 months later on a range of personality, trauma exposure and symptom measures. Change of personality in the second assessment was due to the severity of incident exposure and geographical location. (5)

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the California Personality Inventory (CPI) were used as a means of comparing personality profiles of deputies and traffic officers. (6) After comparing the CPI and MMPI profiles, traffic officers and deputies were found to share many of the following characteristics: high defended, energetic, dominant, well adjusted, independent, spontaneous, socially flexible and free from anxiety-related behaviors. The scores indicated that introversion was undesirable and that traits such as dominance and leadership were related to effectiveness. The overall results of this study suggest that there are personality dimensions that set officers aside from the general public. The existence of a group of personality traits was closely related to the purpose of this research.

Previous research has used the MMPI as a test to determine psychological characteristics of police officers, and it was suggested that the MMPI was the most commonly used psychological test of law enforcement officials and that research on psychological assessment of police officers is so mixed that it may even be questionable to advance generalizations about possible discriminating characteristics. …

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Personality of Law Enforcement Officials: A Comparison of Law Enforcement Officials' Personality Profiles Based on Size of Community
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