The Psychology Of Police Misconduct 

Television media has become absolutely obsessed with reporting the failures of law enforcement. As much as I want to believe that the media is cultivating and inventing this ramped-up anti-police sentiment, law enforcement officers across our country continue to surprise me with with a growing number of unthinkable actions and outcomes.

These are critical incidents where innocent civilians, sometimes children, die at the very hands of men and women hired and trained to protect them. In their emergency responses, especially to incidents involving men and boys of color, many mistakes continue to be made which convolute and confuse those of us who want very badly to believe and support our men and women in blue.

These are very different times in which we now live. The majority of people today are carrying around high-definition video cameras in their pockets; even our homeless have cell phones. If you’re some random guy in a car or walking to school, and also happen to witness a critical incident where the police are called, you can record anything you see on video, no problem. Not only that, you may even get paid for your troubles. That is, so long as the video either verifies something irregular on the part of the police, or in lieu of that, fails to adequately clear the cops of suspicion. Either outcome is fine for today’s lackluster media. 

It’s important to understand though, civil litigation against our police doesn’t really punish bad cops, it punishes taxpayers. In most circumstances, the cop’s behavior won’t rise to the level of criminal behavior, but instead of a failure to follow policy and procedures. It is an unbelievably demanding job when you’re asked to make people stop doing bad things or stop people from doing bad things when they have no intention of doing what you say.

As a cop, you’re told to only use a reasonable level of force needed to effect the arrest for whatever situation you find yourself. Define that for me please…for an assault using fists, assault using a bat; a knife; a gun; a car! When you read it in a book or on a blog, it sounds kinda reasonable; right? But what about when you’re taking that punch, being spat on, or being threatened while you’re in the process. Situations often start off one way and end another. Fight’s escalate and deescalate. Suddenly “reasonable force” is a moving target. These are on-camera interviews while under the influence of adrenaline, fear, and anger. 

It’s easy to say the right things or do the right things when you’re not being attacked or required to attack and neutralize someone who’s not interested in what you have to say about it. The advent of all these instant video recordings mean that no longer will our cops get that benefit of doubt in court; no longer will they get those career second-chances when chaos, panic, fear, and confusion result in the unfortunate death of an innocent person.

It has become abundantly clear to me that many of our nation’s police officers fundamentally lack the emotional aptitude required for managing the tumultuous, many time riotous, circumstances often facing the 21st century police officer. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but what exactly would that be? As a former law enforcement officer myself, having worked in uniformed patrol, undercover drug, violent crimes, investigations and in senior management, I have, of course, very strong feelings and opinions regarding what’s been happening.

I just heard yesterday that the family of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old black boy in Cleveland, Ohio, received a settlement of Six Million Dollars from the City of Cleveland. This was for the shooting death of their young son back in 2014. A rookie Cleveland police officer shot and killed Tamir after confronting him while in possession of a pellet pistol.

Due to the officer’s inexperience, we could all say, just as if we were experts on the subject, that it was a lack of training that caused the rookie police officer to fire his weapon so quickly. But, it’s a far more complicated subject than just training or a lack thereof. I believe, more than anything else, that it is an individual’s emotional aptitude that essentially decides the fate of persons entering a law enforcement career path; whether the officer can work for 20 years anonymous to their own community or for 5 years and be known worldwide.

The overall professionalism of law enforcement has definitely increased over the previous 30 years. Oh, I could tell you some stories! Today, a good number of police departments require the minimum of an associates degree as a pre-employment prerequisite. But many people in the profession believe that it is low salaries that prevent local and state governments from attracting and keeping higher quality police candidates.

In no way could anyone deny that low salaries absolutely do have a detrimental effect on police recruitment efforts. I would think that all college graduates and high-aptitude individuals, who are otherwise non-degree’d, look first at potential pay as a principle factor in the decision-making process. But what about all the anti-police sentiments being perpetuated by the media and certain peer groups? Constant national headlines that rally against the police along with the appearance of a public disapproval all work to discourage interest in law enforcement careers for anyone who give’s a rats ass about what people think – usually a higher quality individual.  

That said, I have personally known and worked with police officers who held advanced degrees, a few from Ivy-League institutions. The rationale for these extraordinary qualified candidates putting their lives on the line unnecessarily, is due to the sometimes very rewarding social work elements of a career in law enforcement. These cops have a much higher calling or intense personal interest in the humanitarian side of what police often do. It’s not all car chases and gun play; cops more regularly assist the elderly, insure traffic safety, intervene in domestic disputes, transport organs to hospitals, or protect persons with car trouble while waiting on someone to help. Cops do lots of things. 

Working against all of us, however, is this extreme magnetism that many people have with a career in law enforcement that draws in both the best among us as well as equally high numbers of lesser-evolved souls who are insecure, have emotional, psychological and social disturbances, and in some cases may even have diagnosable mental disorders. If you googled it right now, it wouldn’t be hard to find true stories where notable serial killers posed as police officers to win an victims trust. Hell, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that some may have actually been police officers or attempted to become one. 

Fortunately some 28 states, including my own state of Tennessee, have standards & training commissions, along with state laws that explicitly mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a mental and physical health evaluation as a minimum qualification for police recruits. That’s great for the people living in one of those 28 states but there’s still a major problem in that most of these states have exceptionally vague language in those statutes.

Most have laws requiring only that a police candidate “be free from any impairment, as set forth in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” that would, in the professional judgement of the examiner, affect an applicant’s ability to perform any essential function of the job“.

In the end, it’s completely up to the examiner to make that determination. If their particular arsenal of diagnostic tools is limited, so then will be the psychologist’s ability to make sound judgement’s on these men and women who will be trusted with the authority, defined by their own judgement, to stop us; to detain us; to arrest us; or, to kill us. There is really no consistency among psychologists who perform these critically important pre-employment psychological evaluations.

Example: In one particular police job I worked, the requirement was for me to show up at a Psychiatrist’s office for four days straight. During those four grueling days, the psychiatrist asked me to perform a battery of different styled tests that were designed to examine not only my personality but also my IQ, my hand-eye coordination, coping mechanisms, sexual or other deviance, honesty, and my observational skills. These were all culminated by a three-hour one-on-one interview with a psychiatrist to ensure that my test results weren’t in some way skewed by unknown factors. In the end, it’s his/her professional opinions that matter most. 

In other police jobs, mostly in the more rural jurisdictions where budget is always a concern, I was merely asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI – MMPI²) test then interview with a psychologist and answer questions for 30 minutes. For yet another job, a psychologist simply interviewed me for an hour then cleared me to be hired.

The MMPI test is by-far the most widely used diagnostic tool trusted by psychologists to determine whether personality disorders might exist with police recruits. But the laws governing mandatory testing are so vaguely written that unscrupulous psychologists can and do clear candidates from time-to-time where that decision was perhaps, more driven by how a Sheriff or Police Chief may personally view the candidate than with how the candidate fared with any particular diagnostic test(s).

I’ve been witness to incidences where a police candidate, who was personally known and favored for employment by a Sheriff, but who could not get an acceptable psyche report from the department’s contracted psychologist, who were quickly sent to an alternate, more agreeable, psychologist in order to obtain a guaranteed favorable result. It sounds insane but its absolutely true. 

Said more succinctly, if a country-ass cowboy-Sheriff really wants to hire his deranged, fire-starting, sadistic, grandson, despite all common sense and a psyche report that verifies the kid’s complete unfitness for police work, then he can totally do it. Principally because there’s not enough specificity in these testing laws. We need to amend these laws so that they create a strong set of performance parameters whereby psychologists are given very objective criteria in which to test, and strong consequences and accountability should those criteria be ignored.

Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loopholes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings.

These psychological evaluations are our very first line of defense. They’re the most reliable tool we have for keeping undesirable individuals out of law enforcement altogether. People whom have the potential to cause great harm to others, to the national trust of government, and to police work in general. Sometimes you really don’t know a person until you put a gun on their hip. Psychological testing helps us to quarry the depths of a person’s psyche and know some of these things prior to them being exhibited against the skull of an innocent guy. 

Good law enforcement officers across this country are getting proverbial black eyes from the very few idiots out there who have no business whatsoever wearing a badge, much less a loaded gun. Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loopholes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological tools. The tests should be modernized and improved and the laws should be amended to create some measurable level of consistency across the country.

But even when candidates are selected for hire who do possess all of the “suitable” characteristics for a good cop, the immensely stressful job duties performed by cops with regularity can impart deep psychological consequences over time. You can do everything right, yet many times it all boils down to an individual and his/her personal threshold for bullshit, fear, and violence. 

The culture of law enforcement, which is unique to that industry, makes it very difficult for any police officer to willingly admit when they are over-stressed. The legal requirement for psychological wellness puts an added level of anxiety on police officers who may be experiencing psychological trauma. This is because police officers fear job termination if they expose themselves as having psychological problems.

The other factor that no one is willing to openly discuss is the fact that these situations, where police officers typically fail, are extraordinarily intense and psychologically demanding. Until you’ve stood in front of an angry mob while attempting to arrest someone who is not willing to be peacefully arrested, wearing a uniform hated by the mob demographic, while also carrying a weapon on your belt that could potentially be used against you – should you end up in a physical altercation with the suspect, then you really can’t comprehend how difficult it is to be a cop. What is it like to be in that scenario?

These so-called great “powers” that our cops have at their disposal can and do cut in both directions. Literally every other sane person in the world can and absolutely would just walk away from that kind of situation. Cop’s can’t walk away; it’s their job to do that sort of thing. By walking away, you’ve just admitted that you’re not cutout for police work, and your co-workers are all thinking the same thing. It’s not true, of course, but that is the mindset of the typical cop. 

You’re simultaneously trying to live up to the culture standards of policing, which denies you the option of leaving without arresting the suspect, and stay alive at the same time. Then when it’s too late to extricate yourself, you’re suddenly feeling what may be an imminent fear of serious bodily injury or death by otherwise unarmed people? That, my friends, is the legal threshold for authorization to kill another human being. 

If you’re not, by that time, holding your gun yourself, you’re basically just a holster for a violent attacker to kill you with your own gun. That said, you can’t effectively fight with a gun in your hand, and if you kill an unarmed attacker, even if he’s going for your gun, the life you’ve known will be changed forever.

What about that rookie cop in Cleveland who made that famed two-second judgement before killing that child? The gun did look like a real gun. If you’re the cop, do you wait to react until a person is directly threatening you, pointing the gun directly at you? If so, you’ve effectively procrastinated your way into an un-winnable defensive situation. If someone already has a gun pointed directly at you, you cannot reach for, draw, aim and fire your weapon fast enough to beat his just pulling a trigger. 

Forget that we’re talking about a pellet pistol, the still dangerous but not deadly pistol looked exactly like a replica centerfire handgun. In the officers’ mind, he was confronting a child with a real gun. As a side note, people buy pellet rifles today that can take down medium sized wild game, including boars. So don’t assume we’re talking about a toy – it was not a toy. Even some of the older technology pellet pistols, if it was an older one, could have easily put this cop’s eye out or worse. 

So what would you do? You’re the cop. Do you take an offensive position and just shoot to stop the potential threat from being realized, or, wait until you’ve compromised your own life and safety to see what the kid does? If you have never been in that kind of situation, then it is impossible for you to judge anyone who has no matter how egregious their acts may seem. How can anyone make a fair assessment of whether this officer was acting appropriately or inappropriately if we didn’t experience what he experienced? Despite the impossibility to recreate the actual events leading up to the shooting, we all know the end result. Evidence tells us those things. 

Let’s touch on the race thing for a minute because it’s real. This is not the 1860’s and it’s not the 1960’s. But to deny that racism exists would be ludicrous. If an officer (white, black, Latin, Asian or Arab) is working in a psychologically intensified high-crime neighborhood with an unusually high number of any one race/culture of residents and he himself is not a member of that same racial or cultural background, and that same officer is constantly involved in numerous altercations where he is physically threatened by large numbers of the more dominant alternate race/culture, then of course that officer will absolutely develop latent feelings of bigotry toward that race/culture group.

If the alternate race/culture is exhibiting violent racism toward him, it would be imperfectly human for him to equally hate those who hate him. Human survival instincts guarantee that sort of racism will never disappear from our existence. Although its a very natural and human reaction, it is also completely indefensible in a court of law or public opinion.

That said, we all know most of the prominent, in your face kinds of racism we see today stem from people who are either mentally compromised with paranoia or schizophrenia or otherwise people from impoverished situations where education is lacking and suffering is high. People belonging to these demographics will commonly assign some rationale for their personal failings by finding fault in other people. People who are different or who they perceive as living the high life off of their struggles. Persons from every race, kind, color or culture do this. 

Society, whether its in the U.S., Scandinavia, Afghanistan, or Ghana, all deal with and do their best to manage these kinds of feelings. Every society has it’s boogeyman. And to be fair, it would be very difficult for anyone not to develop an emotional connection, similar to that of being a victim of crime, when you’ve attempted to act within the law and peacefully make an arrest, then be systematically accosted by large threatening movements of angry mobs. 

The fear for a cop is not just the fear of dying or being assaulted. An enormous amount of fear and dread revolve around the idea of killing another human being. “Will I have to kill someone right now; oh my god, am I about to kill someone?” How many of you have ever had to utter those words internally before?

It’s a much too real, and much too often scenario for the 21st century cop.  When you’re the cop in a situation such as that, it doesn’t feel like a validated social awareness movement, it just feels threatening – and it is. It makes you angry, puts you in fear, and it compounds the issues of race and crime with yet more fear and more distrust. But worse than that, the fear and the angst become synergistic with the next event. You don’t just forget about it and move on; this is the human brain we’re talking about – it adapts to protect us from things that scare us.  

So called victims’ rights advocates don’t just show up and protest when police have acted foolishly. They also rally together with the intent of interfering with active arrests, physically attacking police officers as they are trying to make other arrests. They’re constantly challenging the authority of law enforcement in general. Many of them aren’t at all interested in the news of the day. Some are just opportunistic anarchists who look for opportunities to oppose order and the rule of law. The thing which has always separated us from third-world countries. 

Some of these groups are more akin to terrorist groups than victims’ rights advocates – not only advocating for the rights of individuals who’ve been wronged by government but also for people who clearly were arrested or killed for committing serious crimes or even trying to kill the police such as in the Ferguson, Missouri Brown case – a case still often cited by the media as a legitimate antecedent for the Black Lives Matter movement.

All police officers know that their weapons can easily be grabbed by an attacker then used against them – giving everyone in arms-reach the potential to kill a cop. It’s not necessarily the obvious situations that threaten or kill cops, and cops know that scenario very well. 

Michael Brown had his hand on that officer’s gun and had broken some bones in the officer’s face in an attempt to take possession of that gun. Most believe ultimately with the intent to kill that officer. But the media focused only on the fact that he wasn’t armed when he approached the cruiser.

If you have your hand on my gun then you’re armed; period! The media takes advantage of situations like this in order to fuel interest in their stories, knowing that law enforcement officials can’t immediately defend themselves through the media as they will later have to do so in court when the family files suit against them for wrongful death.

It becomes a political blood bath, fueled by a greedy media then exacerbated by stoic and quiet police officers unwilling and ordered not to talk about it. But statistics tell us that many of the officers who commit the most egregious of these acts are doing so because of severe emotional instability during the event, not bigotry or a lack of experience as many believe.

While 28 states do mandate some sort of psychological testing requirement, there are still a whopping 22 states that do not mandate any psychological assessments. Not only should these psychological inventory’s be required for pre-employment, they should also be highly considered for police officers who have served at least ten years or who have experienced severe traumatic circumstances such as a fatal officer-involved shooting.

The psychological health of anyone working in such a fatalistic environment evolves over time. Tests such as these should not be used to help departments terminate tenured officers but instead to determine if corrective or restorative treatments should be made available for those officers who are on a dangerous path of sacrificing their own mental health for their careers.

The unusually alarming statistics for police officer suicides, divorce, and spousal abuse, only touch the surface in illuminating the long-term detrimental effects of working in such a profoundly negative environment. Diagnostic tools should be made available and potentially required by police departments that keep these citizen soldiers mentally healthy throughout their careers. One such thing being talked about lately is the requirement for police officers to undergo systematic counseling, to help officers cope with the stressor’s of police work and as an early detection system for cops who might be troubled.

Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland, Ohio police officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in November 2014, was just such an officer who’d been previously deemed “unfit” for police duty by his deputy chief in late 2012, after having served only six months as a police officer with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. Then later in March 2014, he managed to get another police job in Cleveland – where he would then go on to shoot Rice within two seconds of arriving on scene to investigate a complaint regarding a boy carrying what turned out to be what the media termed “harmless” pellet pistol.

Loehmann, according to internal records, was also found to have failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written cognitive entrance exam when he applied for a deputy sheriff position there in September of 2013. He also couldn’t make the cut at police departments in Akron, Euclid, or Parma Heights, failing similar exams. But despite his previous failures, there was one assessment Loehmann did pass during his brief tenure with the Independence Police Department: his psychological evaluation. Another thing about Loehmann, which provides some illumination on many police recruits, he was absolutely determined to be a police officer. Interesting too is that personalities who typically don’t do well on these psychological screenings are the ones who try hardest to land jobs in policing.

So, while I somewhat intentionally deflected the fault away from Loehmann in the beginning, you can see that I’m painting a more complete picture now. A picture that supports the psychological theory of this blog. How did he fail so many tests, then miraculously pass his psyche at the end? The law was doing it’s job, keeping someone out of a profession he couldn’t handle, but a police administrator, for some unknown reason, likely pulled a string or two and was able to find a psychologist to pass the guy. Now what? 

Once upon a time I had an associate who’d bent over backwards to get my attention and win my friendship. He also had numerous other cop friends, blanketing himself with dozens of associates who all carried guns and badges. A few years prior, he’d applied to be a police officer but failed his psychological. So instead he became a reserve police officer which allowed him to have a badge and a commission card but gave him no particular responsibilities.

His motivations for involvement in law enforcement were completely suspect and selfish, having an intense desire to be respected and an overwhelming want of power over others. I’ve never known a more insecure person. This was clearly such a case where the MMPI saved the day. But the loop-hole of reserve policing still gave him a way inside an otherwise gated community. New rules in my state now thankfully require that reserve officers submit to the same psychological tests that full-time officers are required to take. 

Loehmann’s psychological assessment, which also evaluated his personality type and behavior, determined him to be fit for the job prior to his hiring. Just a few months later, Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak recommended Loehmann be terminated, writing that Loehmann was “not mature enough in his accepting of responsibility or his understanding the severity of his loss of control” after he had multiple emotional breakdowns during training. Loehmann was allowed to resign. I don’t know if he took the MMPI or one of the other diagnostic tests but the inconsistent end-results’ from multiple departments is revealing of the insufficiency in Ohio laws.

Dr. Thurston Cosner, the licensed psychologist who oversaw Loehmann’s psychological evaluation at Independence, noted that Loehmann “seems fairly rigid and perhaps has some dogmatic attitudes that could be problematic in police work” – surprisingly Cosner still recommended his hiring. Dr. Cosner also emphasized that Loehmann “appeared particularly stiff and naïve during his evaluation, which had been expedited to meet a July 2012 hiring date, according to internal emails obtained by Cleveland Scene. Of course he was stiff during his evaluation, he knew from experience that there was a high likelihood he’d fail.

The revelations of Loehmann’s previous shortcomings have focused a national spotlight on the need for stricter background investigations of police recruits, but less attention has been paid to the question of whether Loehmann’s psychological screening should have determined him unsuitable for the job, even before his post-hire training – and nothing is being said about forcing departments, by statute, to use specific validated testing or to set parameters by measurable standards that automatically disqualify police applicants, despite whether a licensed psychologist is willing to sign off on a recruit or not. I personally don’t see the Police Chief’s and Sheriff’s association lobbyists allowing that to happen.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

We must be cognizant of the fact that we citizens give up our individual freedoms to law enforcement officers who have power over us in order for them to safely conduct their difficult tasks. Officers who understand the significance of this and who respect the rule of law do well with that power and, for the most part, do not abuse it. Individuals who are emotionally unsuited for this kind of power use it as a tool for personal satisfaction, irrespective of the rights of us as citizens.

Laws dictate what authority police officers have and caselaw guides them to make good judgments, but in the end, it’s a personal opinion made quickly which ultimately decide the actions of a police officer – and police officers often make judgement calls outside the envelope of acceptability. If mistakes weren’t being made daily, our courts wouldn’t continue to create new caselaw on police misconduct on a daily basis. It is this hyper-intensive type of profession and the split-second life-or-death decisions in which they must often make, all while under intense psychological pressure, that guarantee mistakes will continue to happen. 

The point behind such psychological evaluations isn’t solely to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder, but also to flag potential recruits whose personality types and behavior are unsuited for a job in which sound judgment, cool temperament, and the ability to make rational quick decisions is key. It’s a determination that plays a substantial role in keeping potentially bad cops from ever soiling the good reputations of good cops – and thus keeping more innocent people alive. It also keeps otherwise decent people from entering a profession in which they are not psychologically well-suited – allowing them an opportunity to ruin their own lives by making judgement calls they’re not qualified to make.

When law enforcement agencies forgo psychological screenings, the result is often violence, some of which results in police brutality litigation. Many of the officers involved in police misconduct cases are known to have either not been given a psychological evaluation during their hiring process or were pushed through the process using inferior testing measures. Consistency is paramount but we cannot have consistency without governmental oversight or a change in the laws of every state. Commissions, such as what we have here in Tennessee, can promulgate rules that have the effect of law, and do some of the things I’ve discussed in this blog.

In my opinion, the problem of low wages only exacerbates the difficulties with hiring unqualified people because the more highly evolved individuals among us are not particularly interested in jobs with low pay, making it very difficult to attract and retain good candidates. The types of people who are naturally attracted to law enforcement can either be idealistic, desiring to do something positive for society or alternatively they may have authoritarian or worse instincts. Maybe they’re just lazy and want a government job with retirement and insurance without having to get sweaty. How would anyone know the difference without valid testing?

The field and practice of police psychology is still a relatively new and emerging specialization in psychology, officially recognized only recently by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2013. The APA’s committee on professional practices and standards for police psychology is currently in the process of drafting guidelines for all mandated assessments. But guidelines such as these are only a suggestion and licensed police psychologists, as with Cosner in his evaluation of Loehmann, must often conduct their screenings in a rush to meet official hire dates.

A big problem is that psychologists can choose whatever personality inventories they prefer to use and can do whatever other tests they might want to do, all within the parameters of what the departments are willing to pay for. This, again, creates an inconsistent, unstable protocol for doing psychological police evaluations. These inconsistencies lend themselves to a kind of loophole in which one psychologist may determine that an applicant is unsuitable, but another, using a different set of assessment tools, may determine just the opposite, potentially allowing applicants with violent tendencies into police ranks.

Furthermore, the personality assessments routinely used by psychologists vary greatly in their design, predictive validity, and what traits and behaviors are actually measured. Not every test used is specifically designed with the police applicant in mind or are designed to identify traits such as aggression or honesty in police candidates. As previously stated, the most common test used for law enforcement candidates is the MMPI which has proven to be problematic in several aspects, possibly even discriminatory.

It has been reported by some psychiatrists that the test’s normative data for police officers under-represents women and minorities; elicits responses weighted toward sexual orientation, sexual deviance, and religious attitudes; but, fails to measure conscientiousness. Who cares if a local cop is gay, there are far more important things to assess than sexual orientation.

However relevant the MMPI test may or may not be, it was certainly designed to be used in conjunction with other assessments and tools, such as interviews and background information, to paint a more comprehensive picture of the candidate. While the MMPI may be really good at identifying individuals who actually suffer from a personality disorder, it does nothing to recognize whether or not a person has the proper personality traits to be a good police officer.

The MMPI essentially screens-out unfavorable profiles instead of screening-in resilient, stable, and conscientious personalities less-likely to abuse the powers of their badge. There remains no consensus as to the ideal personality profile for potential new police recruits and even if one existed, there are no laws that would guarantee that states, counties or municipalities would employ those tests. Also, even if such a test is required for initial screening, the arrest powers and authority that applicant gains upon hire, and the nature of police work itself, is widely accepted by researchers to affect the personality and psychology of experienced police officers throughout his or her career.

A person’s behavior is determined to a large extent by the situations and contexts in which they find themselves – cementing the notion that abusive behavior cannot always be found in a person’s pre-existing characteristics. Without thorough tests designed to eliminate poor police candidates, the incidence of diagnosable mental disorders in police departments will statistically mirror what’s found in the general population which is about 3 to 5 percent. That said, police work often puts officers in situations where, despite the officers intentions, they must exercise power over individuals, frequently in harmful or violent ways, just to do their job. Despite the particular merits that an individual officer may possess, abuse is often part of the job description, and thus, can expose the officer to a change in psychology that could be emotionally detrimental to that officer over time.

Studies reveal that police officers often experience cognitive dissonance when performing duties that are contrary to their personal beliefs or internalized attitudes. Conflicting social roles can lend themselves toward more fixed attitudes to police work over time, as officers seek to rationalize internal conflicts. Officers can cognitively restructure unethical behaviors in ways that make them seem more socially acceptable, thereby allowing themselves to behave immorally while preserving their self-image as ethically good people. I believe that police officers should be routinely offered counseling, perhaps annually, instead of waiting for them to be reprimanded for bad behavior or found dead by suicide.

We are asking a great deal of our police officers. We put them in nearly unwinnable situations and ask that they perform those dangerous duties in ways that won’t look so violent when played on television. The problem is that those duties are incredibly violent and it is difficult to make a violent arrest look non-violent on television at any angle. When a person forcefully resists being arrested then the cop has to react with a greater force in order to not only protect himself but also to effect that arrest – that stuff is uncomfortable to watch because you can’t feel what they are feeling or experience what they are experiencing.

Fighting cannot be made to look peaceable no matter how many sophisticated acronyms you can come up with to describe it – and fighting is part of the job description. Over the span of their careers, we teach our cops that violence is ok, speeding is ok, breaking in houses is ok, and whatever it takes to get evidence or get the job done is ok, so long as it is done within the boundaries of the law and in an effort to do good. Over time, even the brightest and most responsible among us can lose sight of what all that really means. Can we fix this problem? I honestly don’t know.