Whether police officers are homogenous in their pre-employment and off-duty personalities is fairly obvious, and the answer is No. In all the studies conducted to date, there is no definitive police personality profile that has ever been identified, despite the somewhat common belief among many people that one surely exists. Police officers represent a wide variety of personal backgrounds, interests, academic fields of study, hobbies, belief systems, and personalities. Look around your own department, if it is large enough to provide a good sample, or your academy class if you work for a smaller department. In my department, and looking back at my academy class comprised of recruits from many departments around northern Illinois, most have had at least some college education with more than a few holding advanced degrees, in major fields of study as varied as accounting, music, engineering, wildlife Biology/fisheries management and, of course, criminal justice. Musical tastes run from club to country, funk to punk, and Manilow to Metallica. Politically, cops tend toward the conservative end of the spectrum but with the occasional libertarian, or even liberal, thrown in it makes for interesting coffee-shop arguments.
Within any decent-sized department there are a number of roles to fill, many of which require a particular and unique personality to optimally man. Diverse personalities are good for a healthy police department. In fact, it is possible to take the exact entrance exam and personality profile for two different agencies, provide exactly the same answers on both, and score at the top of the eligibility list for one department and fail for the other. This usually indicates each department is seeking a specific personality type in their recruits.
Even with all the diverse personalities you may find in a large police organization, there are some commonalities that have been recognized. A 1975 study by researchers Robert Hogan and William Kurtines, in which they administered the California Personality Inventory (CPI) to a group of police candidates yielded some interesting results. After administering the CPI to a large group of police applicants, they were able to conduct a comparative study of successful (those ultimately hired as police officers) and unsuccessful (those not hired as police officers) in order to determine where the two groups differed. The CPI measures nineteen different scales; on ten of these scales, there were no significant differences between successful and unsuccessful candidates but on nine of the scales the successful candidates differed markedly. The successful candidates:
- were more assertive (dominance scale)
- had greater potential for social mobility (capacity for status scale)
- had greater social poise and self-confidence (social presence scale)
- had a greater sense of self-worth (self-acceptance scale)
- had more need for autonomous achievement (achievement via independence scale)
- had more functional intelligence (intellectual efficiency scale)
- were more psychological-minded (psychological-mindedness scale)
- were more masculine (femininity scale)
- possessed greater social acuity (empathy scale) (ref. 3)
Successful police candidates ranked significantly higher on scales of "poise and self-assurance... achievement potential, intellectual efficiency and social insight." (ref. 4) (It should be noted that the unsuccessful candidates were found to be a reasonably sound group in terms of personal effectiveness separate from the police role, but did not possess the traits sought by agencies.) All-in-all, not a bad representation by the successful police candidates.
Much later studies, focusing on small-town police officers and officer candidates, using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire Scales (16P) yielded additional interesting results. The 16P, when used to police candidates developed a profile group labeled as "Typical Cop" with group members found to be: self-disciplined, socially bold, extroverted, emotionally tough, and low in experienced anxiety. (ref. 5) The MMPI, when used to test a demographically similar group of active-duty police officers, compared their results against a normative (control) population. Male police officers were found to: present a better image of themselves, be less depressed and anxious, to be more assertive and energetic, and to be more likely to seek social contact that the control group. Female officers matched their male counterparts in the above measures, and also were more psychologically mature and more likely to be aware of the needs of others than the normative population. (ref. 6)
So, as a whole, cops tend to be assertive, self-assured, intelligent, empathic and sound-minded, at least at the onset of their careers. But these are characteristics and not necessarily a police personality profile by any means.
What has been found, however, is that over time, and in response to the job's demands, revelations and perspectives, a distinct personality does form within most of the otherwise unique individuals engaged in policing. What Jerome Skolnick describes as the police working personality is what many people, and police themselves, often describe as the police personality. The working personality is characterized as: