Weeding Out The Bad Seeds

Pre-employment screening saves agencies time, money and aggravation

"Prior to this (using personality screening/stress testing, etc) we had officers who had trouble keeping their positions," he explains. "We had 10 times as many personnel incidents, 10 times as many appeals to civil service and 10 times as many arbitrations. This process has really alleviated a lot of headaches for us, and our turnover has been reduced by at least half."

Koonce's experience is no surprise to Henry Morse, president of Law Enforcement Testing Company Inc. of Lakeland, Florida.

"There are several ways these tests help agencies," he explains. "They serve as a gatekeeper in a formalized and efficient way - you will not get dysfunctional people. They legitimize the screening process. Any process discriminates, but these tests exercise fair and appropriate discrimination based on job-relevant capability, and only on job capability, thus eliminating unintentional or intentional bias. This protects the agency against claims of discrimination and keeps them out of court.

"And these tests do, in fact, predict future success, and therefore reduce turnover," Morse continues. "This helps agencies spend their hiring and training money far more effectively. It's a more economical use of the budget."

But where does all this leave gut feel? Has the hiring become so data-oriented and interpretative that gut feel no longer has a place in the process? Well, maybe other agencies can afford to take a less structured approach, but not the Lufkin Police Department, says Koonce.

"There is no room for gut feel in civil service," he says emphatically. "We have a sister city that is not civil service and they can take anyone off the street, just because they like their look or personality or maybe they're related to the chief of police, and hire them. They can, but we can't because we're civil service."

Civil service or not, gut feel is not a sound basis for hiring, Jackson adds.

"I sometimes feel that part of my job is to point out that gut feel is inherently risky and often wrong," he says. "It can be affected by so many things, and it's also very possible for the interviewer to be biased. Plus, the vast majority of people believe that their gut feel is above average and by definition, since the majority of people can't be above average, this is impossible. Our position is that having a well thought out selection process that maximizes objectivity is best."

Agencies shouldn't rely on just one tool, cautions Krista Isakson, SSPO and MMPI-2 product/market manager with Pearson Assessments of Bloomington, Minnesota.

"There is quite an array of processes out there that departments use," she says. "For example, when it comes to report writing, many departments just use an essay writing sample and gut feel. Some departments believe an interview alone is sufficient. But many components should be used in conjunction with one another - and these should be standardized and objective. Problems arise when just a single tool is relied on."

Jackson concurs. "Being a good officer requires a variety of skills, and you need a variety of tests to measure this."

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