Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Too smart to be a police officer?

I note that the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has upheld the judgment of a lower court that Robert Jordan did not suffer discrimination when the city of New London denied him employment as a police officer on the grounds that he was over the intelligence range they'd specified for the job.  According to ABC News:

Jordan ... scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125. But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.

The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average.

There's more at the link.

I've encountered this attitude before.  I score high on intelligence tests.  When I applied for a commission in the armed forces in my younger days, I was informed (rather rudely) by a military psychologist that I was way outside the normal range for that profession.  He questioned my motivation, cast aspersions on the elements of my character that he said the military really wanted in its officers, and so on.  (I wasn't commissioned at that point.  That happened later - and no, at that point I didn't find my personality, aptitudes or intelligence any handicap.  I can't speak for how others found them, of course!)

I'm of two minds about this case.  I'm aware that many employers specify an IQ range for applicants in general, on the grounds that those below that range are unlikely to be smart enough to do the job, and those above it will find the job insufficiently challenging, and either get bored and not perform, or quit after a relatively short time to find something more interesting.  On the other hand, those making that assumption can't possibly know the motivation of each and every individual.  Their rule is a generalization, rather than something specific to the person concerned.

That's why Mr. Jordan sued in the first place - because he felt "his civil rights were violated because he was denied equal protection under the law".  Frankly, I agree with him.  As an individual, I think his civil rights were violated, because aspersions were cast upon his 'staying power' as a result of his intelligence, without any evidence that he, personally, had a problem like that.  As a member of a group (i.e. all applicants) . . . that's a lot more tricky.  The courts have taken the latter view, and ruled that the city had grounds for its decision based on its experience with applicants in general.

I wonder how much of this 'discrimination' is based on a perception on the part of those who are policemen, or who've 'grown up' in the 'cop culture'?  Have they encountered people of high intelligence and been put off by an overly 'highbrow' attitude?  Have they had to deal with too many white-collar criminals who sneer at police for being 'lowbrow'?  Has that carried over into their recruitment policies?  I'd be grateful to hear from others in the profession whether there's any truth, potential or actual, in that premise.  For example, when I served as a prison chaplain, I had to deal with other officers as well as inmates.  From my perspective, I can't say I ever found my IQ to be a stumbling-block;  but that's necessarily a very subjective point of view!  I might have been wrong.

(On the other hand, I can't help but think that many other cases point to the need for a higher level of intelligence among police to begin with!  Of course, not all cops are that dumb, to put it mildly.  I'm blessed and honored to call several police officers my friends, and I think all of them are just as smart as I am, if not more so!)

What say you, readers - particularly those who are part of the Thin Blue Line?



Anonymous said...

One of the things that gets 'missed'in this discussion is the high cost of training a police officer to a reasonable degree of proficiency (I know some will argue that never happens ;-). It is a very costly process - so much so that many departments are now requiring new hires to sign a two to four year commitment to remain. This is due to some extent the trend for officers to get hired at small to mid-size departments (sometimes easier to do) and then moving on to bigger and higher paying agencies (including federal).
I agree that some 'high intellect' types may not find the job challenging or rewarding enough but that is not always the case.
Individuals need to be treated as individuals.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

I'd say his pursuing the court case all the wat demonstrates a good amount of staying power... too bad it wasn't put to the good of New London.

dave said...

For some reason, this story has popped up and gotten new traction. I saw it over at Reason first.

This happened in 2000. Check the dateline. :-)

Peter said...

@dave: The appeal has just been denied. That's why it's back in the news.

Randy said...

It seems interesting to me that departments say they value diversity, but diversity in intelligence is against policy.

Mark/GreyLocke said...

I ran into the same thing when I applied with the Sheriffs Office a few counties south of St. Louis, many years ago. They were hurting for Deputies, but because of my scores they flat out told me they wanted someone "Long Term" and couldn't risk me going through training on their dime then going to a larger department like St. Louis City or one of the many munis in the county. I did get on as an Auxiliary with a Muni later, however UN-paid, and still worked for the housing authority. I just wanted the training and the job security, and to get the heck out of the St. Louis Metro area with my family.