Thursday, June 21, 2007

Police depts relax hiring standards

In response to serious recruiting challenges, many U.S. police departments are "lowering" their standards for hiring.

The reasons behind the shortage are many, including a strong job market, the Iraq war, and a high number of retirements.

Departments are using whatever means they have at their disposal, including upping their advertising. Case in point: while driving down 880 the other day in Oakland, CA, I noticed a sign promoting the $69,000 starting salary for Oakland Police Officers (and people wonder why it's hard to hire in the Bay Area).

The article cited above describes many steps departments are taking, some of which may initially seem like cause for concern. Let's take a look at them:

1. Forgiving minor criminal convictions, particularly old ones. If someone got busted 10 years ago for doing Ecstasy in college, and hasn't been in trouble since, is that still relevant?

2. Relaxing the 2-year college degree requirement, or allowing experience substitutions. I'm familiar with some research indicating a relationship between college education and officer performance, but if an officer has relevant experience (and performed well), this seems like a wash.

3. Raising the age limit. Age and job performance has been a hot topic in I/O psychology for a long time. While there are some declines over age (e.g., working memory), my reading is that they aren't practically significant in most situations. And we're talking about raising the limit to 40 or 44, not 85.

4. Relaxing fitness requirements. To me this comes back to plain 'ol validation. Granted, it's not always easy to determine where a pass point should be set (do they have to run 300 meters in 55 seconds or 56 seconds?), but do the study. Find out where a reasonable point would be. Run the numbers. See if it makes sense.

A lot of the concerns that go along with these changes--hiring people with low integrity, hiring people physically or mentally unable to perform the job--can be mitigated with good assessment, such as memory tests, physical ability testing, integrity testing, and reference and background checks.

Overall, I think this is a good thing--minimum qualifications (MQ) are often barriers to employment for certain ethnicities, women, and individuals with disabilities. And the situation is even worse when they aren't based on any rigorous study of the necessity for the MQs to being with.

On the other hand, I have heard anecdotally that similar changes in standards for U.S. Army recruits has resulted in more challenges for training.

What do you think--big deal or not?


John David said...

I have a comment. I went throught the Milwaukee Police Department screening process recently, and passed all the tests, the written exam, the physical ability test, etc., with flying colors. They conducted the full blown background check on me, and then told me to tell my current employer that I'm being considered for a job with the Milwaukee police. Then, over a month after they did the oral assessment, I got a letter saying I did not pass the oral interview. What I'm wondering is, how is it decided who does or doesn't pass the oral interview? I answered their questions to the best of my ability and felt I answered their questions sufficiently. What's sad is, I was really committed to this, and to never even have a shot at making through the academy is a shame. I've heard of applicants being turned down because they were too smart! Is this a case of reverse discrimination? When the detective who called me back about this told me an outside consulting agency decided that I didn't pass the oral interview, I got really suspicious.

BryanB said...

Did you contact the Milwaukee PD about this--if so, what did they say?

John David said...

I did inquire with their personnel office, and I got the run-around. The person I spoke with said I can't see my file, because the consulting agency, EB Jacobs, determined my final score. She couldn't really explain how they determine the score, just that the polcie evaluators give the candidates a number score and it goes to the consulting firm. Worst job application process I've EVER been involved in. I'm checking with an attorney to see what he says about the matter.

jake said...

I had my background interview over a month ago and passed everything else... im just wondering when i will get a phone call or letter about how the background went and what the police and fire commission had to say... ughhh this is taking way to long

BryanB said...

Jake - it's quite common for these hiring processes to take a long time. Hang in there!