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The Police Officer Suitability Test

By
Updated on Dec 2, 2010

This chapter has taken you from civilian status to fully trained police officer—from the start of the applicant process to successful completion of your probation period. Along the way you have undoubtedly learned some things you had not anticipated would be expected of you. Although it may not have taken you very long to read the chapter, the actual process may take you three years or more.

To get a better idea of whether you and law enforcement are a good fit, consider taking the Police Officer Suitability Test that concludes this chapter. It is another tool to help you decide whether you want to invest years of your life in pursuing what may seem like a dream job, but may not be the best possible fit for your talents and personality.

Wanting to be a police officer is one thing; being suited for it is something else. The following self-quiz can help you decide whether you and this career will make a good match. There is no one "type" of person who becomes a police officer. Cops are as varied as any other group of people in their personalities, experience, and styles. At the same time, there are some attitudes and behaviors that seem to predict success and satisfaction in this profession. They have nothing to do with your intelligence and ability—they simply reflect how you interact with other people and how you choose to approach the world.

These "suitability factors" were pulled from research literature and discussions with police psychologists and screeners across the country. They fall into five groups; each has ten questions spaced throughout this test.

The LearningExpress Police Officer Suitability Test is not a formal psychological test. For one thing, it's not nearly long enough; the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test used in most psychological assessments has 11 times more items than you'll find here. For another, it does not focus on your general mental health.

Instead, the test should be viewed as an informal guide—a private tool to help you decide whether being a police officer would suit you, and whether you would enjoy it. It also provides the opportunity for greater self-understanding, which is beneficial no matter what you do for a living.

Directions

You'll need about 20 minutes to answer the 50 questions that follow. It's a good idea to do them all at one sitting—scoring and interpretation can be done later. For each question, consider how often the attitude or behavior applies to you. You have a choice between Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, and Always; put the number for your answer in the space after each question. For example, if the answer is "sometimes," the score for that item is 10; "always" gets a 40. How they add up will be explained later. If you try to outsmart the test or figure out the "right" answers, you won't get an accurate picture at the end. So just be honest.

Please Note: Don't read the scoring sections before you answer the questions, or you'll defeat the whole purpose of the exercise!

How often do the following statements sound like you? Choose one answer for each statement.

Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always
0 5 10 20 40
  1. I like to know what's expected of me. _____
  2. I am willing to admit my mistakes to other people. _____
  3. Once I've made a decision, I stop thinking about it. _____
  4. I can shrug off my fears about getting physically hurt. _____
  5. I like to know what to expect. _____
  6. It takes a lot to get me really angry. _____
  7. My first impressions of people tend to be accurate. _____
  8. I am aware of my stress level. _____
  9. I like to tell other people what to do. _____
  10. I enjoy working with others. _____
  11. I trust my instincts. _____
  12. I enjoy being teased. _____
  13. I will spend as much time as it takes to settle a disagreement. _____
  14. I feel comfortable in new social situations. _____
  15. When I disagree with people, I let them know about it. _____
  16. I'm in a good mood. _____
  17. I'm comfortable making quick decisions when necessary. _____
  18. Rules must be obeyed, even if you don't agree with them. _____
  19. I like to say exactly what I mean. _____
  20. I enjoy being with people. _____
  21. I stay away from doing exciting things that I know are dangerous. _____
  22. I don't mind when a boss tells me what to do. _____
  23. I enjoy solving puzzles. _____
  24. The people I know consult me about their problems. _____
  25. I am comfortable making my own decisions. _____
  26. People know where I stand on things. _____
  27. When I get stressed, I know how to make myself relax. _____
  28. I have confidence in my own judgment. _____
  29. I make my friends laugh. _____
  30. When I make a promise, I keep it. _____
  31. When I'm in a group, I tend to be the leader. _____
  32. I can deal with sudden changes in my routine. _____
  33. When I get into a fight, I can stop myself from losing control. _____
  34. I am open to new facts that might change my mind. _____
  35. I understand why I do the things I do. _____
  36. I'm good at calming people down. _____
  37. I can tell how people are feeling even when they don't say anything. _____
  38. I take criticism without getting upset. _____
  39. People follow my advice. _____
  40. I pay attention to people's body language. _____
  41. It's important for me to make a good impression. _____
  42. I remember to show up on time. _____
  43. When I meet new people, I try to understand them. _____
  44. I avoid doing things on impulse. _____
  45. Being respected is important to me. _____
  46. People see me as a calm person. _____
  47. It's more important for me to do a good job than to get praised for it. _____
  48. I make my decisions based on common sense. _____
  49. I prefer to keep my feelings to myself when I'm with strangers. _____
  50. I take responsibility for my own actions rather than blame others. _____

Scoring

Attitudes and behaviors can't be measured in units, like distance or weight. Besides, psychological categories tend to overlap. As a result, the numbers and dividing lines between score ranges are approximate, and numbers may vary about 20 points either way. If your score doesn't fall in the optimal range, it doesn't mean a failure—only an area that needs focus.

It may help to share your test results with some people who are close to you. Very often, there are differences between how we see ourselves and how we come across to others.

Group 1—Risk

Add up scores for questions 4, 6, 12, 15, 21, 27, 33, 38, 44, and 46.

TOTAL = _____

This group evaluates your tendency to be assertive and take risks. The ideal is in the middle, somewhere between timid and reckless: you should be willing to take risks, but not seek them out just for excitement. Being nervous, impulsive, and afraid of physical injury are all undesirable traits for a police officer. This group also reflects how well you take teasing and criticism, both of which you may encounter every day. And as you can imagine, it's also important for someone who carries a gun not to have a short fuse.

  • A score between 360 and 400 is rather extreme, suggesting a kind of macho approach that could be dangerous in the field.
  • If you score between 170 and 360, you are on the right track.
  • If you score between 80 and 170, you may want to think about how comfortable you are with the idea of confrontation.
  • A score between 0 and 80 indicates that the more dangerous and stressful aspects of the job might be difficult for you.

Group 2—Core

Add up scores for questions 2, 8, 16, 19, 26, 30, 35, 42, 47, and 50.

TOTAL = _____

This group reflects such basic traits as stability, reliability, and self-awareness. Can your fellow officers count on you to back them up and do your part? Are you secure enough to do your job without needing praise? Because, in the words of one police psychologist, "If you're hungry for praise, you will starve to death." The public will not always appreciate your efforts, and your supervisors and colleagues may be too busy or preoccupied to pat you on the back.

It is crucial to be able to admit your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions, to be confident without being arrogant or conceited, and to be straightforward and direct in your communication. In a job where lives are at stake, the facts must be clear. Mood is also very important. While we all have good and bad days, someone who is depressed much of the time is not encouraged to pursue police work; depression affects one's judgment, energy level, and the ability to respond and communicate.

  • If you score between 180 and 360, you're in the ballpark. 360+ may be unrealistic.
  • A score of 100 40 180 indicates you should look at the questions again and evaluate your style of social interaction.
  • Scores between 0 and 100 suggest you may not be ready for this job—yet.

Group 3—Judgment

Add up scores for questions 3, 7, 11, 17, 23, 28, 37, 40, 43, and 48.

TOTAL = _____

This group taps how you make decisions. Successful police officers are sensitive to unspoken messages, can detect and respond to other people's feelings, and make fair and accurate assessments of a situation, rather than being influenced by their own personal biases and needs. Once the decision to act is made, second-guessing can be dangerous. Police officers must make their best judgments in line with accepted practices, and then act upon these judgments without hesitancy or self-doubt. Finally, it's important to know and accept that you cannot change the world single-handedly. People who seek this career because they want to make a dramatic individual difference in human suffering are likely to be frustrated and disappointed.

  • A score over 360 indicates you may be trying too hard.
  • If you scored between 170 and 360, your style of making decisions, especially about people, fits with the desired police officer profile.
  • Scores between 80 and 170 suggest that you think about how you make judgments and how much confidence you have in them.
  • If you scored between 80 and 170, making judgments may be a problem area for you.

Group 4—Authority

Add up scores for questions 1, 10, 13, 18, 22, 25, 32, 34, 39, and 45.

TOTAL = _____

This group contains the essential attributes of respect for rules and authority—including the "personal authority" of self-reliance and leadership—and the ability to resolve conflict and work with a team. Once again, a good balance is the key. Police officers must accept and communicate the value of structure and control without being rigid. And even though most decisions are made independently in the field, the authority of the supervisor and the law must be obeyed at all times. Anyone on a personal mission for justice or vengeance will not make a good police officer and is unlikely to make it through the screening process.

  • A score between 160 and 360 indicates you have the desired attitude toward authority—both your own and that of your superior officers. Any higher is a bit extreme.
  • If you scored between 100 and 160, you might think about whether a demanding leadership role is something you want every day.
  • With scores between 0 and 100, ask yourself whether the required combination of structure and independence would be comfortable for you.

Group 5—Style

Add up scores for questions 5, 9, 14, 20, 24, 29, 32, 36, 41, and 49.

TOTAL = _____

This is the personal style dimension, which describes how you come across to others. Moderation rules here as well: Police officers should be seen as strong and capable, but not dramatic or heavy-handed; friendly, but not overly concerned with whether they are liked; patient, but not to the point of losing control of a situation. A good sense of humor is essential, not only in the field but among one's fellow officers. Flexibility is another valuable trait—especially given all the changes that can happen in one shift—but too much flexibility can be perceived as weakness.

  • A score between 160 and 360 is optimal. Over 360 is trying too hard.
  • Scores between 80 and 160 suggest that you compare your style with the description in the previous paragraph and consider whether anything needs to be modified.
  • If you scored between 0 and 80, you might think about the way you interact with others and whether you'd be happy in a job where people are the main focus.

This test was developed by Judith Schlesinger, PhD, a writer and psychologist whose background includes years of working with police officers in psychiatric crisis interventions.

Summary

The Police Officer Suitability Test reflects the fact that being a successful police officer requires moderation rather than extremes. Attitudes that are desirable in reasonable amounts can become a real problem if they are too strong. For example, independence is a necessary trait, but too much of it creates a Dirty Harry type who takes the law into his or her own hands. Going outside accepted police procedure is a bad idea; worse, it can put other people's lives in jeopardy.

As one recruiter said, the ideal police officer is "low key and low maintenance." In fact, there's only one thing you can't have too much of, and that's common sense. With everything else, balance is the key. Keep this in mind as you look at your scores.

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