In September of 2014, I wrote an article titled Police IQ, which was a discussion about trends in police hiring, specifically, the trend toward hiring people for police jobs with only just enough intelligence, no more. Since then, that trend has, if anything, become more prevalent. The shooting of Justine Damond (the SMM Damond archive is available here) has raised a great many questions about the qualifications for police officers, among others. As a result, I thought it worthwhile to update that 2014 article.
Keep in mind IQ is, in many ways, an imperfect measure for human capability. While a very low IQ, say in the 40-50 range, is unquestionably a strong indicator of significant impairment, high IQ numbers of 120 and above are not consistent indicators of ability in all intellectual or occupational areas.
When I last had my IQ scored many years ago, I scored in the genius range–I don’t recall the actual number, but I’m sure it wasn’t in the high-high genius range, perhaps not the high range–for matters dealing with language, which is handy for an English teacher. My math IQ was in the high average range. Yet, upon graduation from college, I was required to take a battery of teacher’s exams that were the national fad at the moment. I scored significantly better on the math portion than the English portion. I suspect this was so because math was fresh in my mind. I aced my college math courses because I know how to study, not because I have an intuitive feel for abstraction in numbers, though because I do a great deal of wood work, I’m a minor whiz with fractions. I suspect I didn’t do well on the English portion because it was one of those tests poorly written with several right answers for each question, and one had to guess which one the academics that wrote the test thought most-most correct rather than which one made sense. Or perhaps my IQ test results were faulty. Who knows?
As a basis for understanding the issues assessment psychology.com has a few charts:
And this chart on the lower IQ levels:
During my career in law enforcement, I had the ironic distinction of having two separate police chiefs in two separate law enforcement agencies in two separate states tell me that I was too intelligent to be a policeman. Readers may debate my intellect but I tell this little morality tale not to pat myself on the back of my brain, but to set up the story that follows. Those hapless police chiefs were giving me a more or less backhanded compliment. They weren’t my fans, yet I was so productive they couldn’t fire me without more mistakes on my part than many men could make. Yet, they obviously didn’t realize what they were saying about themselves and their own agencies, nor did they apparently appreciate the inherent irony.
Experience has taught me police chiefs, sheriffs and politicians in general want police officers to be only smart enough and no smarter. It’s primarily a matter of power and control. Many police executives see their subordinates, particularly patrol officers, which is where everyone starts in police work–deputies normally begin in the jail–as not particularly bright, requiring constant supervision to keep them from screwing up and getting their betters in political trouble. Simultaneously, they don’t want those underlings to be too smart, because they might be able to see how administrators are screwing up, and they might be able to knock them off–politically speaking–and take their high paying jobs. The only way to make money in law enforcement is to get as far away from actually enforcing the law as possible.
Unfortunately, they really can’t say just what “smart enough” is. It’s rather like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who couldn’t come up with a definition of pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, but noted “I know it when I see it.”
In 2011, I wrote about race based hiring imposed on police agencies by the Obama Administration. That’s bad enough. Racial quotas are an unmitigated disaster for public safety, the Damond case being a potential example. But in 2014, the New London, CT police department believed it knew what “smart enough” and “too smart” were. And a federal appeals court agreed. From Powerline:
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story “Harrison Bergeron” is clearly fiction, right? Right?
Check out this story from ABCNews today:
A man whose bid to become a police officer was rejected after he scored too high on an intelligence test has lost an appeal in his federal lawsuit against the city.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court’s decision that the city did not discriminate against Robert Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the test.
“This kind of puts an official face on discrimination in America against people of a certain class,” Jordan said today from his Waterford home. “I maintain you have no more control over your basic intelligence than your eye color or your gender or anything else.”
Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took the exam in 1996 and 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.
The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average.
Jordan alleged his rejection from the police force was discrimination. He sued the city, saying his civil rights were violated because he was denied equal protection under the law.
But the U.S. District Court found that New London had ‘shown a rational basis for the policy.’ In a ruling dated Aug. 23, the 2nd Circuit agreed. The court said the policy might be unwise but was a rational way to reduce job turnover.
Jordan has worked as a prison guard since he took the test.
A prison guard. Now there’s irony.
Harrison Bergeron, by the way, is a short story about a future where anyone that stood out in any way was federally handicapped so everyone would be no better than average. Dancers had to wear heavy weights, smart people were forced to constantly listen to deafening music, etc. Some might suggest we’re not far from this future.
Sadly, New London’s argument against intelligence was not surprising. I certainly knew my fair share of intelligent cops, but the reality is in any career, most people will be average or close to it, a few will be exceptional, and some will be awful. Were this not so, “average” would have no meaning or application. If it does, half the population is below average in intelligence. Most police agencies require at least a high school education, though some don’t go that far. Interestingly, Minnesota is the only state that requires, by law, a two-year degree for police officers.
One can make a pretty good argument a bachelor’s degree tends to make a cop more well-rounded and capable in a general knowledge sense, but great cops are born, not made, which has certainly been my experience. Some people simply have the genetic endowment that produces excellent police officers. They see and understand things that will eternally elude others.
Most people can learn most things most of the time. Were this not true, would anyone feel safe driving? But shouldn’t we expect a higher standard of those entrusted with the lives of others? Shouldn’t we want the most intelligent, otherwise fully qualified, people we can find to be police officers?
The common police argument is too intelligent people will quickly become bored with policing, and the money spent on their training and benefits will be lost. One could also argue such agencies are simply too dense to take advantage of the enhanced abilities and interests of highly intelligent cops.
The Second Circuit is likely right on the law. The issue is what we expect of our politicians and hired managers. Actually, it’s really about what we expect of ourselves.
Police officers are expected to make decisions that would stymie Solomon, make them in fractions of a second, and be 100% accurate and correct. What’s amazing is they, despite being of mostly average intelligence, usually meet this standard.
The Damond case also raises questions about national origin and diversity. Should such things be a determining factor over intelligence? According to IQ research+ America is ranked 9th in overall average intelligence (IQ: 98), while Somalia, the nation of origin of Officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Justine Damond, is ranked 38th (IQ: 68). According to news accounts, Noor earned a bachelor’s degree prior to becoming a police officer, which might suggest a substantially higher than average, for his countrymen, IQ, but considering the nature of colleges these days, perhaps not.
At Quora.com, Tim Dees, a retired cop and professor of criminal justice addressed the average IQ of police officers:
The chart found on page 92 of this report (Page on wisc.edu) puts the median scores ranging from the low 90s to the mid-teens. I know there are law enforcement officers with higher IQs, as there are quite a few Mensans (high-IQ society) who list law enforcement as their occupation. I doubt there could be many below that range, as cops have to be able to write reports and do simple arithmetic, and I doubt there are all that many people with IQs in the 80 and below range with that capability.
Short answer: cops’ IQs more or less reflect the population, with some screened out for minimum capacity.
Should we strive to hire the most intelligent police officers possible, or are those that score at least 20, which is probably a bit below average, good enough? If a police agency strives for that level of mediocrity, due to diversity hiring ideology, or merely as an attempt to retain officers as long as possible, what can one expect from that agency? Is that the problem in Minneapolis? How about other agencies dramatically reducing their entrance requirements and disqualifiers, accepting people that have used serious drugs and/or have been convicted of serious crimes?
Who do you want investigating the crime when you’re burglarized? Who do you want responding to the 911 call when someone is breaking into your home at zero-dark thirty? The 20 or the 27? I suspect those that loved Justine Damond know.
UPDATE, 11-16-18 1900 CST: My friend and favorite blogger, Bookworm, sent this because she sometimes has trouble posting comments at SMM. Odd that. We both use Word Press, but oh well. Here’s her comment:
Oh, Lord! I was at the DMV yesterday and, between dealing with the clerks and the suffering civilians, I was reminded that (accepting that IQ measurements are rough and only measure a certain type of intelligence) half of the people with whom I interact every day have two-digit IQs. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just as bell-curve, statistical reality.
For some people with two-digit IQs, the issue is “processor speed.” They and I will arrive at the same outcome, but they’ll just take longer. For other people, though . . . well, let’s just say they never even make it part way down the path to the outcome. Their processor isn’t slow, it’s small and lacks entirely the problem solving capacity of a better quality processor. I’m also well-aware that, well I have IQ intelligence, I lack intelligence in so many other areas: physical agility, people skills, etc.
It’s a wonderful thing that people have varying skills. Frankly, if I had a staggeringly dull, one-note job, I would be grateful for a slower, smaller processor. Go in, do the work, go home. My sister, who dulled her processor through decades of drug use is a perfect example of someone who thrived in a one-note job because it made comfortably limited demands on her time and intelligence. Likewise, if I were dealing with the public, emotional intelligence might be more important than intellectual intelligence.
But when it comes to police? Considering that they dealing with the public, are “licensed to kill,” and handle infinitely fluid situations, wouldn’t it be nicer to have the processor functioning optimally and to have emotional intelligence too?
I guess the problem with management is that, while those skills are great on the streets, they’re a threat to the power structure in the back office. And as we all know, when it comes to government bureaucracies, back office needs always triumph over the agency’s ostensible goals.