Blood and Chocolate

Questioning NYPD's psychological screening process.

Posted Oct 23, 2017

A probationary NYPD officer has likely derailed her career as a result of an incident in a Godiva chocolate shop. While visiting the store with her mother, the rookie cop allegedly became enraged at how the employees spoke to her mother. It all started when the mother forced open the door of the shop, which was closed at the time. (She may have thought the door was stuck.)

Threats and out-of-control behavior allegedly ensued. Police responding to the incident reported finding “chocolate and blood all over the floor.” To cap it off, the probationary officer allegedly resisted arrest.  

Police departments need to recruit officers with a capacity for aggression and resistance to fear in the right circumstances, combined with the temperament and maturity to channel those traits constructively. Officers should possess the self-control to refrain from confrontational behavior unless necessary. Given the highly charged nature of police work, that’s a difficult balancing act to maintain 100 percent of the time.

But for an officer to react as this woman is accused of doing in response to verbal provocations raises questions in my mind about the NYPD’s screening process. How would this officer respond to verbal challenges to her authority by suspects, witnesses, and victims out on the street? I am not the first to question the effectiveness of NYPD’s psychological vetting of applicants.

According to an article earlier this year in the New York Daily News, 70 percent of NYPD officers who apply to join the NY Port Authority police force fail that department’s psychological test. I don’t want to give the impression that NYPD is doing nothing; a Google search reveals numerous discussions and articles about officer candidates who failed the NYPD psychological assessment. I have not reviewed either the NYPD or Port Authority psychological tests and cannot comment on the validity and reliability of either. I am merely calling attention to a potential problem that may be systemic and which is too important to brush aside. 

In my opinion, police departments should administer the Conditional Reasoning Test of Aggression (CRT-A) as part of their psychological assessment of candidates. I have written about the CRT-A before and recommended its use by employers to screen out aggression-prone and abnormally disruptive job applicants. Research has found that hyper-aggressive individuals are not only prone to confrontational behavior, they are also at risk for creating a wide range of workplace problems: bullying, malingering, sabotage, theft, stalking, and sowing discontent among coworkers. 

Some people are drawn to police work because it provides legal cover for their aggression-prone behavior. Only those who can function within the “protect and serve” model should get a badge and gun.