Monday, February 09, 2015

Footnote: A cop profile?

Footnote: A cop profile?

A thought that occurred to me as I was finishing the previous post, a thought that received no consideration there and will get only a once-over-lightly (well, maybe twice-over-lightly) here: It used to be asserted - with how much actual research backing, I don't know, which is why I won't press it too far here - it used to be asserted that the psychological profile of the kind of person who wanted to be a cop would include a preference for order and control, for clear social arrangements including deference to authority.

That may be so, or at least a version of it may be. An article from a few years ago at refers to a 1975 study of police applicants which found statistically significant differences between successful and unsuccessful candidates in nine psychological aspects which collectively, it seems to me, describe someone who likes to be in charge, likes to be the boss, likes to be in the position of authority or power.  (You can see the specifics at the link.)

So if that's so, could that be part of the reason for the fear I see? Could the fact that our society is and has been changing be putting stress on the psychological profile of a typical cop? Making them feel that they're not in charge, that things are out of control and therefore threatening? (It certainly would tend to explain why cops so often react so strongly when they feel you have challenged their authority.)

Adding weight to that is the fact that the same article also refers to other research on what is called the "working personality" of cops: those attitudes that they take on in the course of doing their jobs. Those attitudes involved making cops "distrustful of outsiders," "cynical," "conservative" (in the sense of "resistant to change"), "suspicious," "pessimistic," "pragmatic," and "prejudicial."

I have long argued that a big force driving the rise of the right wing is that history says that in times of social change there is always a tendency to embrace the seeming stability and security of "the way it used to be." (There is some discussion of that at this post.) I'm suggesting here that a similar dynamic is at play as part of the reason cops seem to be so scared: They are having trouble dealing with a changing society. Which I expect is true for some of us all of the time and all of us some of the time.

On the other hand, very few of us can get away with killing an unarmed person because of our flash of unreasoned fear. As Mr. Spock famously noted, understanding does not mean approval.

Sources cited in links:

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