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Separated at Birth: The Personalities of Armed Police and Criminals

Interim findings from a research study

Richard Wisenheimer

Crime Research & Advisory Centre (CRAC)

The present study

An analysis of the day to day activities of armed police officers and certain criminals would
suggest that there are considerable overlaps between the two groups. Stress, long hours,
tension, life threatening situations, the use of coercion, the expectation of conflict, a code
of silence, and the opportunity to work in large powerful gangs, solidify a deep seated
similarity between two groups that are constantly thrown into contact with each other. Two
sides of the same coin, united in an unbreakable bond. The present study, however, seeks
to measure the psychological makeup of the two sides with the help of carefully selected
representative samples, and offers some tentative suggestions regarding the recruitment
of certain criminals for law enforcement duties.

Method and initial findings

The personality traits and work attitudes of 108 criminals convicted of assault (GBH or
ABH) and 96 police officers authorised to carry weapons were compared using a range of
personality measures including the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire
(ZKPQ), a 30 item Work Values Inventory, and a multiple-choice sentence completion task.

Personality traits

On the ZKPQ, both groups scored significantly higher than the general population and
various occupational groups on the following scales:

Impulsive Sensation Seeking,


Aggression-Hostility
Work Activity

They scored significantly lower on:

Neuroticism-Anxiety
Sociability.

No significant differences were observed on the Infrequency (or Lie) scale. These findings
closely match USA studies involving the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
(MMPI).

The results have implications in a practical and theoretical sense. The former, as the
personality profiles found in this study could be used as a criteria in the selection process
of future applicants; the latter, as it gives empirical evidence supporting Zuckerman!s
alternative five factor model of personality.
Work values and attitudes

The two profiles from the WVI were remarkably similar with both groups showing a need
for clearly stated goals, the opportunity to plan one!s own work, and react swiftly to
situations which involved high physical risk. Both groups, however, would wish to avoid
close supervision and inflexible working practices, and demonstrated a low tolerance of
boredom and interference.

Although factor analysis of work values inventories have usually yielded dimensions which
question Herzberg!s two factor theory of job satisfaction, this study offers much evidence
to support it. Two underlying dimensions were clearly identified in both populations and
were focused on internal or external motivators. The results indicated that both groups
were more likely to be motivated by internal needs such as success, achievement,
recognition etc, rather than external aspects such as job security, or company policies.
These findings, coupled with the responses to the individual items on the WVI, emphasise
just how closely the two populations matched.

Sentence completion

Sentence completion tests typically provide respondents with beginnings of sentences,


referred to as “stems,” and respondents then complete the sentences in ways that are
meaningful to them. The responses are believed to provide indications of attitudes, beliefs,
motivations, or other mental states. In the current investigation, however, the sentence
completion task offered incomplete sentences with a limited choice of possible endings. eg

The door was open so I entered the building in ..(anger, hope, confusion, fear, silence)
Leaving home, I made sure that I took my..(mobile phone, credit card, dog, water, iPod)

In adopting this approach, the focus was on the similarity of response rather than content,
and the results suggest that this technique could make a useful contribution to the
selection process. Both samples tended to select the same words and some of the
selections were most revealing, eg risk, silence, darkness, dog, etc

Interim conclusions

With a brutal drug and gun crime culture flourishing in some of Britain!s most deprived
communities, imaginative and robust solutions are required to combat gang crime. The
results offer firm evidence to support the recruitment of certain offenders for active duties
within the armed wing of the police service. To use a footballing metaphor, it would be like
transferring to a team which, arguably, still enjoys rather more home support. In paying off
their debt to society, many ex-offenders will respond positively to the demands of the job
and should relate well to their new colleagues. Indeed, recent events suggest that some
recruitment may have already taken place, albeit highlighting a need for enhanced training
in anger management, self-restraint in the use of weapons in public places, and effective
control of disorderly crowds.

CRAC April 2009