April 9, 2006

Do cops need much IQ?

Do cops need much IQ? In response to my posting about how the U.S. Justice Department is forcing a Virginia police department to water down its entrance exam because blacks and Hispanics are less (surprise!) less likely to pass the math test, a reader writes:

You are probably already aware of it, but I would like to direct you to page 87 of the "The Bell Curve" (hardback version). On that page is a mini-article called "Choosing Police Applicants by IQ", that immensely bolsters the case for highly g-loaded testing in law enforcement (which is obviously the true reason that some tough math should be on the test). Here are a few excerpts: "...

In April 1939, after a decade of economic depression, New York City attracted almost 30,000 men to a written and physical examination for 300 openings in the city's police force...."

"...The written test was similar to the intelligence test then being given to the federal civil service. Positions were offered top down for a composite score on the mental and physical tests, with the mental test more heavily weighted by more than two to one."

"....Times being what they were, the 300 slots were filled by the men who earned the top 350 scores." [Some top scorers didn't ultimately accept the job]

"....They attained far higher than average rank as police officers. Of the entire group, four have been police chiefs, four deputy commissioners, two chiefs of personnel, one a chief inspector, and one became commissioner of the New York Police Department. They suffered far fewer disciplinary penalties, and they contributed significantly to the study of teaching of policing and law enforcement. Many also had successful careers as lawyers, businessmen, and academics after leaving the police department."

That reminds me of one of the hidden forces in American history is this: One of the things that led American liberals to develop unrealistically high expectations about the competence of government is the strong quality of government employees recruited during the Depression, WWII, and early Cold War years. Government jobs were more appealing back then to higher quality workers. In contrast, by the time the Bush Administration took on the vast job of remaking Iraqi society, the quality of the government work force had been depleted by two decades of private sector prosperity.

In contrast, when Congress gave Washington D.C. a huge budget increase to hire 2,000 more cops about 15 years ago, they brought in some really low rent people, and their murder conviction rates plummeted because semi-illiterate cops couldn't fill out the evidentiary paperwork well enough for prosecutors to present a persuasive case.

Anyway, the question of IQ tests for cops raises the issue of whether IQ is negatively correlated with any desirable traits in policemen. We know that most cognitive traits are positively correlated with each other. This is called the g (for "general") factor theory and it appears to be well established. Rhythmic ability is the one major exception (which won't surprise you if you've ever heard high IQ rock stars like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, or Pete Townshend tell anecdotes about drummers they've known -- Townshend's story about Keith Moon's unfortunate experience with the drug that naturalists use in dart guns to tranquilize polar bears is a classic).

For example, the assumption behind the NFL mandating the Wonderlic IQ test for football draft prospects is that IQ is uncorrelated with physical or emotional traits of interest, so, all else being equal, the higher IQ prospect is a little more desirable.

One personality trait that's useful in cops and other security personnel is verbal dexterity to pacify and intimidate potential troublemakers. For example, I interviewed political scientist Frank Salter about his study of nightclub bouncers:

"Bouncers can all fight," Salter noted, "But they rank each other by their talking ability. The lowest ranked fought the most. The highest ranked had the best social skills." Salter found, "The best bouncers and doormen are articulate and quick with comebacks."

In contrast, I'm totally lacking in this ability. My brain is geared for the long haul, not for the short burst. I suspect that IQ correlates positively with this kind of talent at most levels, but at some high level, the correlation might break down with people tending to be too intellectual to make good cops.

One municipality got in the news a few years ago for turning down an applicant for the police force because he had an IQ of something like 128. The city argued that a smart cop would be too likely to use his brainpower to invent complicated frauds.

In my experience, smart people tend to be more honest. For example, my wife has twice dropped a credit card in the Costco parking lot, where the customers are pretty average. Both times she called it in a few hours later, but by then the finders had run up huge bills on it. (The first one spent 1,800, about $300 at each of six grocery stores within the first three hours, probably buying liquor or cigarettes, I would guess.) Tonight, she left her wallet at the art house cinema in Encino. She figured, based on her Costco experience that there was no hope, but I said, "It's a different demographic." So, I called the office at the movie theatre, and it had already been turned in. Similarly, when I was at Rice U., a strong science and engineering school, several times I'd accidentally left my $200 HP calculator sitting out, but it was never stolen.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I remember the case of the cop who was "too smart" - it was in New London, CT, near where I grew up. As a recall, the reason they gave was retention - in their experience, applicants over a certain IQ found police work boring and didn't tend to stick around. I think that would be less of a problem in a place like NYC, with lots of places to advance, than in a place like New London, CT.

Anonymous said...

There are more roles than beat cop in the police force. Detectives, profilers, that sort of thing - definitely "long haul" analytical types are needed.