Are You Compatible With Police Life?

If you have ever thought about pursuing a career in criminal justice, you might be wondering what kind of personality is best suited for law enforcement. What type of persona is most advantageous to the profession? Do you have what it takes? I was not a likely candidate.

Growing up in Wyoming afforded me unique opportunities to become independent and I learned how to fend for myself due to the isolation and scarce population. However, I was viewed by my townsfolk as mostly quiet and academic, and somewhat of an artist. Those are some odd characteristics to put into a uniform.

In the early 80’s, I took a vocational personality test at my high school. It was administered to all my classmates and surely was a topic of discussion at the time, although I do not remember much about it. While I was a detective in 2007, my mother sent me the results of that test which was printed on the old green and white dot matrix printer paper. She attached a note which read: “Thought you would find this amusing.”

Maybe some of you can relate to mothers who never throw things away and appreciate everything nostalgic about their children’s lives. My mother resembles Betty White and I say that with endearment. Every item of my childhood was precious to her.

The personality test outcomes proved to be a fun item to revisit years later. The findings showed I was “best suited for law enforcement, specifically the profession of police officer.” So you can imagine I chuckled when I reflected back on the printout in my office over 20 years later.

I am sure I had gaffed it off as I sought degrees in business and art, graduating from the University of Wyoming to enter a business career. In 1991, I moved from business to a temporary position at the District Attorney’s Office and saw the pages of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys come alive. I was somewhat intrigued by what I observed. Later that year, I was offered a clerical position at the city police department.

Problem solving became an uncontrollable draw for me which precipitated my application for a police officer position in my department. Computers don’t lie. Perhaps I should have taken the shortcut to law enforcement upon my high school graduation in 1986 and paid closer attention to the test results.

If you believed everything you read or observed in the portrayal of the police mentality, you might think only those who are emotionally hardened, cynical, and have a conservative view would have the appropriate traits for police work. This is a skewed conclusion. I am a perfect example of an imperfect candidate who had a very successful police career. It turns out it was right up my alley.

Nor does one have to have dominant daredevil ingredients to be qualified for police work. Contrary to pop culture, there is no ONE perfectly suitable personality for law enforcement. Based upon my experience as a police trainer, I believe persons who possess several of the following distinguishing qualities may be most desirable as police candidates:

1) Ability To Work Independently and In a Team Environment
2) Calm Demeanor
3) Common Sense/Judiciousness
4) Desire for Professional and Personal Growth
5) Desire to Help Others/Community Oriented
6) Devotion/Drive for Training, Knowledge, and Practice
7) Diligence
8) Effective Communication/Interpersonal Skills
9) Emotional intelligence 
10) Empathy
11) Ethics
12) Honesty/Trustworthiness/Integrity
13) Humility
14) Leadership qualities 
15) Life Coping Skills
16) Problem Solving/Reasoning Skills
17) Sound Decision Making Skills

Effective verbal communications skills are probably a police officer’s greatest assets in order to diffuse dynamic situations and solve citizen disputes. Many calls to service include dealing with difficult people or working in difficult situations. Along with this skillset, problem solving and reasoning skills become another highly desirable trait in order to resolve conflict and find workable solutions to community issues. Furthermore, while it is essential to compartmentalize emotions on calls, keeping them out of professional decisions, and distancing oneself from personal attachment; an officer who displays empathy is more likely to be regarded with respect from the public.

The physical demanding nature of the profession should not be overlooked, although it is not a personality trait. An officer’s health and fitness are paramount in the challenging conditions of law enforcement. Although many organizations have fitness tests prior to offering a candidate a sworn position, maintaining a healthy lifestyle also contributes to the mental well-being of an officer. Additionally, exceptional physical fitness attributes to a person’s situational awareness and mental clarity which affect decisions and reaction times.

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Assessing one’s abilities and whether a person is matched for a law enforcement career speaks for the volumes of time and testing an organization puts forth in hiring each candidate. To develop a solid officer takes experience, training, practice, and an investment between the person and the organization. Ultimately, a union between a department and a potential candidate may put to the test through field training or a solo incident.

In many of the dynamic situations of police life, a person must be realistic with the personal sacrifices and taxes placed upon a law enforcement official. There are menacing challenges and high-powered moments where an officer is faced with imminent danger. Throughout a law enforcement career, a person will face their greatest fears, test all levels of patience, and meet the most heinous of criminals. Additionally, officers often face boredom from monotonous calls or tasks.

If law enforcement piques your interest, you might research the career by interviewing officers, going on approved police ride-alongs, or applying for a college internship with an organization. Many departments will offer study guides for candidates which can also be found online for your convenience. It takes a strong personality to be able to persevere, withstand public scrutiny, and accept criticism while making reasonable decisions and finding solutions which benefit the greater good. Being a police officer is not just a job, it is a way of life. There really is no magic test to see if you are perfectly matched for a law enforcement career except taking the first step toward obtaining a criminal justice education and completing job applications.