Police psychology is a fascinating area of forensic psychology that examines police behaviour and why the police act as they do. It can be used to explain lots of behaviours that have featured a lot in the news recently. For example, some police officer’s extremely damning attitudes towards women, homosexuals and minority groups. As well as most of these attitudes are from their police culture. Hence the focus of it in today’s episode. If you want to learn about police behaviour, you need to read on!
This episode has been sponsored by Police Psychology: The Forensic Psychology Guide To Police Behaviour. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Extract From Police Psychology- COPYRIGHT 2022 CONNOR WHITELEY
Moving onto our first ‘proper’ topic of the book, we need to look at the idea of police culture because it has dramatic effects on the police and how they operate as you’ll see in upcoming chapters.
However, to get us started, the idea of there being a personality or set of traits that makes a good police officer is dubious.
Because if this personality exists at all, this is most likely down to the requirements of police work rather than a set of already existing traits. (Ball, 1984)
Personally, I’m not even sure I know what these traits would be. Maybe some are hardworking, caring, relatable, good problem solving amongst others.
But if you’re interested in this personality idea, you should read Personality Psychology and Individual Differences because it shows what personality traits actually are. As I think in this case personality traits are being used as a buzzword and not what they actually mean.
Moreover, Ainsworth (1995) suggested two days in police work are never the same. Because the officers will have new suspects, new cases, reports, evidence and more to file each day. Different crimes will be committed and so on.
Leading to the training of police officers are a compromise between what is practical in training and what would be ideal.
With the earlier generations of police officers only getting on the job training. Which let’s face it, isn’t ideal because these young officers could easily learn bad habits from senior officers.
As well as Ainsworth (1995) discussed that past training focused on available powers for police and encouraged route training of legislation.
Now there’s a growing emphasis on extensive training. Hence police academies, at least in the USA.
Also training is increasingly concerned with how to deal with the wide variety of incidents the police may encounter.
This is a good idea I think because when something happens to an officer they need to know how to react. Be it a bank robbery, chasing a suspect, being assaulted, etc. Officers need to know how to react.
How Does Training Affect Officers?
One of the reasons why I do psychology and explore it as much as I can is because every so often you find a very strange fact or something that surprises you about behaviour. And I believe this is one such thing.
Since the process of becoming a police officer leads to changes without the officers knowing.
Which I smile at because I find it amazing how we can change as people and not know how we’ve changed. Sure, I know the same applies to me but I think it’s a strange quirk of behaviour.
To test this, Garner (2005) conducted a study looking at pro-police position and attitudes with police trainees through training and a year later.
The results found drastic pro-police position and attitudes changes on the trainees. But the officers believed strongly they hadn’t changed at all.
Again, I think this is great. We know they’re changed but the person believes they haven’t changed in the slightest.
Diving into the Police Culture part of the chapter, part of the training officers receive is on the job training with senior officers. Which as I mentioned earlier can be regarded as practical training and some senior officers may use practices that are less than ideal. Leading trainees to learn bad habits.
I’m mentioning this because it’s important to consider when thinking about the occupational subculture or police culture.
In addition, Skolnick (1996) was the first to suggest the culture of police officers influence the work of the police force and this culture is unique to the police.
For example, the workplace culture in a hospital is going to be different to one in a school.
Furthermore, the police culture refers to the characteristic patterns of thinking, beliefs, behaviour and interactions that police officers share.
Essentially these are normal, accepted and prescribed standards for police personnel.
But this doesn’t mean they’re fixed or unchanging patterns.
Linking this to the beginning of the chapter, officers may be picked because they have the qualities that a good officer has but they learn and become indoctrinated into the police culture by interacting with other officers.
And I’m not trying to make the police sound evil and like they’re brainwashing their officers because all cultures do this.
On the societal level, this is known as enculturation and socialisation.
On the workplace level, this is how we learn the norms and what’s accepted in our place of work. For example, the professionalism required in a major company.
On an individual level, this is how we learn about our family culture and what’s accepted in the home, family and social groups.
Nonetheless, this can be problematic as it can be at odds with what officers are taught at police college so it can cause some problems for the officers as they adjust to the reality of police work.
This feeds strongly into the next few chapters.
Also, it’s the exact same in clinical and forensic psychology because we’re taught the best way to treat offenders and reduce reoffending is rehabilitation.
(And yes it does work and we need to invest more in it. Read Forensic Psychology for proof)
But when we get into the real world and we learn about politics and budgets, we learn how little rehabilitation is actually focused on. At least in forensic psychology.
So that does lead to some annoying readjustment and learning of what reality is like.
Overall, the police force as an organisation exists in two parallels. Because the structural aspect deals with what should happen and is formal. Whereas the cultural aspects deals with what actually goes on in the organisation.
We’re spoken about police culture, but what’s cop culture and how does sexuality affect police officers?
I really hope you enjoyed today’s forensic psychology episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Police Psychology: The Forensic Psychology Guide To Police Behaviour. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day!
Police and Criminal Psychology Reference:
Whiteley, C. (2022) Police Psychology: The Forensic Psychology Guide To Police Behaviour, CGD Publishing, England
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