How do you psychologically train to become a cop

A cop acts in ways that violate most of our social and biological instincts. They seek out danger rather than avoid it, they intentionally go into dangerous neighborhoods rather than try to avoid them and they appear to be immune to things like shame of self censorship which cause most people to not act out in social settings. Most people are afraid to ask a waiter to bring a check while a cop will psychologically take control of an entire restaurant and not even blink.

So how do you take a regular civilian and train him mentally to become a cop? Is he taught that he is part of a clique with a different set of rules? How do you teach him to overcome the social stigma that comes with being so dominant or biological urges like self preservation?

Stanley Milgram’s experiments show how effective conformity is at controlling behavior (when conformity encouraged torturing someone about 97% of people will do it, when conformity prohibits torturing someone about 4% do it) and how effective other things like the role of authority, proximity of authority, respect for the authority, respect for others, etc. all play into our actions and how people can act in extremely different ways based on their relationship with authority figures and conformity. More on the Milgram experiments here. Are the experiments of people like Milgram used to help build a police mentality? It seems like cops completely bypass the rules of social conformity and social authority that apply to society at large, but how do you train someone to do that? How do you train someone to be willing to face biological threats like gunfire? How do you train someone to bypass and ignore social authority and social conformity? Do you just substitute a different authority and conformity group? This post may seem like psychobabble, but I am asking if cops bypass social conformity and social authority by establishing ‘police conformity and police authority’ instead which has a different set of rules.

I would argue the typical “cop mentality” is our natural state of being, and we are socially trained otherwise. When you are a cop, society just gives you permission, explicitly, to act the way you want to act anyway.

Perhaps, but they still bypass all the social regulations that keep the other 99% of people in check.

IANA police officer but I was an EMT and have trained in firefighting. Some of it is basically you are trained, equipped, and experienced in dealing with situations that others are not prepared for. I am a little confused by your references to a social stigma on dominant behavior. Police officers primarily keep the peace, which sometimes involves hammering down the occasional nail sticking out of the structure of society. Other than wrestling around a bit with your friends most people never learn much about proper use of locks and holds to subdue someone with minimal injury. Police officers drill in it. Knowing that the average joe on the street is unarmored, unarmed, and untrained, makes you safe in a variety of situations where many would not tread.

In many respects people will also defer to almost anyone in an emergency who behaves like they know what to do. A few months back I pulled over at what was apparently a vehicle vs pedestrian scene. Hopped down from my truck and pretty mucch marched into the middle of 5 people just kinda standing around looking puzzled. As soon as I knelt down and asked the guy how he ended up in the gutter 3 of the 5 walked away. The other two watched me for a minute then left as well.

As far as gunfights and such cops do some situational training as well as coordinating a proper tactical response to a situation. 5 armed bank robbers. the first officer on scene does not go charging in gun blazing, he looks fo a good spot, with a good view of the building, and bunkers down behind his car. Police officers also know that most people cannot hit a person sized target at much more than 30 feet or so under pressure. Knowing that and especially when you are not alone and moving make for a very high stress environment on the bad guy as well who probably has less gunfight/lethal force experience than the cop does.

Once 15 more officers are on scene and the guys have little of any chance to fight their way out alive, now pressure can be applied. SWAT shows up with the heavy armor, and heavy weaponry, along with ALOT more training

So when you are better protected, better trained, and better equipped for the situation than Mr Bad Guy, guess whos most likely to go leave in a bag when the bullets start flying.

A more common comparison might be, if you just got your 7thDanOMFGBBQ belt in chop-sockey, you probably don’t worry much about the idea of having your ass kicked unarmed.

Like I said, they have permission to do so.

Caveat: Many years ago, I took about half of a Criminal Justice program at my junior college. I did not become a police officer, have never been one. But it was very definitely a learning experience.

Anyway: The book learning part of it involved a lot of law, procedures, and case studies. You got a lot of training. However, this was just to prepare you psychologically for the job and the environment.

I was lead to understand that most of the questions in the OP were dealt with when you actually became a cop, and were partenered with your Training Officer/partner. He or she would be hugely respinsible for indoctrinating you with the day-to-day reality of actually BEING a cop.

I know this doesn’t do a good job of answering your questions, but that’s all I can contribute. It’s mostly a case of OJT. Really intense OJT.

Social conformity is a very powerful force and the police totally bypass it. A cop must be willing to make a scene and take control when most people have been taught from childhood to not make a scene socially and most people are actually very timid. I am not sure how cops are trained to do that. The idea of ‘they have permission’ I guess makes some sense, but from what I’ve read of thinkers like Milgram that alone can’t really explain it. Cops, being people, are just as conformist and obedient to authority as everyone else. In Milgram’s experiment I wonder if any police officers were being used and how they responded to authority and conformity.


Well, one thing to keep in mind is that everyone who ends up becoming a police officer has self-selected for that role. While conformity can certainly be a powerful force, even Miligram’s experiments showed that not everybody has a problem stepping outside of traditional social behaviors and expectations. It seems likely that it is precisely the sort of individual who feels comfortable taking charge in a situation that would gravitate toward police work.

I think flurb has a very good point. Cops have certain personality traits because people with those traits choose to be cops.

I’ve been a cop for nearly 20 years. I never planned to become a cop (my goal had been to be a paramedic/firefighter), but looking back I can now recognize that I already had the necessary traits and personality. Both jobs require a lot of the same traits, but at one point I realized I was more suited to the law enforcement side.

So, you start with the basic personality traits, and the rest is learned. In field training and on the job, we’re immersed in a culture that values and encourages those traits. Nothing is more respected than courage and the ability to take control. If you can’t develop those traits well enough, you’ll be washed out of the job during the field training. I also saw several people quit while in academy because they recognized that they didn’t have what it takes.

Part of it also the “uniform effect”, don’t know what else to call it. A police officer off duty will in many cases behave no differently than anyone else. Even I as an onsite computer tech adjust my behaviors to the role I am filling. I am far more pragmatic and matter of fact than many people like to hear about.

Much of the “bravado” you might see from a police officer also involves establishing whos boss around people who have little respect for authority so it has to be pretty blatant to get the point through to many thick skulls. Plenty of police officers are also very different when handling victims and or witnesses than handling suspects.
My stepdaughter got a lovely introduction to how dramatic that change can be when she tried lying to a police officer about a car accident she was involved in despite multiple witnesses to the contrary. She was quite shocked at how much less pleasantly she was treated when she went from victim to suspect.

This effect is manifested in the people subject to the authority of the uniform as well. When I was in college, I work for a security company that did crowd control at concerts and sports events. I wore a “Security” t-shirt and hat, and had a walkie-talkie. I was always amazed at how differently people treated me when I was on duty. I recall one incident at a college football game, where I had to confiscate some bottles of booze from some rowdy frat boys. These were big guys, a lot bigger than my 5’9", 160lb self. But I just waded in, told them I was taking the bottles and snatched them out of their hands. Had I not been in my official capacity, I would have gotten my ass kicked, but armed with a t-shirt and hat, they just pouted and did nothing. That experience taught me a lot about the source of power, and how people on both sides react to it.

The Milgram experiments you link to are almost soley about obedience to authority. There are other experiments that speak more directly to conformity.

I don’t think we were; at least, not in the training I received.

At the end of my LE career I taught law enforcement subjects at a state university. Among the things we did was personality profiling (the DiSC system, for those interested). With any group of 20-30 students there was a fairly wide variety of personality profiles: some outgoing and task-oriented; some outgoing and sociable; some introverted yet amiable; and some introverted and “by the book.”

My natural tendency is to be introverted and self-concious. Yet when arriving at a chaotic scene, I easily put on my hat and took control. There was no real training for this; it is just what the job called for. As others have mentioned “self-selection”, before we ever put on a badge we envisioned these situations and believed we could do it. Some realized they couldn’t, and while they survived the academy, generally didn’t stay on the force for more than a year or so.

The effect of the uniform is a major factor; you can see it easily in people’s eyes (and that can work for or against you). But it isn’t the only thing. I’ve been an undercover agent as well, and worked with many other plainclothes agents/detectives; none had a problem asserting themselves when required.

As I said, I’m naturally shy, so when I went to a six-week military school designed to train you to be a classroom instructor, it was challenging. But what I learned was invaluable, and I’m sure you teachers/instructors out there can attest to this: when you’re on the spot (in front of a class or a chaotic scene), it is as much the appearance of confidence and control as anything. Whether in uniform or not - heck, whether a COP or not - if you seem to be confident that you have control of the situation, people will let you have that control.

All that said, every cop has their own “style”, and can manage a given situation differently. Some might come on strong (or too strong); some might be just as effective being lower-key. There are risks at the extremes of the spectrum.

Also, if one considers a gun, and the ability to arrest somebody, basically at will (yes, I know that there are restrictions) or at least being perceived as having that power, this invests considerable power into even the biggest dork. The uniform du jour, as it were, can also carry much of the day.