Too intelligent to be a law enforcement officer?

I recently re-watched the movie “Breach”, about Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who committed espionage for the Soviet Union and Russia.

Hanssen had been a Chicago police officer before joining the FBI, and there is a brief interview in the bonus materials with a former supervisor who said he knew something was ‘off’ about Hanssen because he was “too smart”.

This reminded me of the case where the police department of New London, Connecticut refused to hire a candidate because he scored too high on the department’s own intelligence test. The decision was ultimately upheld by a federal appeals court.

One of the reasons given by the department for the policy was that it supposedly reduced job turnover. Presumably, someone with a high IQ would have more opportunities for higher-paying or otherwise more rewarding work.

I’ve never worked in law enforcement, but this seems like an odd notion. If a prospective cop meets all the other job requirements, intelligence would seem to make them as likely to advance in their law enforcement career, as to leave it for a more lucrative one.

I know that job candidates are sometimes rejected for being overqualified. But this usually applies to having more education and experience than needed for low-level or manual jobs, as opposed to being too smart.

I’d especially appreciate hearing opinions from present and former LEOs on the board about this hiring policy.

I wasn’t sure whether to post this in Great Debates or IMHO. Mods, feel free to move as you see fit.

Assuming this belongs in Great Debates, the debate would be: does this hiring policy make sense, and if so, why?

It doesn’t make sense to me. Sounds like a prerequisite for a detective career.

It makes sense if there are other factors at play as well. Such as education, other employment experiences, etc… Quick turn over is an extremely expensive proposition for any agency. Training and then field training takes time and money. If there was an indicator that this person was not a career candidate there is little incentive to hire them in the first place regardless of how valuable they could be in the short term. It is a financial decision in the end.

After I retired after 25 years as a Deputy Sheriff I applied to another agency for a second career. By then I had an Associate, a Bachelor, and a Masters in Police Science, Sociology, and Criminal Justice Administration, respectively. I also scored a 98% on all their written tests. The difference is I had earned all those degrees while on the job, had 2 1/2 decades on the job including holding a rank. It was obvious I am a lifer. Had I showed with no experience but 3 degrees and high test scores they might have been concerned that I’d not hang around too long and be looking to move on soon.

The problem with that is 95% of all cops retire as a buck private. It can take years, even decades to get a promotion if you ever get one at all. An overly qualified candidate may only hang around long enough to get a better opportunity. This doesn’t fare well for a department.

I hadn’t thought about the ratio of advanced jobs to lower-ranked ones. But it makes sense. At the federal agency I retired from, the police force is notorious for being a stepping stone to getting hired as an agency civilian.

Being composed entirely of stupid people also doesn’t fare well for a department.

That’s a flagrantly false dichotomy. Rejecting an occasional candidate for an exceptionally high score on a standardized intelligence test doesn’t leave you with only stupid people. It leaves you with almost exactly the same pool of candidates, just with one extreme tail of the bell curve of one aptitude test snipped off. Presumably, candidates who score too low on the intelligence test are also rejected.

The (quite possibly entirely apocryphal) explanation I’ve heard for rejecting police applicants with exceptionally high intelligence testing results is that real life police work is almost all routine, rote duty. The supposed fear is that a candidate with exceptional test scores is likely to become stultifyingly bored with their normal duties. Which is thought to be likely to lead not only to high turn-over, but poor performance of their duties while they’re there. Not having ever been a police officer nor in HR, I don’t know if that’s actually a factor in real world hiring decisions for police officers.

This comes up as a case study about discrimination in HR circles from time-to-time. Robert Jordan (probably not the author) was rejected as a candidate for a position with the New London, Connecticut police department because he scored too high on the intelligence test and so sued for discrimination. The court ruled against him because the rules were applied to all candidates and intelligence isn’t a protected status. The appeals court said they weren’t sure it was a good policy but it didn’t violate any laws regarding employment discrimination.

I can see the reasoning behind such a policy, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. It’s true that turnover is expensive, but in my experience the majority of turnover isn’t because someone was too smart.

It seems strange to place so much emphasis on IQ alone. Maybe the department was actually considering Robert Jordan’s combination of IQ, having a college degree, and being 49 years old, and knew they couldn’t mention his age?

It would also be more reasonable if Jordan had an IQ of, say, 180. But 125? That’s not so high that it sets you apart from average people. In fact, I find it hard to believe that there aren’t successful cops with IQs of 125, or higher.

Regarding the issue of smart people getting bored with the work: I again find IQ a poor predictor of this. Post office work seems pretty boring, and AFAIK the post office doesn’t screen applicants for being too smart. (Do any other employers?) I would think other, personality-based tests would be more predictive of that than IQ.

There is a standard cliche about people not getting hired because they are overqualified. This is simply an example of this.

Just guessing, but I would think police stations want intelligent officers. However, book smarts and street smarts are perhaps different skills. The police are a hierarchical organization and the brass probably do not want every decision they make questioned by someone they deem inexperienced. And with the training involved they might want people going to commit to a long career there. Intelligence may or may not be uncommon, but a mixture of intelligence and humility is more so.

The military has done a pretty good job of raising standards for intelligence while keeping discipline and the chain of command intact.

Perhaps this is so, but I am not in a position to say if “military intelligence” remains an oxymoron or not.

+Plus+ keep in mind that there are a zillion different agencies in addition to states and counties, the feds, etc… They all have different things to consider.

A small department may only hirer 1 or 2 every couple of years. This is true for a large amount across the country. Recruiting, advertising, testing, training, and so on takes a lot of time and money.

Doing this for someone who is “over qualified” can come across as a bad bet, even if at the time they are a great candidate.

Larger departments do testing/interviewing/vetting on a large scale. But the majority don’t fall in to this. Bumfunk, AW can’t afford to go through all that for someone that might bail in 8 months or so.

Do people (of whatever intelligence) really apply to be a police officer that aren’t in it for the long haul. It seems to me to be a vocational choice. A career. I would think there would be a better way of determining that than an IQ test. Seems like a person with a high IQ would understand what they are setting themselves up for when applying for the job. In a better position to understand the long term implications of that decision. Rather than someone average Joe who thinks it might be cool, or someone who just needs a good paying job with benes.

The thing is, people change their minds. It’s difficult but recruiters and police & fire commissions try to weed someone like that out.

A very good acquaintance of mine got both his Associate and Bachelor degree in criminal justice. Applied to as many departments as were hiring, took his tests, interviews, etc… Got hired, went through the police recruit academy (10 weeks at the time, much longer now).
Got on the road, passed his 3 months with an FTO, started working on his own.

Passed his one year probation period. About three months after that he simply said “this is not for me”. He quit, went back to school, and has been a nurse for the last 20 years.

That department spent a lot of money on him and only got 15 months out of him.

IQ isn’t the only indicator. There are other dynamics that are looked at to try to determine if someone is in for the long haul.

If there was evidence of age discrimination it’s very likely Jordan’s attorney would have pursued that angle. I don’t know who they hired to fill the position, but it’s possible the person they hired was over 40 and also had a college degree. They emphasized the IQ because Jordan’s attorney argued that it was an immutable trait similar to race or sex. The judge didn’t agree. Or at least didn’t agree that it constituted a protected class.

I’m with you on this one. Some smart people aren’t ambitious and might be perfectly happy in a job that won’t see a lot of advancement or is mentally stimulating. Those people probably get their stimulation from other sources.

I think most people who enter into a career do so with the intention of being there for the long haul. It isn’t unusually for someone to have a job for a few years and realize they’d rather be doing something else. Or just going someplace else if they feel as though it’d be better for their career.

Sure. But, there are careers and there are jobs. it seems to me there are certain careers that are lifetime choices from the beginning. I’m pretty sure nobody takes a job as a cop just til something better comes along or as a job to pay for school for what they really want to do.
To F.U.Shakespeare’s point; I do see the Post Office being a “job for now” possibility and/or a career choice, and a certain percentage of people are gonna wash out regardless of IQ. So it doesn’t make sense to use that as a standard.
As **pkbites ** points out, there’s alot of costs involved in hiring an officer before they even spend one day on the job (applications, interviews, background checks, the academy…) Then outfitting them with uniforms and equipment. So, I get the incentive to make sure that perspective hires don’t wash out. I just don’t think “too smart” is a good indicator (and I get that it’s not the only one they use).
Maybe I’m wrong about that, and there is good research that shows that high IQ people are not a good fit for the rigors of a basic cop job. Just seems counterintuitive to me.

I found this we post very interesting!

My girlfriend had an application in to become a cop. She made it through various stages and was getting ready to sit the physical test when she got a much more lucrative job driving trains. Previously she’d been an airline pilot and got furloughed due to this COVID thing. The police job was intended to just be until her old airline hired her back, same with the train driving. When you have literally zero qualifications of any use outside aviation, you go for, and take, whatever you can get.