Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Swell of Mediocrity

A really old article found its way onto my Facebook feed this morning. Given all the stories about police brutality around the country, it's not surprising that this article resurfaced. But when I saw the headline, I had to read it.

That's a bit of a misnomer. Police departments don't actually administer IQ tests, but the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test which is used in various industries. Although shorter than most IQ tests, Wonderlic's questions do in fact mirror those in IQ tests.

What turned out to read more like an Onion article than judicially enforced fact wasn't just an isolated incident fourteen years ago in one city. It still takes place throughout the country.

The case involved Robert Jordan, a police officer candidate who took New London, CT's cognitive ability test in 1996 and, scoring a 33 out of 50, was rejected for scoring too high. New London only chose to interview candidates who scored in the 20s, and the national average is around 21 or 22.

That gives your average police officer an IQ of about 104, or just at the crest of the Bell Curve. The average IQ is 100.

Makes more sense now, eh?

Jordan sued and lost. The city claimed that "smarter" candidates may get bored, and with the costly training process, eliminating the most intellectual curbs officer turnover. In some respects, that makes sense. After all, corporations routinely ignore qualified candidates for similar reasons.

But the flaw is in the bureaucratic misunderstanding of the Intelligence Quotient. IQ tests, and tests like the Wonderlic, don't assess a test taker's accumulated knowledge or educational accumulation, they test for abstract and deductive reasoning, spatial relations, and an understanding of cause and effect scenarios. 

They test a candidate's intellectual potential

When you understand what intelligence tests assess, or what intelligence actually means, cities should be looking for candidates who score much higher than average considering the complex situations officers often find themselves in.

An "intelligence cap" may curb turnover, but only because cities have been using the cap to maintain a swell smack in the middle of the status quo. If "smart" officers leave, they're leaving out of frustration, not because they're bored. 

Cities aren't rejecting "smarter" candidates. They're rejecting candidates who dynamically understand conflict, reason, and logic. Candidates who can quickly assess a complex situation. Candidates who have the capability of understanding how escalating various scenarios may play out. 

Those are the exact candidates police departments need on the force.

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