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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

September 2022 | Volume 15 | Issue 9

Understanding human behavior and what motivates people is key to addressing a wide range of organizational challenges. For more than 100 years, the United States Army, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and dozens of other government agencies and corporations have used the principles of Industrial and Organizational (I-O) psychology to solve problems and improve processes.

In June 2022, in an effort to make the benefits of I-O psychology more widely available to law enforcement, the COPS Office partnered with the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) to provide access to their expertise to state, local, and tribal agencies.

Through this partnership, the COPS Office will work with SIOP to facilitate agency connections with I-O psychologists who can provide research, analysis, and evidence-based behavioral solutions in areas such as recruitment, hiring, promotion processes, leadership development, training program design, and officer health and wellness. This program will build on work previously done by SIOP members with police departments.

These agency connections could be in the form of access to research findings, training through webinars and roundtable sessions, or other engagement opportunities.

The Benefits of I-O Psychology to Law Enforcement

Though I-O psychology began in the early 1900s with studies of the effects of the physical work environment on employee performance, researchers soon realized that the workplace’s psychological and social factors were even more important.

Today, I-O psychologists assess these factors and their effects in many workplace functions. Some I-O specialists focus on how to assign individuals to job roles by assessing employee characteristics and matching them to positions in which they are likely to perform well. Others are involved in either designing and evaluating training or in developing job performance standards and measurements.

The focus of another group of I-O psychologists is leadership development, team effectiveness, diversity and inclusion initiatives. This can also include organizational culture assessment and change, as well as studies of how workplace communication processes facilitate organizational goals.

Rigorously trained in scientific research methods, all I-O professionals are applied psychologists whose work focuses on practical applications of scientific theories and research results to organizational challenges.

By applying their research to solving real-world law enforcement challenges, they can provide agencies with the information and insights they need to improve a variety of operations, not only achieving desired organizational outcomes, but also promoting the wellbeing of their employees.

In the area of career advancement, for instance, an agency could gain a better understanding of the personal characteristics required to excel in each role and more finely tune their testing and selection processes.

Agencies could also use I-O research findings to develop more clearly defined performance standards and more accurate appraisals, making it easier for officers to meet expectations and improving job satisfaction.

Asked how an agency could accomplish this, SIOP member, Dr. Ann Marie Ryan gave an example of one effort: “We showed sergeants and lieutenants how to give more useful and actionable feedback to officers and civilian employees. Their performance appraisals are more specific now, and their subordinates say the feedback they get is more job-related and useable.”

Practical Solutions for Recruitment, Advancement and Leadership Training

“We have been working with other agencies on improving recruitment processes,” Dr. Ryan adds. “We’re looking at what they are using to select people, and if their interview questions and testing for hiring or promotion could be better.”

For example, Ryan described an agency which wanted to recruit minority applicants but didn’t understand why so many who expressed interest did not follow through on the application process.

“They wanted to figure out why people failed to go through the entire process, specifically those who were already in the academy, but dropped out during training,” she said. “We helped them understand what the factors that caused it were, with a focus on diversity.”

“We suggested changes to their processes, and as a result, they got more people to apply and hired better performers, who turned out to be better fits for the job and were also more diverse.”

With another department, Ryan’s team analyzed their education requirements for jobs, benchmarking what other departments required as credentials and what factors needed to be considered. Some required four-year college degrees, for instance, while others wanted associate degrees. “We looked at the variations, to help them decide what was really required for their city, size, culture, etc.,” Ryan said.

Her team also studied testing and validation, looking for supporting evidence that a test for hiring or promotion was really useful. “The question we want to answer,” she said, “is ‘Do people perform better on the job if they test better on this exam?’”

Asked how SIOP works in the area of communications, I-O psychologist Dr. Rick Jacobs said, “We start by looking at messaging. We talk to officers and ask when they feel out of the loop, to learn where the gaps in communication transmission are.”

Jacobs added that leadership, especially new supervisors, often need training to communicate more effectively. “One of the hardest transitions in law enforcement is the move up to sergeant or lieutenant. In the new position, officers may be in charge of people who have more experience or who are friends. They need to adapt to this in their communication style.”

Findings Enhance Work Environment and Community Relations

Through I-O psychology studies, agency leaders can also gain a better understanding of how their department’s overall organizational structure, culture, and management style influences the day-to-day performance, health, and well-being of their officers and other employees.

With the support of I-O psychology expertise and research findings, agencies can increase motivation and improve positive attitudes about work, strengthen leadership, better accommodate work-life balance, and promote diversity and inclusion. As a result, agencies are able to not only enhance the department’s internal relationships, but to strengthen those with the people they serve.

Said Robert Chapman, Acting Director of the COPS Office, “Our partnership with SIOP is another important step in our efforts to build healthy law enforcement organizations that have the added advantage of leading to stronger relationships with the community. We look forward to upcoming events.”

Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
COPS Office

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