One of the most exciting challenges in leading an organization is achieving a good fit between the skills, character, and motivations of individual employees and the job you’re asking them to do.
If someone wants a job as an engineer, we would naturally ask if they had the qualifications to be an engineer. Still, we might also ask what it is about their personality and makeup that makes them attracted to engineering as a profession. It might be because they like things “just so” or they want to dive into the details. They may be project-oriented or have a genuine passion for building things.
While there are reasons why we might be interested in having their particular engineering talents for our organization, most organizations have learned that there is much more to be gained than what shows up on a resume. One of the things we should strive to understand is the nature of their interest in a particular job and what that interest tells us about who they are and what they want to get out of the experience, other than money. Understanding their motivations and their interest in a particular job may tell us some significant things about them beyond their ability to “do the work.”
So why do people want to become police officers? I can name a lot of good reasons, and I expect that most people who become police officers do so for these good reasons. Among these might be the desire to protect and serve the well-being of others and of the community, a desire to create a safe and stable community for its residents and employers, or the desire to be part of a profession which the officer hopes will engender feelings of trust and respect from others.
There are most certainly wrong reasons to want to be a police officer, and recent events scream out the terrifying reality that some are in the job for those wrong reasons. The opportunity to carry a sanctioned firearm and wear a military-style uniform festooned with the accouterments of power is an invitation for certain people who have distorted views of the purpose of these things. There can be no doubt that the profession of police officer regularly attracts outstanding and principled individuals but also an unfortunate number who prize the opportunity it provides them to push others around, to dominate and intimidate, and to project a sense of personal power through the uniform that might be lacking in other parts of their lives.
It may also attract a small number who glorify violence, and who see becoming a police officer as their opportunity to “set the world right” as they see that right through the lens of their own biases.
I believe the question is how we ensure that people are applying for and training for these kinds of jobs for the right reasons. It’s within our power to establish standards for police work that identify problematic psychological tendencies before awarding a badge. And of course, we have to remove the protections that exist for police officers who have clearly established a pattern of behaviors that point towards them having the wrong reasons for choosing this critical profession.
Carrying a gun, driving a powerful car, and sometimes holding life in the balance are fantastic responsibilities. We thank those who hold these responsibilities sacred and who do their policing for good reasons. However, we owe it to everyone in our society to hold these people to a higher standard, in consideration of what is so obviously at stake.