Book Review: Research in Law Enforcement Selection

Posted: February 27, 2015 in Books
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Book review of “Research in Law Enforcement Selection” by Michael G. Aamodt.

I don’t do Meta Analysis and don’t do pre-employment evaluations.  Most of my life I have had little interest in either.  The mixing of the two for me should be somewhat like eating overdone beef liver cooked in castor oil and chasing it down with Campari (the Italian liquor that looks and tastes like transmission fluid).  So, when Mike Aamodt gave me a book looking at law enforcement pre-employment evaluations using meta analysis, I wasn’t sure I would have the stomach to read it.  But then again, Dr. Aamodt has always impressed me in his presentations with his humor and dry charm, and I always walk away with pieces of really valuable information, so maybe I could shove reading this new book of Aamodt’s between the 13th and 14th annual Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. Who knows maybe I’ll learn something.

The first two chapters are about what a meta-analysis is and how it is done in this study.  Okay I have to admit, I am a closet Discovery/History Channel watcher and fought off those un-cool nerd tendencies throughout high school and college.  And I actually like research and stats, but please do not tell the other kids.  Dr. Aamodt’s two chapters on the meta-analysis are progressive and in simple enough terms that even a non-nerd can understand his concepts, but you have to have a little of that nerd thing to find it fascinating like I did.  The meta-analysis statistically combines all well-done published studies, regardless of statistics and methods, and weighs and balances them for an overall statistical analysis of effect.  It seems like a tremendous amount of work, but what a great idea to look at data this way rather than argue one study over another.  In the following chapters he looks at variables like cognitive ability, educational background, previous military experience, background problems, individual sub-test scores on personality tests, vocational interest inventories and a host of other constructs measured in pre-employment evaluations to see if they can predict job performance, academy performance and likelihood of problems on the job.  Without giving you any of the findings (buy the book for that), I found myself constantly saying, now that is interesting (ex., criminal justice majors don’t do better as cops or in the academy, or measure “x” really has tremendous adverse impact, or this subtest doesn’t discriminate at all, etc).  Dr. Aamodt has managed somehow in this book to answer a ton of questions, raise a number of issues and keep you saying, “Wow, I never would have thought that.”

In the final chapter, Dr. Aamodt lists the things we know, the things we don’t know, and what we need to find out about pre-employment evaluations.  For example, he tells you the one subtest that is the single best predictor of performance on the job (not what I expected).  He tells you the correlations between positive citations and civilian complaints.  He tells you the best predictors of academy performance, and talks about the end of a honeymoon period where some predictors start to really come through.  Every police psychologist, every police chief, everyone working in employment law, and every graduate student studying anything about industrial organizational psychology should read this chapter.  It is worth 100 times the cost of the book and it sets a way of thinking that should be a structure for all employment testing.

I testify on a lot on police cases and work with lawyers on how to cross examine psychologists.  I have already integrated some of Dr. Aamodt’s analysis into my work.  It is just that kind of book – filled with facts that should guide the practice of a profession.  He states in the preface he wanted it to be a resource book for the profession.  He has succeeded in a big way.  If you are in any way responsible for pre-employment assessment in law enforcement, you’d better read what he says in this simple paperback book.  You definitely don’t want to face some lawyer who has read it, or has been prepared by a psychologist who has read it.  This book is a resource book that should be required reading in the profession.

Maybe I should try that Campari again.  —- Nah!!

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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