Police Personality Essay

The issue regarding the phrase “police personality” has acquired great debate. Arguably this has been primarily over the problem of definition and development. What is a police personality? How does it form? Is it a pre-existing condition, thus predisposing certain individuals to police work, or whether it is just a product of occupational socialization (on the job experiences). Perhaps the issue is not as simply dichotomous as that; conceivably it is an amalgam of both predispositions and experiences that shapes this intangible personality.

Does this personality make them any different from the general population which they vowed to “serve and protect”? How do these attitudes and affect not only himself and the department he belongs to but also the police-community relation in general? These are some questions relating to the issue of police personality that will be answered along the way.

To start with, how do we define “police personality”? There are a few who made several models or theories about this idea. According to G.A. Kelly (1955), personality is our abstraction of the activity of a person and our ensuing simplification of this abstraction to all matters of his relationship to other persons, known and unknown, as well as to anything else that may seem particularly valuable. His theory is based on the vantage point of personality as a personal construct model. G. Alport (1937), another theorist describes this as a three-pronged task for a certain individual: (1) self-objectification, (2) extension of self, (3) unifying philosophies of life.

According to him, it can be further understood as a mixture of major and minor “traits” by which a single life is known and that a personality “trait” is a biological, psychological and social mixture that disposes a person toward specific kinds of action under specific circumstances. (Monte, 1999). With respect to the development of the police personality, Allport can be said to be adhering to the predisposition model-that a certain type of person becomes a police officer as opposed to the notion that job experiences shape the personality construct.

A third psychologist, H. Kohut (1977) describes that normal development was a process of interaction between the growing infant and his mirroring and idealizing self-objects. This assumption tends to support the view that police personality is a mixture of the predisposition model and the experience model. But regardless of the process by which this certain personality has developed from, what are these traits that make up a police personality?

            The characteristics usually associated with police personalities in present times are machismo, bravery, authoritarianism, cynicism and aggression. Additional characteristics have been associated with police personalities as well: suspicious, solidaristic, conservative, alienated and thoroughly bigoted (Balch, Skolnick 1977). In movies like “Lethal Weapon” which stars Mel Gibson, we see an image of a cop that is not only brave and proficient—but a super cop, who can handle almost anything that goes in his way.

The movie “Training Day” by acclaimed actor Denzel Washington also depicts a vicious, sadistic cop. Gone are the days when people picture cops as men in uniform, walking around the neighborhood helping children to get their pet cat down from a tree (a Boy Scout persona). Modern pop culture and the media have greatly helped the public’s perception of today’s policemen.

            Little is known about how these men undergo series of screenings in order to be accepted though. Before being hired, aspiring policemen go through several personality tests that determine whether they are capable enough to handle the job.

Only men who display particular personality profiles (e.g. bravery, honesty, punctuality) are accepted to the force. But these screening, even with the help of psychologists, does not give us a clear picture of what police personality is all about. In contrast, it tells us what the police persona is NOT. There certain traits that make entry-level policemen unfit for the job. Examples are tardiness, excessive absences, alcoholism, and lack of assertiveness among many others.

            From the successful ones however we can gather some commonalities in their traits that may help us define police personality. People who enter the force turn out to be psychologically healthy and competent young men who display common personality features. They are generally assertive and restless, with a high degree of physical energy. One trait that stands out from this however, is cynicism. Some professionals view cynicism as counterproductive and in due course, harmful not only to the individual but to the department as well. It said to that for the most part, it is a precursor to corruption, brutality, and misconduct for men in uniform. However, some also believe that, in recent years, findings show that cynicism is to be considered a police survival tool (Caplan, 2003).

            The police personality based on Skolnick’s (1977) idea of the “working personality” is composed of three main elements: danger, authority, and efficiency. The dangerous nature of being a police officer not only draws officers closer together but also makes them alienated from the general population. The sense of authority by police officers, experienced by interacting with the public, further makes them feel isolated. So is the notion of efficiency in which the use deception as a means of getting the job done. Some experts believe though, that the idea of alienation is not intrinsic to police officers, it rather lies in the community’s perceptions of the policemen.

It is important that the community and the force work hand in hand in trying to rid the locale of criminality. In countries that are just developing, criminal cases are usually very high. Thus, the police force must be able to transform their image as a widely feared and despised organization to a friendly and service-driven institution that works in close partnership with the community. This is especially hard when the image of a certain department for example is a corrupt and brutal one. People tend to generalize that idea, and view the force being corrupt and all as a whole.

            Examining the psychological and sociological paradigms on police personality we get a clearer view of what makes the police men different from the rest of the population. The psychological paradigm posits that people with certain personalities are drawn to join the force (predisposition model). On the other hand, the sociological model suggests that these traits are developed along the way (based from the day to day experiences of police officers). Police personality, as a distinct entity, does exist. It exists as a result of the convergence of a specific baseline set of desirable personalities and work-related socialization. It is also a utility of, and is strongly characterized by, a police culture, shaped by the needs of officers to uphold personal safety and augment their professional potentials. (Twersky-Glasner, 2005).


Allport, G. (1937). Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. New York: Henry Holt.

Balch, R., (1977). The police personality: Fact or fiction. In D.B. Kennedy (Ed.). The                  

            Dysfunctional Alliance: Emotion and reason in justice administration.              

            (pp. 10-25). Cincinnati, OH. Anderson Publishing Company.

Caplan, Joel. (2003). Police Cynicism: Police Survival Tool?. The Police Journal Vol. 76.                            

            Rutgers University.

Skolnick, J., (1966). Justice without trial. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Twersky-Glasner, A. (2005). Police Personality: What Is It and Why Are They Like 

            That? Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 2005, Volume 20, Number 1.

            New York.

For the film, see Police Officer (film). For other uses, see Policeman (disambiguation).

Police officers in South Australia


Activity sectors

Law enforcement, public safety, civil service, public service rescue, protection of private property
CompetenciesSense of justice, knowledge of the law, communication skills, brave, quick thinking under pressure, competence at legal paperwork, problem solving, physical fitness

Education required

Secondary or tertiary education

Fields of

Public areas

Related jobs

gendarmerie, military police, security guard, bodyguard

A police officer, also known as an officer, policeman, policewoman, cop, police agent, or a police employee[1][2] is a warranted law employee of a police force. In most countries, "police officer" is a generic term not specifying a particular rank. In some, the use of the rank "officer" is legally reserved for military personnel.

Police officers are generally charged with the apprehension of criminals and the prevention and detection of crime, protection and assistance of the general public, and the maintenance of public order. Police officers may be sworn to an oath, and have the power to arrest people and detain them for a limited time, along with other duties and powers. Some officers are trained in special duties, such as counter-terrorism, surveillance, child protection, VIPprotection, civil law enforcement, and investigation techniques into major crime including fraud, rape, murder, and drug trafficking. Although many police officers wear a corresponding uniform, some police officers are plain-clothed in order to dissimulate as ordinary citizens.[3]


The word police comes from the Greek politeia meaning government, which came to mean its civil administration.[4] Police officers are those empowered by government to enforce the laws it creates. In The Federalist Papers (#51), James Madison wrote "If men were pure, no government would be necessary."These words apply to those who serve government, including police.

The more general term for the function is law enforcement officer or peace officer. A sheriff is typically the top police officer of a county, with that word coming from the person enforcing law over a shire.[5] A person who has been deputized to serve the function of the sheriff is referred to as the deputy. A common nickname for a police officer is cop. The term copper is originally used in Britain to mean "someone who captures". (In British English the term Cop is recorded (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) in the sense of 'To Capture' from 1704, derived from the Latin 'Capere' via the Old French 'Caper'.)[6] The common myth is that it's a term referring to the police officer's buttons which are made of copper. The word Cop derives from a Gaelic word which has the equivalence of saying, protector, leader, or chief.[citation needed] The term County Mountie is used specifically in reference to county police officers or county sheriff's deputies in the United States. As with Canadian Mounties, the term mountie comes from police who serve while mounted on horseback (see cavalry).

Duties and functions[edit]

Responsibilities of a police officer are varied, and may differ greatly from within one political context to another. Typical duties relate to keeping the peace, law enforcement, protection of people and property and the investigation of crimes. Officers are expected to respond to a variety of situations that may arise while they are on duty. Rules and guidelines dictate how an officer should behave within the community, and in many contexts, restrictions are placed on what the uniformed officer wears. In some countries, rules and procedures dictate that a police officer is obliged to intervene in a criminal incident, even if they are off-duty. Police officers in nearly all countries retain their lawful powers while off duty.[7]

In the majority of Western legal systems, the major role of the police is to maintain order, keeping the peace through surveillance of the public, and the subsequent reporting and apprehension of suspected violators of the law. They also function to discourage crimes through high-visibility policing, and most police forces have an investigative capability. Police have the legal authority to arrest and detain, usually granted by magistrates. Police officers also respond to emergency calls, along with routine community policing.

Police are often used as an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, search and rescue situations, and road traffic collisions. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often coordinate their operations with fire and emergency medical services. In some countries, individuals serve jointly as police officers as well as firefighters (creating the role of fire police). In many countries, there is a common emergency service number that allows the police, firefighters, or medical services to be summoned to an emergency. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom have outlined command procedures, for the use in major emergencies or disorder. The Gold Silver Bronze command structure is a system set up to improve communications between ground based officers and the control room, typically, Bronze Commander would be a senior officer on the ground, coordinating the efforts in the center of the emergency, Silver Commanders would be positioned in an 'Incident Control Room' erected to improve better communications at the scene, and a Gold Commander who would be in the Control Room.

Police are also responsible for reprimanding minor offenders by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Traffic enforcement is often and effectively accomplished by police officers on motorcycles—called motor officers, these officers refer to the motorcycles they ride on duty as simply motors. Police are also trained to assist persons in distress, such as motorists whose car has broken down and people experiencing a medical emergency. Police are typically trained in basic first aid such as CPR.

Some park rangers are commissioned as law enforcement officers and carry out a law-enforcement role within national parks and other back-country wilderness and recreational areas, whereas Military police perform law enforcement functions within the military.

Entry and promotion qualifications[edit]

In most countries, candidates for the police force must have completed some formal education.[8] Increasing numbers of people are joining the police force who possess tertiary education[9] and in response to this many police forces have developed a "fast-track" scheme whereby those with university degrees spend two to three years as a Constable before receiving promotion to higher ranks, such as Sergeants or Inspectors. (Officers who work within investigative divisions or plainclothes are not necessarily of a higher rank but merely have different duties.)[citation needed] Police officers are also recruited from those with experience in the military or security services. In the United States state laws may codify statewide qualification standards regarding age, education, criminal record, and training but in other places requirements are set by local police agencies. Each local Police agency has different requirements.

Promotion is not automatic and usually requires the candidate to pass some kind of examination, interview board or other selection procedure. Although promotion normally includes an increase in salary, it also brings with it an increase in responsibility and for most, an increase in administrative paperwork. There is no stigma attached to this, as experienced line patrol officers are highly regarded.

Dependent upon each agency, but generally after completing two years of service, officers may apply for specialist positions, such as detective, police dog handler, mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, water police officer, or firearms officer (in countries where police are not routinely armed).

In some countries, including Singapore, police ranks are supplemented through conscription, similar to national service in the military. Qualifications may thus be relaxed or enhanced depending on the target mix of conscripts. Conscripts face tougher physical requirements in areas such as eyesight, but minimum academic qualification requirements are less stringent. Some join as volunteers, again via differing qualification requirements.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(March 2010)

In some societies, police officers are paid relatively well compared to other occupations; their pay depends on what rank they are within their police force and how many years they have served.[10] In the United States, a police officer's salary averaged $61,230 in 2015.[11] In the United Kingdom for the year 2015–16 a police officer's average salary was £30,901.[citation needed]

Occupational safety and health[edit]

Main article: Police officer safety and health

There are numerous issues affecting the safety and health of police officers, including line of duty deaths and occupational stress.

Application of force[edit]

Individual cases[edit]

Main article: Use of force

Almost universally, police officers are authorized the use of force, up to and including deadly force, when acting in a law enforcement capacity.[12] Although most law enforcement agencies follow some variant of the use of force continuum, where officers are only authorized the level of force required to match situational requirements, specific thresholds and responses vary between jurisdictions.[13] While officers are trained to avoid excessive use of force, and may be held legally accountable for infractions, the variability of law enforcement and its dependence on human judgment have made the subject an area of controversy and research.[14][15]


Main article: Police accountability

In the performance of their duties, police officers may act unlawfully, either deliberately or as a result of errors in judgment.[16] Police accountability efforts strive to protect citizens and their rights by ensuring legal and effective law enforcement conduct, while affording individual officers the required autonomy, protection, and discretion. As an example, the use of body-worn cameras has been shown to reduce both instances of misconduct and complaints against officers.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Police ranks and pay in England and Wales". Police-information.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  2. ^"Police rank structure and other information in Scotland". Scotland.gov.uk. 1994-12-31. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  3. ^Dulaney, W. Marvin (1996). Black Police in America. Indiana University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-253-21040-2. 
  4. ^definition of the word police
  5. ^definition of the word sheriff
  6. ^Partridge, Eric (1972). A Dictionary of Historical Slang. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 014051046X. 
  7. ^"Educational Requirements for Police Officers". education-portal.com. 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 
  8. ^https://study.com/requirements_to_become_a_police_officer.html
  9. ^https://learn.org/articles/What_is_Tertiary_Education.html
  10. ^"Police Pay". Police-information.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-06. 
  11. ^"Police Officer Salary – Police Test Guide | Police Officer Test". Police Test Guide. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  12. ^"The Use-of-Force Continuum". Library of Congress. Library of Congress. 9 June 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  13. ^"The Use-of-Force Continuum". National Institute of Justice. National Institute of Justice. 4 August 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  14. ^Fryer, Roland G. Jr. (July 2016). "An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force". Harvard University. Harvard University. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  15. ^Wittie, Mark Curtis (2011). "Police Use of Force"(PDF). West Texas A&M University. West Texas A&M University. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  16. ^"Use of Force". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 19 May 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  17. ^Taylor, E. (2016). "Lights, Camera, Redaction... Police Body-Worn Cameras: Autonomy, Discretion and Accountability". Surveillance & Society. 14: 131. 

External links[edit]

Police officer on street patrol in Montreal, Canada
Mounted Tourist-Police officers in Petra, Jordan
A British police officer on a police motorbike


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