Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are Cops Smart?

  There is a story on-line about a college grad who was rejected for a police job because he scored 33 points (the equivalent of an IQ of 125--normal IQ being 100) on the police exam in Connecticut. The police academy only interviewed candidates who scored 20 to 27--not much above average--explaining that "those who scored too high could get bored with police work." This raises questions about who's guarding our country. Do we want our police force to be "average"?  How smart do you have to become a cop--or an FBI special agent?    

     You can become a policeman if you're twenty, a high school graduate, and finish about 12 weeks of training. Being physically fit and having a clean record are important admission criteria for police academies. The starting salary is about $25,000 and maxes out at $60,000, but is augmented by overtime pay, excellent benefits and yearly raises. State police, like troopers, usually have college degrees and train for 25 to 30 weeks. Their salaries start at $42,000 in Florida, which is lower than most states, and can increase to $70,000.
     If being smart is about education, America is way behind other developed countries, where many years of education are required for a law enforcement official to be granted the authority to raid, arrest, and shoot citizens.  In Egypt, for instance, police must complete four years of training after college.

     FBI agents train for 20 weeks at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia after college. Their instruction falls into four categories: academics, firearms training, case exercises, and operational skills. The FBI website for prospective applicants underlines the importance of "fundamentals of law and ethics" in training. In addition, "Students learn now to manage and run counterterrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction, cyber, and criminal investigations." Part of the FBI special agent's ethics training includes a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.--according to the FBI website--"to learn what can happen when law enforcement loses its core values." FBI special agent salaries start at $62,000 and can go as high in the course of a career as $107,000. 

     Reading this verbiage about "core values" and "ethics" gives me a modicum of hope about our national police and prosecutors, especially with regard to my personal history with them since their premeditated raid on my medical clinic last year.

     It has always seemed to me that intelligence is less about education and training than the capacity to integrate new information into one's world view, and to alter an opinion when there is good cause. Even more important is the self-security that allows a person to sway and bend, as a supple young tree must move so that it does not break when the elements force themselves on it. The flexible yoga master, who has practiced the art of stretching limits his entire career, is also able--despite old age--to adapt to circumstances, like a sapling, and will not break. 

     There is a rumor that law enforcement officials tend to draw early conclusions--e.g., "That person is a criminal"--or, "There are weapons of mass destruction in that arsenal"--or, "She's committing fraud"--and never let the conclusion go, as though it would be an admission of weakness to change gears, even when the facts are all against it. 

     Remember how, in the last two presidential elections, the worst thing one party could say to the other was, "He's a flip-flopper"? Changing one's mind is somehow a breach of faith, or proof of one's hypocrisy, or--even worse--just plain lame. Perhaps our federal police simply cannot risk appearing weak.

     What if doctors felt the same way? Of course we have many more years of education under our belts--but as I said, it's not about education. This is about personal integrity, and strength of character so tough it can bend. It has to do with who one is in the nucleus of oneself. 

     Physicians, too, can be resolute to the point of rigidity--but the really good ones are not rigid. The best physicians bend and move, listen and learn--and they change their minds all the time. If they didn't, we'd all be in a lot of trouble. What if you came to me, your doctor, with a bad cough? What if I decided, after a few preliminary questions, that you have cancer? I ask your spouse if you smoke--and find out yes, you do. And that's it--with this confirmation, I'm sure I know what's wrong.

     With such an awful diagnosis, surely you have a right to expect me to gather confirmation--a chest x-ray, a CT scan, some lab tests. Surely I should be taking your pulse, listening to your lungs, attending to the particulars of your cough, and I should ask dozens more questions--any doctor worth his mettle would do these things. And--when none of the evidence supports my original diagnosis--is it "lame" to change my mind? Am I a flip-flopper? Is it a sign of weakness if I don't hold onto my first impression as though the entirety of my character depended on it? Will you think less of me because I wasn't right the first time around?

     When I admit, "I didn't mean to cause you grief, but you have a popcorn kernel in your tracheal pocket, not cancer," will you tell me that I'm a sorry fool to have missed the diagnosis in the first place?  Maybe I shouldn't have jumped to such a dark conclusion without having the facts in place, but I'm a greater person for being changed by the facts.  We have to start with a hypothesis, no matter what, but hypotheses don't have the weight of finality.  The ability to be changed, without losing our core identity, is what I consider "smart."

     So are cops smart?  If it's true that they can't change their minds without feeling diminished, then no.  But if they start out with a hypothesis, and are able to allow the facts, as they unfold, to correct them, then yes. 
     If it's true that law enforcement officials--and politicians, for that matter--can't afford to change their minds, ever, for fear of appearing weak, I wonder who taught them that?  Is it us?  Are Americans so insecure that we can't handle leaders who change their views when the evidence weighs in against them?   

     Maybe it's our fault, for thinking strength is about always being right, even when we're wrong.


  1. FBI Special Agents are required to have a four-year degree plus three years of professional work experience.

  2. True. What is "professional work experience"? It could be almost any kind of work experience--which doesn't in and of itself guarantee respectability. However, I agree with your implication, which is that the FBI is selective about its applicants. Fitness, integrity, emotional maturity and self-restraint are prerequisites for consideration, and are excellent qualities. Self-certainty, inflexibility, prejudice, and an incapacity for introspection are not.