On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, was shot twice and killed by 26-year-old police officer Timothy Loehmann after reaching into his waistband for what appeared to be a firearm. Loehmann along with fellow officer Frank Garmback were responding to a police dispatch call in which someone stated that a male was pointing a pistol at random people in the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland Ohio. During the dispatch call, the person calling stated that the pistol was “probably fake” and that the male was “probably a juvenile.” The situation dictated a for split second reaction and although the choice made by officer Loehmann was considered to be the right one by many, the entire situation should have been avoided due to the fact that officer Loehmann should not have been a police officer as he was mentally unfit for duty. “In a November 2012 memo, Deputy Chief Jim Polak recommended that Loehmann be dismissed. He questioned Loehmann's ability to follow instructions and to make good decisions in stressful situations. He cited a report from a firearms instructor who said Loehmann showed up for training "distracted," "weepy" and unable to "communicate clear thoughts," as a result of which "his handgun performance was dismal. The report described Loehmann as in an "emotional meltdown." (Johnson, NBC News) If this was the case then why is it that this man was allowed to remain a police officer? Every day around the country police officers are required to make split second life or death decisions; decisions that require the officers to be in peak, disease free mental condition. Various methods and tests are used to determine if police officers are mentally fit for duty, so innocent lives like Tamir Rice may not be lost again in the future, but these methods are considered lacking and in need of change by many. Michelle A. Travis, a professor of law, “concludes not only that the tests are unreliable, but also that their use in employment decisions may violate the “Americans with Disabilities Act by targeting a mental disability.” On the other side of the spectrum Robert Mills, assistant professor in Department of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, Robert Mcdevitt, a practicing psychiatrist in Cincinnati Ohio, and Sandra Tonkin, a graduate assistant in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, all claim that “the emphasis upon care in initial selection reflects recognition of the critical and complex demands placed upon the modern metropolitan police officer.” Scholars from both disciplines, law and psychology, speak on the need for the revision and renewal of methods and tests used to discern whether or not an officer is fit for duty through the use of particular ethos, specific writing styles, and differentiated approaches related to their fields. Michelle Travis uses a somewhat formal approach with logos and pathos as her driving appeal, stating clear statistical evidence and intertwining it with legal jargon and court cases that support her arguments. Travis in her article “Psychological Health Tests for Violence-Prone Police Officers: Objectives, Shortcomings, and Alternatives” (Travis,1994) proposes that the problem lies in the screening process of police officers itself. She suggests that instead of using mental health resources to predict future behavior, self-proposed alternatives should be used to change the behavioral patterns and situational factors that produce violence and that mental health professionals openly admit to not being able to predict future behaviors. On the contrary, Robert Mills et al. (1966) in their article “Situational Tests in Metropolitan Police Recruit Selection” (Mills et al., 1996) claim that tests can be clear indicators for future behavior but that sole reliance upon pencil on paper intelligence-type tests leave much to be desired. Through the use of ethos, logos, and excessive knowledge on situational testing the authors give concise numerical evidence to provide alternatives and why those alternatives may be more successful than their predecessors. To come to a truly successful solution to the problem of police screenings for mental readiness for duty one must look at both disciplines for a complete understanding since both sides provide important information, insight, and perspectives on the topic. A mixture of both the differing and shared opinions on the topic provide for a complete outlook and best hope for a solution.
Considering the large contrast in the two disciplines, law and psychology, the rate at which the general solutions to the problem coincide with one another is surprising. Both disciplines explicitly state the lack of evidence for success and obvious inadequacy of the current screenings of mental readiness for police officers. At the beginning of their respective articles, both Travis and Mills et al. (1966) speak on the increasing trend of psychological tests being used in police departments. Travis notes the major increase by stating that in 1955 only fourteen cities in the United States with populations over 100,000 had officially adopted psychological testing as part of their processes for hiring police but by 1990 “the trend had accelerated dramatically” with 64 percent of state police departments and 73 percent of municipal police departments requiring their incoming candidates to undergo at least one psychological test. Mills et al. (1996) address this trend when they speak on findings from “a survey of assessment procedures used in 55 cities having populations greater than 150,000 which revealed that all cities utilized some type of psychological test(s).” Analyzation of 12 typical “police aptitude” tests showed them to be little more than “unstandardized intelligence tests” which is clearly a problem since being a police officer requires much more than “simple intelligence.” With the clear increasing trend of psychological testing for police screenings the increasing need for these tests to be efficient and successful is becoming more and more apparent. If these tests are not successful in screening out those unfit for duty then how many more civilians like Tamir Rice are put into harm’s way as opposed to if the tests were successful? If the answer is even one then that is too many; police officers exist to protect the people and if they are not fit to do so then they should not even be considered for a job in law enforcement. Although it is understood that a screening process with a 100 percent success rate may be impossible and that even if it were police officers may make the wrong decisions under stress, the use of effective testing is integral in the overall safety and wellbeing of police officers and the citizens they strive to protect. Both Travis and Mills et al. (1996) use mainly logos to provide themselves and their arguments with validity. Travis does this by referencing court cases and laws that back up her argument while Mills et al. (1996) uses empirical evidence such as questionnaires, surveys, and interviews given to officers to show their effectiveness or lack thereof. Both use research techniques relevant to their field to procure the best possible solution to the given problem. For the absolute best solution to be found, research methods from both disciplines must be combined to provide the greatest possible overview of all aspects of the problem and viable and hopefully successful solutions.
The differences in how these two disciplines approach the problem and ultimately what they suggest as a solution are painstakingly clear. Travis argues the lack of efficiency of the current psychological tests stating that “because these psychological tests currently lack consistent scientific support and may violate the ADA, they are inadequate and for now inappropriate solution for reducing police brutality.” Travis not only speaks on the inadequacy of the tests but also on the violation of the American Disability Act that these tests may be infringing upon. Coming from a legal discipline this is to be expected but it is also completely lacking from the argument made by Mills et al. Mills et al. (1996) on the other hand speaks on the lack of efficiency that these tests provide by claiming that they do not cover a large enough range of dimensions; stating “critical motivational-emotional-personality dimensions are untapped. This differing in opinion is the most notable due to the fact that one discipline downplays the solution that the other proposes. Travis wishes to do away with psychological testing for police screening claiming that mental health professionals cannot predict future behavior while Mills et al. (1996) wishes to add dimensions to preexisting tests in order to better predict the future behavior of officers. The appeals both disciplines use also vary. While they both use logos, only Travis uses a pronounced amount of pathos when she cites multiple occasions of seemingly unfit police officers engaging in activity that leads to the innocent death of civilians, such as Tamir Rice. By doing this, she seeks to ignite feelings of abhorrence in the reader in hopes that they see the need for change as she does and may even do something about it as she is attempting to. Travis’ use of pathos shows that her purpose for writing the article was to not only give a solution to a problem but also to push for the implementation of that solution while Mills et al. (1996) were writing more to inform than to push for a change of any sorts.
Although the findings from these two disciplines provide differing solutions to the same problem, they provide a clear-cut and evident need for the improvement or reconstruction of police screening policy and testing. They do this by addressing the exigency of the problem through research best suited for their respective disciplines. While Travis pushes for change using emotion, statistics, and laws and Mills et al. provides an unemotional informative approach, they both provide information necessary to address the problem fully and to devise a solution that would be fitting across all scholarly disciplines.
- Johnson, Alex M. "Officer Who Killed Tamir Rice Found Unfit in Previous Police Job." NBC News. N.p., 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
- Travis, Michelle A. "Psychological Health Tests for Violence-Prone Police Officers: Objectives, Shortcomings, and Alternatives." Stanford Law Review 46.6 (1994): 1717-1770. Web.
- Mills, Robert B., Robert J. Mcdevitt, and Sandra Tonkin. "Situational Tests in Metropolitan Police Recruit Selection."The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 57.1 (1966): 99-106. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.