Observer Forum

The Role of Predictive Analytics in Policing

ThinkstockPhotos-86481704As I have pointed out to members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the major omission not only of that report, but of also the article presented in December 2015 in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is predictive analytics, or the use of Internet-based tests in selection, retention, promotion, crisis debriefing, fitness for duty, and discharge of public safety officers. If you don’t appraise risk, how can you manage it? Every year more than 150 police officers commit suicide, and another 150 are killed in the line of duty. Countless have mental illness challenges, substance abuse, deceptive self-presentation (faking good or bad, defensiveness, superlative self-presentation), or violence or abuse potential. Current metrics generally fail (with success rates ranging from 25% to 73%: 25% for background checks; 46% for interviews; 49% for physical exams; and 73% for other short tests). In the past, conventional approaches of inadequate assessments have led to unnecessary scandals, deaths, and expenses. Internet-based tests save reputations, lives, and money. They also are simultaneously sensitive at 97% (finding the actual high-risk people), specific at 97% (avoiding falsely labelling low-risk people), nondiscriminatory, objective, and inexpensive. Internet-based tests cost about $100 per evaluation per person and require 2 to 4 hours to complete, with instantaneous results. Tests can be used annually or every 2 to 3 years and assess deceptive self-presentation, communication, problem solving, mental illness, substance abuse, and violence or abuse potential.

-Robert John Zagar


Tyler, T. R., Goff, P. A., & MacCoun, R. J. (2015). The impact of psychological science on policing in the United States: procedural justice, legitimacy, and effective law enforcement. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16, 75–109.

Observer Vol.29, No.3 March, 2016

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