It turns out that those who have cursed at a police officer for apparently not using his or her brain or said an officer was being “stupid” may not be as far off the mark as the American public might hope.
Although it’s not widely known, federal courts have ruled since 2000 that police departments can legally opt to not hire someone simply because he or she scores too high on an intelligence test. The millenium ruling followed a lawsuit filed in 1999 by Connecticut resident Robert Jordan, who was told by the New London Police Department that they only interview candidates who score 20 to 27 points on an intelligence test.
Jordan, a 48-year-old college graduate with a degree in literature, had scored 33 points when he took the Wonderlic Personnel Test in 1996, giving him an IQ of around 125. His score was well above the 21 to 22 points that officers score on average, which reflects a slightly above-average IQ of around 104. (Interestingly, the Wonderlic test recommends that insurance salespeople score at least 22 points and that police officers score at least 21 — meaning that at least according to the test, it requires more intelligence to sell insurance than to solve crimes.)
The test, which is used by other employers, not just law enforcement, poses questions such as: “In the set of words below, what word is different from the others? A. Beef. B. Mackerel. C. Veal. D. Bacon E. Lamb.”
Based on his Wonderlic test score, Jordan was qualified to become a lawyer, but he was too smart to be considered for a position with the New London Police Department.
Jordan filed a lawsuit and took the police department to court, arguing that he was discriminated against.
”I was eliminated on the basis of my intellectual makeup,” he said. ”It’s the same as discrimination on the basis of gender or religion or race,” in that an individual doesn’t necessarily have control of how smart he or she is.
However, the courts sided with the lower police department. In its ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the city did not discriminate against Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the test. In other words, no one who was deemed “too smart” for the job after taking the intelligence test was hired.
Jordan also sued the city of New London, Connecticut, saying that his civil rights had been violated because he was denied equal protection under the law. But again, the courts ruled against Jordan, saying that the city of New London had “shown a rational basis for the policy,” which was that those who scored above a certain level would likely grow tired of police work and leave shortly after receiving “costly” training.
Although the court said the policy was unwise, it found that the city had a rational theory to try and reduce the rate of turnover in the police department. Jordan decided to not pursue the case further, and has reportedly been working as a prison guard.
Given that the public’s trust in law enforcement has been shaken in recent years, departments across the nation are trying to repair that important relationship with the public by ending controversial policies such as ticket quotas, detention of suspected illegal immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and use of stop-and-frisk, since law enforcement officials are realizing that the work of police officers can’t really be done without the help of the public.
As Jordan’s story finds its way back into the media, some argue that the problem the United States has had in recent years with the increased militarization of civilian police forces is related to the fact that the only people eligible to become police officers are those who are of “just above average” intelligence — especially since law enforcement agencies tend to promote from within. This means that those who eventually become detectives and solve crimes are the same people who were initially allowed to become police officers at least partly because they did not score too high on an intelligence test.
Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore helped expose what happened to Jordan on his show “The Awful Truth,” which ran from 1999 to 2000.
On the program, Moore sent orrespondent Jay Martel to New London to speak with Richard Brown, New London’s city manager who rejected Jordan’s application. Martel asked Brown why he wouldn’t allow Jordan to work as a police officer even though Jordan scored well on the test. Brown responded, saying that according to the test, people within certain score ranges were likely to be happy and stay on the job, and he believed Jordan would grow bored and want to leave.
Martel asked Brown if he ever thought the public would want law enforcement to be intelligent, which is when Brown asked Martel to leave his office. When Martel refused and continued asking Brown questions, Brown left his office and threatened to call security.
During the episode, Martel also went around the city asking police officers questions from the IQ test to gauge the intelligence of law enforcement.
When he asked police officers the question about which word is not like the others, one officer responded, “I can’t say that I know, sir.” Police officers were also unable to answer questions such as the distance to the city of Hartford, Connecticut, and how long it would take to travel 150 miles to Hartford in a car traveling 55 miles per hour.
In fact, the only people able to correctly answer Martel’s questions were security guards. One security guard even corrected Martel by informing the correspondent that Hartford was not 150 miles away, it was only 30 miles away.
Martel also spoke to some known criminals in the town, who said they are comforted knowing that they are smarter than the cops because that gives them about a two-week head start in trying to get away with crimes. When Martel asked an officer about concerns that criminals were testing higher on intelligence tests than officers, one officer responded that it wasn’t a concern for him because it was his “job to enforce crime.”
Around the world and even within the U.S., police are not required to possess remarkable intelligence. Police reform advocates argue that if the standards were raised regarding what it takes to become a police officer and if the pay was better, it would weed out the so-called “dumbasses” who cause so many lawsuits and are a liability to their departments.
Many of these reform advocates also point to the apparent correlation that’s been found between police officers’ salaries and the corruption among law enforcement officials, arguing that the higher the salary, the less likely law enforcement officials are to engage in corruption.
Mexico is often given as an example of this, as the border city of Tamaulipas, where officers earn the least amount of money, is also among the country’s most corrupt cities. A similar relationship between pay and the rate of corruption has also been seen in Africa, which is why many believe one step in reforming law enforcement in the U.S. and reducing the police state, would be to start recruiting people who are well-educated, intelligent and financially secure.