Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 201–208 | Cite as

Can We Identify Bad Cops Based on History? Base Rates of Historical Markers in Law Enforcement Pre-employment Evaluations

  • Stephen L. Aita
  • Benjamin D. Hill
  • Mandi W. Musso
  • Wm. Drew Gouvier


While psychometric police selection processes have progressively evolved, the efficacy of simple background information has not been extensively evaluated. This study examined the utility of base rate information to predict job performance among law enforcement officers. Pre-employment historical markers from bad hires were compared to good hires from a large sample of 1536 officers. Of this sample, 205 officers were categorized as bad hires if they were arrested, had greater than five misconduct episodes, or were terminated for cause within 5 years following hire. Base rates of 40 pre-employment history variables were compared for good and bad hires. Analysis of markers showed that bad hires had a significantly higher frequency of markers across family factors, mental health variables, conduct problems, and criminal justice outcomes compared to good hires. Among the largest differences were history of multiple physical altercations, outpatient psychiatric treatment, and events related to previous law enforcement employment such as employer reprimands, suspensions, or fitness for duty evaluations. Many other intuitive markers occurred too infrequently to analyze or showed no significant difference between good hires and bad hires in law enforcement settings. Base rates in addition to psychological test data are necessary aspects of the police pre-employment evaluation.


Base rate Police psychology Decision making Personnel selection 



This study was not financially supported.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

For this type of study, formal consent is not required.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen L. Aita
    • 1
  • Benjamin D. Hill
    • 1
  • Mandi W. Musso
    • 2
  • Wm. Drew Gouvier
    • 3
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA
  2. 2.Division of Academic Affairs, Our Lady of the Lake Medical CenterLouisianaUSA
  3. 3.Matrix, Inc.LouisianaUSA

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