From pursuing suspects, controlling traffic, resolving disputes, responding to accidents, or conducting arrests, few jobs can match the variety and severity of the potential risks police work encompasses. In recent years, the demand for constant vigilance has grown in tandem with the threat of global terrorism, with police officers most likely to represent the first responders to any number of unfolding situations.
Risk management in policing, as with any role, reflects a balance between striving to achieve objectives and avoiding the inevitable pitfalls. The protection of the public incurs operational risk, as does combating crime, and exposing anyone to high levels of personal risk may lead to stress-based anxieties, whether or not they are police officers. This issue is partially addressed by adopting procedures and regulations designed to manage risks, but little work has been conducted from an individual differences perspective on the relationship between the risk tolerance of officers and the stress of the job.
The Risk Type Compass
The lack of understanding over the relationship between risk and personality is addressed by the Risk Type Compass – a personality assessment that focuses upon differences in how individuals perceive, manage and react to risk. Based on extensive global psychological research, it places individuals into one of 8 distinctive ‘Risk Types’, providing insights into deeply rooted personal characteristics that reflect significantly upon how an individual copes with risk.
Do Police Officers have a ‘Risk Type’?
PCL have conducted Risk Type Compass assessments with thousands of individuals across a spectrum of job roles, and significant ‘Risk Type’ variations between industries have frequently emerged. To explore whether this was the case with the policing profession, we assessed 177 police officers and PCSOs of varying rank. The graph below represents the distribution of police officers in each of the eight Risk Types, and how they compare with our general population sample of approximately 8,000 individuals.
Several characteristics are reflected in the graph above. Individuals in the police sample were more likely to reside in the upper-right quadrant of the Compass, with Wary and Deliberate representing the most prevalent Risk Types. Wary individuals are more likely to be controlling and cautious, and often place security at the top of their agenda. Deliberate types are often self-confident, systematic and compliant, and will avoid walking into situations poorly prepared. Whilst representing the most prominent Risk Type with 35 individuals, 15 of these participants resided in the subsample of PCSO’s, who in turn only represented 19 of the study’s 177 total sample.
In contrast, the least prevalent included Composed and Adventurous Risk Types. Composed individuals are typically cool headed, optimistic and handle stress well, yet in the extreme, they may seem oblivious to risk and unaware of the effects of this on others. Adventurous Risk Types are likely to appear impulsive, calm and fearless, and in certain instances this may lead them to challenge tradition and convention. An individual’s ‘risk strength’ (i.e. proximity to the perimeter of the compass) is a reflection of how closely they will relate to that Risk Type description, and it is notable that none of the Composed or Adventurous individuals fell into the strongest ‘strength 5’ category.
An individual’s Risk Type is reflected in their perception, tolerance and propensity towards risk, and this awareness provides insight in various contexts.
1) Supporting Selection
An individual’s Risk Type can facilitate a range of targeted discussions around their personal approach and strategy as well as about their contribution to a team. By using various tasks as context, resulting interviews can be tailored to focus on the major strengths and challenges that candidates would encounter, allowing stressful components of the role to be identified and discussed in detail.
2) Underpinning Personal Development
By helping to increase a candidate’s self-awareness of their Risk Type, practitioners can discuss the aspects of policing that provoke the most stress and anxiety and begin to formulate personalised strategies for managing these occupational hurdles.
3) Understanding Team Dynamics
Multiple individual Risk Type profiles can be generated to assess the risk attitudes and inter-personal dynamics within a group. This insight can help promote discussion and understanding around issues like accountability, communication and decision-making, and when viewed in conjunction with group tasks can shed light on the expectations, responsibilities and deliverables that are placed on the team.
In the example below, based on a team of six, the strong influence exerted by the Adventurous Risk Types is very apparent and could prove invaluable when reacting quickly and calmly to situations requiring an unconventional approach. However, the group may be challenged or disengaged when faced with tasks demanding constant vigilance or a strict procedural approach.
When viewed in the context of the variety of demands placed on UK police forces, understanding Risk Type can represent a valuable dimension to consider when making decisions about team composition and task assignment.