Origins of the COPS-R

The COPS author, Irving Guller, Ph.D., became a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York in 1967. Shortly after, the LAPD hired its first full time psychologist; the NYPD followed suit a few years later.1

At John Jay, most of Dr. Guller’s students were either serving or aspiring police officers. In 1971, one of Dr. Guller’s students became Chief of Police in Byram, New Jersey. He contacted Dr. Guller asking him if he could psychologically screen a few police recruits he was about to hire. This began Dr. Guller’s more than 40 years of practice in police psychological screening.

Early on, Dr. Guller researched what methods, psychological factors and histories had thus far shown some promise in predicting good officers from those apt to be ineffective, problematic or dangerous. Intelligence had been known as a good predictor of police performance since the 1920s, and this dimension was used in his assessments from an early stage using existing instruments. Gross psychopathology was also well recognized as an important area of focus, and the MMPI was quickly included in his screening process.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he enlisted the assistance of John Jay College research librarians in the collection of studies from police and psychology journals, dissertations and independent studies that addressed potential predictive factors. From these studies, many findings emerged which had sensible rationales and were incorporated into the COPS. Most elements endure today.

Even before any real police psychological screening started, biographical information on candidates was available and had been researched for its predictive value in assessing long term success of officers. Candidates that had had credit problems before being hired were found to have higher rates of absenteeism and use of firearms.2 Having two or more tattoos predicted being fired from a police agency.3 And, persons with poor driving records predicted problems on the job as well as having preventable traffic accidents as police officers.4 Subsequent research continued to show the predictive value of these and other similar discreet biographical data points.5

These bio-data factors were the first items to be incorporated into what became the COPS test. Shakespeare may be considered one of the earliest psychologists given his insights into human behavior. He famously stated, “What’s past is prologue.” The idea that past behaviors are the best predictor of future behaviors is well known in criminal justice circles and is a mainstay of today’s best understanding of psychology and the prediction of human behavior. In public safety hiring especially, bio-data is useful because it is verifiable. If a candidate misrepresents their history, this alone is relevant and may be an integrity issue.

Beyond the limits of bio-data, Dr. Guller sought to sample other traits thought to interfere with positive policing. Racial bias, prejudice and disparate treatment of minorities is and was a major area of concern in effective law enforcement, and items addressing these concerns were developed. Similarly, gender bias and authoritarian attitudes toward citizens, co-workers, and law enforcement were incorporated to address complaints and frictions within and from without agencies. Applicability was also found to other emergency service / para-military organizations like corrections, fire, EMS and dispatch personnel.

Throughout the 1980s, the COPS test items were revised and refined, with the final COPS test published in 1989. Since then, follow-up research has repeatedly shown the test’s effectiveness in identifying problem officers.6 The current COPS-R retains almost all of the same item content, with revisions, clarifications and/or refinements to 19 of the original 240 items and 9 new empirically based prediction scales.

  • Kurke, M.I. & Scrivner (1995). Police psychology into the 21st century. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Poland, J.M. (1978). Police selection methods and the prediction of police performance. Journal of Police Science and Administration. 6(4), 374-393.
  • Institute for Local Self Government (1971). Can high-risk police applicants be identified? Berkeley, CA.
  • Fowler, E.P. (1978). Police trooper personnel selection: the validation of instruments using job analysis based criteria. University of Kentucky. Dissertation Abstracts International, 750, 40-A.
  • Sarchione, C., Muchinsky, P., Nelson, R. & Cuttler, M. (1998). Prediction of dysfunctional job behaviors among law enforcement officers. Journal of Applied Psychology 83(6), 904-912; Shaffer, A. (2002). Validation of a law enforcement selection and screening battery. Alliant International University, UMI Dissertation Abstracts #3045263. Guller, M. (2003). Predicting performance of law enforcement personnel using the Candidate and Officer Personnel Survey and other psychological measures Seton Hall University. UMI Dissertation Abstracts #3130121.
  • Guller, I.B., Guller, M., & McGrath, R.E. (2014). C.O.P.S.: Candidate and Officer Personnel Survey revised technical manual. Oakland, NJ: IFP Test Services, Inc.