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Video stress interview.

Promotion. Most law enforcement officers anticipate it with relish, while managers tend to view it with mixed emotions. On the one hand, managers receive satisfaction from the prospect of promoting qualified officers, thereby rewarding good police work. On the other hand, they dread having to justify every selection, or worse, every nonselection. At the same time, civil service commissions, unions, and other so-called "watch dogs" lend balance and equity to the promotion of public servants, but particularly to those employed by law enforcement agencies, whose virtue must be "above that of Caesar's wife."

Nonetheless, justifying promotion choices can be tedious and time-consuming. For these reasons, police managers look for ways to tailor their promotion procedures, while adhering to employment laws and regulations.(1) Therefore, the Guam Police Department (GPD) retooled its approach to the promotion process by introducing the video stress interview (VSI).

A Management Technique

VSI is not some revolutionary management technique. Rather, it blends present-day technology with well-established management practices. This results in a fresh approach when selecting and promoting officers.

Three primary components comprise the video stress interview:

1) An interview board of three senior officers

2) An Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) representative, and

3) An independent observer from another public agency.

VSI also incorporates the use of a video camera/recorder, a standard set of questions, and a standard numerical grading system.

Interview Board

The Guam chief of police chairs the board, which also includes two other ranking officers. An EEO representative and an independent observer from a nonlaw enforcement agency also sit on the board. Both the EEO representative and the observer review the battery of questions used in the selection process to verify its validity. This review also ensures that the questions are job-related and appropriate for candidates vying for promotion.

Interview Questions

The chief drafts the questions used in the interview process, drawing on police management course materials from a community college. The other board members review them for content, and a civilian staff member of the police department checks their construction for grammar and clarity. Apart from the chief's executive secretary, who types the questions, no one else outside the board has access to the questions before the board convenes.

The questions serve a twofold purpose: 1) To determine the candidates' managerial, supervisory, and technical knowledge, and 2) to test the candidates' ability to respond under stress. This allows interviewers to observe their conduct in order to determine how they handle themselves in an emotionally fluctuating environment.

Video Setup

Before each interview begins, a police technician sets up and tests the video equipment, then turns on the equipment and exits the room. The video camera runs uninterrupted during all the interviews, recording every word and action of board members, observers, and candidates. Nothing happens off camera. Even the date and running time appear on the bottom of the videotape, making it virtually impossible for someone to stop/restart the camera or edit the tape without being detected.

The Interview Process

In a recent selection process for promotion to captain, the interview board, consisting of the chief, two police majors, an EEO representative, and independent observer, convened at 8:30 a.m. The task before the board was to fill five open slots from a pool of nine possible candidates. The board interviewed the candidates in the order they appeared on the eligibility list supplied by the Department of Administration (DoA). Prior to the interview, DoA screened the candidates and scored them on such factors as seniority, time-in-service, education, etc. DoA then compiled a list of eligible candidates and provided the list to the interview board.

The chief briefed all candidates on the interview procedure. After the candidates indicated that they understood the process, the individual interviews began. Each interview ran uninterrupted.

The chief drafted seven questions for this particular selection. The board posed each of the seven questions twice to the individual candidates--verbatim, without explanation or embellishment. A candidate could request to have any question read a third time, but the board would not allow any repeats after that. Board members alternated reading the questions.

The board allotted 35 minutes for each interview. This meant that candidates needed to budget their time so as to address all seven questions adequately. Once the 35-minute allotted timeframe expired, the chairperson stopped the candidate and concluded the interview. Most candidates finished well within the allotted time.

Board members then graded the responses of each candidate. The board allowed 5 possible points per question, or a maximum of 35 points for an interview consisting of 7 questions. Then the board computed the candidate's interview score by adding together the scores given by each interviewer and dividing by 5. The interview score was then added to the score given to each candidate by DoA for a total raw score, which was then converted to a percentage.

For promotions, the department considered a score of 60% or better to be a passing score. If more candidates registered passing scores than the number of promotion slots available, the top scorers would be selected for promotion. For example, if eight candidates obtained passing scores but only six positions were available, then only the candidates with the six highest scores would be promoted.

However, at a recent board for the promotion to captain, cited previously, only four candidates scored 60 percent or better and were promoted. The chief then asked the Department of Administration for a new list of eligible candidates from which to pick the fifth captain.

Advantages of VSI

The video stress interview provides documented proof of how candidates fare during the process. For example, after the department posted the names of those promoted to captain, one lieutenant couldn't believe he wasn't selected. Obviously, the lieutenant was devastated, especially since he believed he "aced" the interview. He simply couldn't accept the fact that the interviewers could have marked him so low. The lieutenant then considered appealing the board's decision to the Civil Service Commission.

Before taking this action, however, he sought the advice of an interviewer who was a police major. The major told him frankly that he blew one question completely--so badly in fact that the major, who had known the lieutenant since he joined the department, was startled by his poor response. The major then suggested that the lieutenant review the interview tape.

After viewing the video tape for 10 minutes, the lieutenant couldn't believe what he saw and heard. He had studied diligently for the interview and knew the correct answer. But, the stress interview technique momentarily broke his concentration, causing him to totally misunderstand the question. Consequently, his response made no sense.

Seeing himself from the board's perspective, on irrefutable video tape, was tough but convincing. The lieutenant, recognizing that the board treated him fairly, dismissed any thought of appeal. The VSI technique proved successful.


Police departments must select the most qualified candidates for promotion. And, they must do so fairly and in a manner that withstands critical scrutiny.

The video stress interview provides one such avenue to police departments. It is competitive and devoid of politics. It also provides constructive feedback to candidates so that they can improve their performance in subsequent interviews. More importantly, however, the video stress interview can save talented, aspiring officers from making critical mistakes that could tarnish their careers.


1 This article discusses a promotional system that, under some circumstances, might require modification to ensure compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity law. Police executives contemplating adoption of any revised promotional system should consult their legal advisor.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:applications in police personnel promotions
Author:Carey, Mike
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Citizen complaint policy.
Next Article:Supreme Court cases: 1991-1992 term.

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