Feature

For more than 25 years David Morris, PhD, JD, developed tools for selecting police officers in the United States. The industrial and organizational psychologist runs his own consulting firm and has created tests used by police forces from Georgia to Kansas. Police departments use these tools to assess potential recruits' ability to scan a scene for suspicious details, recall visual information, learn new knowledge quickly and perform other police tasks.

In early September, Morris took his expertise to war-torn Iraq. His aim: to create a screening system for those who apply to join the country's new police force.

The U.S. Department of Defense invited Morris and his consulting firm, Morris & McDaniel Inc., to join the effort to rebuild Iraq through a military contract. The department selected the firm, in part, because of Morris's experience developing screening tests for American police departments.

By taking this job, Morris traded his comfortable house in Alexandria, Va., for a bunk bed in the converted office of Baghdad's former police training facility. This building sits in Iraq's "red zone"--where the military cannot guarantee one's safety. Electricity and running water come intermittently. And Morris no longer startles at the sound of mortars and car bombs.

Each day, Morris and his staff--which includes Americans and bilingual Iraqis--screen hundreds of potential police recruits to create a civilian police force modeled on that of the United States. This force, says Morris, faces the daunting task of keeping peace and protecting lives and property in a volatile nation.

"We have 15 Iraqis working for us, and every morning we all greet each other with big smiles," says Morris. "Getting to and from work here is a life-threatening event."

Why did Morris choose such a dangerous assignment? To contribute to the rebuilding and stabilization of Iraq, he says.

"None of us are just here for the money," says Morris. "It's a little too dangerous for that."

Assessing aptitude

In addition to the danger, selecting and training police recruits in Baghdad involves some more banal challenges. For starters, Morris and his team scoured the city to locate a structurally sound building in which to live and work. Running water is scarce, and no one can guarantee its purity, so bottled water must be trucked in for Morris, his staff and up to 2,000 police recruits each day. Once, Morris had to send his staff out to scavenge for tables and chairs to use in the testing rooms.

But Morris's employees spend most of their time administering and grading psychological tests given to potential police officers. The 15 Iraqis on staff can speak both English and Arabic, and many of them have a background in psychology or statistics, Morris says.

Prior to American occupation, Iraq's police force supported the Baathist regime. After the invasion, little remained of the force--civil order was maintained by the American military. Now, the military faces the job of building a police force from scratch.

The Iraqi police force will consist of up to 150,000 men and women, and to reach that number, Morris and his staff may test hundreds of thousands of potential recruits to determine whether they have what it takes to be an effective police officer. Morris's center screens nearly 5,000 recruits every three months, he says. The Philadelphia police department, in comparison, screens about 7,000 every year.

And while Morris developed screening tools used by Philadelphia's police department, he did not know how police work in America compared to police work in Iraq. And unfortunately, no one knows for sure, as the Iraqi police force is just beginning to form, he says. But after interviewing Iraq's new police chiefs and military officials, Morris came to the conclusion that police work will be pretty similar in the two countries. Like people in the United States, Iraqis expect police to enforce the law, safeguard lives and property and ensure constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Accordingly, the tests Morris and his partners use assess many of the same abilities the firm examines in potential police officers in the United States. They test for a cadet's ability to scan a scene--such as a crowded street--and single out suspicious individuals. To do this, the recruits search pictures of scenes, some of which include one out-of-place detail--for example a living room with a crackling fire in a hearth adjacent to a calendar turned to "August." They note which scenes don't look quite right to them.

Equally important is the ability to learn information, such as laws, quickly and accurately, Morris notes. Police in Iraq receive only eight weeks of training, and in that time they learn many of the details of the country's newly forming legal system and constitution, he says. To prove they are up to the task, recruits take a test where they read a passage describing Iraq's current legal system and then recall facts from the passage.

Morris's team also evaluates the recruits' powers of visual memory--as police are frequently called upon to remember faces or the details of a crime scene, he says.

Though the psychologist already developed many such tools, they all had to be translated into Arabic before being used in Iraq. To check the validity of initial translations, Morris sent the tests out to a team of experts in Arabic language and culture. It took many revisions before they were satisfied, says the psychologist.

Additionally, parts of the written learning test needed to be completely revised, Morris says. The American version of the test uses details of the U.S. legal system as material for memorization and recall. For the Iraqi screening tool, Morris--who is an attorney himself--consulted with legal experts to base material on Iraq's developing constitution.

Contributing to history

While Morris and his staff have stayed safe so far, some of their recruits have not been so lucky. Insurgents have executed members of Iraq's new police force, says Morris, and he fears that a police testing and training facility such as his may be attacked in the future.

However, the hard work and proximity to danger are balanced out by the importance of the job, Morris says.

"One of the key steps to bringing stability to the country is to have in place an effective and well-respected civilian police force," Morris explains.

In fact, the psychologist's personal commitment to excellent police work extends to his contracts in the United States as well, says Frank Rotondo, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. Rotondo worked with Morris to create a system for screening potential Georgia State Police recruits and identifying recruits suited for supervisory positions.

"The state of Georgia's police departments took a giant leap ahead, thanks to David," he says.

Morris's training as an industrial and organizational psychologist--he received his degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1975--gave him the ability to glean typical job duties from interviews with police officers and their supervisors, Rotondo says. The psychologist's statistical skills provide the tools for developing valid and reliable tests of aptitude for those duties, Rotondo notes. And thanks to his law degree, Morris can even design recruiting and training systems that limit a police organization's legal liability should an officer break the law, says Rotondo.

Morris is glad of the chance to apply that background in Iraq.

"I do believe history is being made here, and I am honored to be a part of that," Morris says.