Failure of Selection and Assessment

Probably the most critical task in any organization is personnel selection and assessment. High-functioning organizations have formal selection gates that select personnel who will be able to perform at the desired level, and ongoing assessment procedures that will, among other things, identify nonperformers and separate them.

Of course, we’re thinking of special operations units, but selection and assessment have been employed before by civilian organizations with resounding success. We’ll have an example after the video. For now, have a look at a failure of personnel selection and assessment. Yeah, it’s another quivering-coward-shoots-a-dog video:

This officer, Tarek Hassani, is clearly badly suited for his job, due to cowardice. Cowards abound, they’re a fact of human life, because courage is a trait like many others that’s distributed on a curve. Guys like Bud Day are on one tail of the bell curve; guys like Tarek Hassani are on the other; most of us cluster in the middle somewhere. Somewhere out on that left tail of the bell curve, long before we get to Hassani, is a cut-off (“we know it when we see it” but probably about 2 standard deviations below the mean) beyond which the absence of courage, or presence of cowardice, is no longer a trait within a normal range, but is pathological and defining: the man is a coward.

Cowards can’t be cured, but they still can do many productive jobs in society. But cowards like Hassani are a bad fit in armed positions. Whether they will fire or not fire under stress cannot be consistently predicted, only that they’ll do it without exercising judgment. They can’t, because they’re too scared (as Hassani admitted when he emitted the Mantra after this incident). Notice how Hassani’s voice gets extremely high-pitched? That’s panic, fear taken to the point of near paralysis. It’s an involuntary response to fear that has been studied extensively.

For all his fear, the dogs do not attack him. They bark and growl at him. He goes aggressive and kicks the dog (and he kicks, no surprise, like a girl). When he shoots the dog, it’s standing several feet away, barking at him. (And even having made the decision to fire, he fires poorly, delivering  a cruel, painful wound instead of a kill shot from approximately four feet away. Want him shooting past your head in a hostage situation?)

He got out of all trouble with the Coward’s All-Purpose Mantra: “I was in fear of my life,” and his effeminate vocal pitch in and around the incident suggests that he really was in mortal fear over a couple of barking dogs. Contrary to Hassani’s evident belief, he was never in mortal danger. The dogs are not rabid, and as we’ve researched before, no policeman has ever died from the bite of a non-rabid dog. A lot of dogs have died from the shots of yellow policemen, though.

Christ, what would he do if he were ever really in danger?

(That last is a trick question. No one knows the answer because he was hired, armed and deployed with no selection and assessment for performance under stress. However, the best guide to future behavior is past behavior, and he’s already choked once).

After he kills the dog, Hassani briefly gets control of his fear, only to lose it again when the citizen is difficult with him. We don’t think that obstreperous citizen had any idea how close he was to being shot himself. After all, the same cop he was baiting was the same gutless yellow coward who just let panic and terror drive him into shooting the dog.

Certainly, the citizen or citizens who let his, or their, unruly dogs run wild, is not blameless. If you live among other people, you have a duty to control your animals. And Hassani is not blameless — while the chief is backing his decision, it’s not only a bad decision, it has revealed a lot about his personality and character deficiencies to anybody who wants to know. (Defense lawyers, wouldn’t you like to know a particular officer has fear-management and self-control issues when he’s planning to testify?)

But what’s really at fault is the deficient or absent selection and assessment process that turns loose a guy who is just a bundle of terrified, jangling nerve endings, armed with a gun and shielded by a badge, on a largely defenseless public.

Ask yourself, having seen the man driven to terror by a barking dog: if he were engaged by an armed criminal, could brother officers count on him? Or would he be a wild-firing friendly-fire threat? He couldn’t restrain himself in this case, not from shooting the dog nor from threatening the citizen with screams and obscenities. How much worse would his behavior get if the threat that terrified him were real? 

Tarek Hassani may be a fine fellow in nine different ways, but he lacks the physical courage and self-control to be a policeman. And his chief lacks the moral courage and integrity to cut him loose. The department needs a new chief (just roll the dice, you can’t do any worse) and Hassani needs a new career, selling shoes or something where his lack of courage and self-control can’t hurt anyone. If he stays on the police, he’ll be in the news again.

We mentioned that selection and assessment as derived for special operations units is much more widely applicable. For example, an aviation college experimented with an ab initio flight training program for carefully selected (that word!) college graduates. The criteria it used were ingeniously selected: airline managers subjectively selected a group of pilots who were their idea of “model employees,” and assessed the set of best employees with psychometric and personality assessment batteries. The students selected for the ab initio experiment were the nearest analogues to the employees the airlines already preferred. The result? Very low training attrition, very high student performance, more model employees at the airlines.

If you select the right people, training to even a high standard is a pleasure. If you select the wrong people, or don’t even make efforts to select anyone in particular, you can never train them to a high standard and might, as you see here, have employees who fall far short of an adequate standard.

Hat tip: guns.com.

14 thoughts on “Failure of Selection and Assessment

    1. LFMayor

      Well, you have to remove personal accountability in todays society. No one does anything WRONG anymore, because its devastating to be forced to realize that you’re sub par. Feelings trump reason.
      That was a good try rolf, be sure and get your juice box and donut over at the table :)

      damn soccer moms womens lib has poisoned the well and doomed millions.

  1. Aesop

    Ah, but he probably satisfies the critical metric required on the EEOC staffing matrix, perhaps even letting them check two boxes.

    When you hire people based on EEOC guidelines rather than competence, you get the sort of cops that have become the norm in this country over the last 20+ years.

    But the rainbow sure looks pretty, doesn’t it?

  2. Bill K

    I may be way off base here, but I don’t think there is a lack of selection for incoming police officers. Our school turns out a lot of criminal justice majors who want to pursue just that career, and who have to survive the academic hurdles to get their Crim J degree and be considered.

    It’s that the existing selection criteria are academic knowledge-based, not performance/character-based.

    And for a second example, consider that our society has the paradigm that one is qualified to be a pastor if he has graduated from an approved seminary, again academic-based. So we find out later that he’s a kiddy-diddler. But the NT is pretty clear that the criteria for church leaders is by far more character-based than knowledge-based, and based upon personal observation from within one’s own congregation.

    Consider it another victory for us academics. In my best Kruschev voice, let me prophesy, “”Мы вас похороним!” (We will bury you!)

    1. Hognose Post author

      You may have a point, and it’s not a semantic one. No selection is a different problem from a selection that selects for the wrong traits. For example, some elite units in history selected men for size. For some things, a large man is definitely better. (Like, for covering ground on a long march, or for carrying a 100-lb pack. Those things really suck if you’re 5’3″). For others, though, it’s advantageous to be small and wiry. (Climbing those ropes at Pointe du Hoc….) So size is not necessarily the best screening criterion. (If you say all men must be 1.78 m tall like Napoleon’s Old Guard, your unit will look imposing but suck at mountaineering).

      I am doubtful of the value of a CJ major in law enforcement. The FBI seems to agree; the Bureau has abandoned its one-time screening criterion (law or accountancy), but it only did it when first staffing up with women SAs back in the 1970s, but I have had several agents (Bureau and other agencies) tell me that a Criminal Justice degree is toxic to FBI applications. For most Federal 1811 jobs, the degree is simply a way to winnow the field and proof that the person is at least persistent enough to complete a prescribed program of study somewhere, and nobody cares about what the degree is in. Union card for the white collar union, is all.

      That’s another thing — when you are hiring 200 people and you have 20,000 applications, your first cut is to eliminate the obvious sad sacks and then, just to get the numbers down to a reviewable size.

      1. OBob

        “You may have a point, and it’s not a semantic one. No selection is a different problem from a selection that selects for the wrong traits.”

        Slightly off topic, but this is one of the errors that thoroughly disenchanted me with Petraeus year ago. You couldn’t be on his staff if you couldn’t hang with him on a 2 hour run. I had many friends who were enamored of him and thought that was a cute quirk and couldn’t understand why I was professionally outraged. Prior to breaking a few bones a couple years back I could still turn in pretty good marathon times myself but that wasn’t the point. I always asked my non-comprehending colleagues if they’d feel the same way if he insisted that they be par golfers, bench 350, bowl 220, be origami masters or expert watercolor painters, or some combination of the above. In his position I’d want the best man or woman in each slot so as to have the best chance of achieving success and keeping our people alive, my personal preferences be damned. Any thing less is petty.

        It’s hard to quantify the cost of a suboptimal decision or a compounded chain of them compared to what might have been, but I always wondered how many great staff officers he passed over and if any lives were lost as a result.

        1. Hognose Post author

          The running culture is big in some units. In one unit I was in, your value to the leadership was equal to your rank order on the two-mile run of the APFT. You need both wiry running guys (which is what I was in my yout’) and stocky lifting guys in some kind of proportion, with most of your guys being all-round endurance athletes.

          A lot of guys have failed to make some promotion because they didn’t play golf, or even tennis.

          That whole “my sport will be your sport” game is aptly satirized in The Boys in Company C, where the Marines on the troopship are made to play soccer: “That’s Charlie’s game.” It’s transparent as glass that it’s the CO’s game, and therefore it’s the unit’s game.

          The only real protection against that kind of thing is the integrity of the CO.

          COs with quirks abound. Creighton Abrams hated “glory hounds,” which he interpreted as: all paratroopers and all football fullbacks. He did not want them on his staff. Sometimes it seems like every promotion is a chance for some guys to make their underlings eat … well, that which ought not to be eaten.

  3. Jim

    Well that was pretty disgusting. Unless you’ve never seen a dog in your life, pretty much anyone can tell that while the dogs were in fact barking, it was purely from excitement. There were no threatening motions by those dogs, they were just acting like dogs. I just read a news article about a female officer in Georgia who shot and killed a kid who had a wii controller in his hand when he answered her knock on the door. Honestly, I dont think it’s a matter of selection or screening, but a matter of training and indoctrinating these people that “We” are all an enemy force, and that any percieved threat is a green light to start blasting away. We had an incident a few years back in my hometown. I actually worked with the guy involved. PD had been called because of a possible prowler. 3 cops show up..well, my co-worker was driving down the street past the scene..1 cop waved him by, but one other tried to stop him for some reason. He only saw the one that waved him by. This was around 10:00 at night. The cop that told him to stop drew and fired 5 shots at his car. 1 hit in the trunk, 4 stray rounds. He was arrested and charged with disobeying an officer and I believe assault. Charges were immediatly dropped, but no action was taken against the bullet sprayer. The guy I worked with ended up moving to another town because the PD pretty much harassed him non stop after that. He drove a distinctive car and was constantly being pulled over. I wonder just how stupid does someone have to be to just go along with persecuting an innocent person while knowing that their fellow officer was the one that was out of line. Pretty damn stupid I would think.

    1. Hognose Post author

      My only beef with the cops — and I’d say your percentage is probably pretty damn close — is that the 95% don’t do more to police the 5%. It’s hard though. In the police the in-group morality is as strong as it is in a biker gang (or an SF team or SEAL platoon).

    2. Hognose Post author

      One thing I didn’t even go into — Waskiewicz in Baltimore is a dog lover who knows dog behavior. I suspect that Hassani has never owned a dog or had a family member with one. A lot of times fear is a reaction to the unknown. Still, if you’re a cop you’re going to have something new every day, you have to be ready for anything.

  4. Chris

    Pointing a gun at an animal, and expecting the animal to understand the implied threat. What a douche. He’s lucky the citizen didn’t shoot him.

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