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Accepted Paper:

Moral Alchemy in Police Personnel Selection  
Sabrina Ellebrecht (University of Freiburg)

Paper short abstract:

Despite highly standardized procedures and selection criteria, moral alchemy (R. K. Merton) plays out in police personnel selection, in which applicants with social ties into the police are evaluated leniently and representatives of ethnic minorities are evaluated paradoxically, sometimes adversely.

Paper long abstract:

In police personnel selection, professional motivation and intercultural competence are common selection criteria. During selection procedures, recruiters evaluate whether applicants’ perspective on the job of policing matches the organization’s expectations towards future police workers. The two criteria - professional motivation and intercultural competence - allow for matching a certain (formalized) self-image of policing as work with the demonstrated knowledge, behavior, and stated attitudes of applicants. While professional motivation captures knowledge about the demands of the job (familiarity with the organization and with policing as work), intercultural competence focusses on an applicants’ loyalty in situations of cultural ambiguity.

The empirical data, gained from participant observations during 28 recruitment interviews (assessment centres) in several German police recruitment authorities, show a) a paradoxical, sometimes adverse evaluation of minority representatives and b) a preferential and lenient evaluation of those that can refer to social ties (family or friends) within the organization. The analysis shows that, despite highly standardized procedures and selection criteria, moral alchemy (R. K. Merton) is still at work in police personnel selection. This is to say that a similar performance by candidates during personnel selection is evaluated differently according to the person who exhibits it. Assumptions on in-group and out-group affiliations effect recruiters’ evaluation of applicants, with issues of social class, ethnicity and age playing out in particular.

Panel P068a
Police officers at work [AnthroState] I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -