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Examination of Police Officers' Motivation to Participate in the Promotional Process

NCJ Number
Date Published
13 pages

This study was designed to determine what factors might have contributed to police candidates' unwillingness to participate in the promotion process based on their attitudes toward the promotion process itself.


The Q-methodology was used to assess officers' attitudes toward promotions. It is an inductive technique used specifically in exploratory research. The technique allows respondents to describe their perceptions of a particular phenomena by measuring patterns of individual subjectivity. When using the Q-method, people are treated as variables, and the items being sorted are treated as observations. The sample size in this Lexington (Ky.) study consisted of 64 officers; males composed 91 percent of the sample (n=58), and women composed 9 percent (n=6) of the sample. The majority of the respondents (36 percent) worked in patrol, followed closely by those working in the tactical unit. The data show that the police officers in this study were motivated by a variety of needs. Essentially, officers have not embraced the opportunities for promotion in large numbers, which coincides with their opinions that promotions do not significantly meet their needs. This finding is perplexing, given that it is commonly assumed that most police officers desire to progress within their profession. The most plausible explanation for the findings is that officers are relatively satisfied with their life situation. The department's salary is average for the area, but the department offers almost unlimited overtime to officers. Work schedules permit officers to have part-time jobs or engage in other sorts of income-producing activities. Another factor is that a promotion may mean moving from a desired unit assignment to a less desirable assignment. Thus, promotions may offer less satisfying job tasks for too little reward. Departments must find ways of increasing the desirability of promotions if larger numbers of officers are to compete. This can be done by adding additional benefits or substantially increasing the salary differences across the ranks. 5 tables and a 10-item bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 1998