Kyana Beckles on Pre-Employment Testing for Law Enforcement

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S., Founder and CEO of Leverage Assessments, Inc. based in New York City, discusses pre-employment testing processes for law enforcement. Kyana works with the NYPD and has a wealth of practical experience and insights on how IO can help address recent challenges with law enforcement. She also shares her perspective on the “Defund the Police” movement.

My thanks to Mark Tregar, Lisa Kath, Katherine Sliter, Jimmy Mundell, Christina Moran, Reid Klion, Wil Jiminez, Shane Hodgson, and Cavan Gray for the great questions via Twitter! Check out the episode page for a full transcript.


This is an AI-enabled transcript and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:02

Welcome to the Department 12 Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Butina. My guest for this episode is Kyana Beckles. How are you today Kyana?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  00:11

I’m all right. How about yourself?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:13

I’m doing all right. Got a You are the founder and CEO of leveraged assessments Inc, based in New York City, right? That’s correct. All right. And the reason that you’re on the show is that you have been involved or are currently involved in pre test or pre employment testing processes for law enforcement, that correct assumption. That is correct. We provide pre employment testing as a service. And my background is in motion testing. Okay. Well, what I’m doing is something a little bit different than I normally structure the interviews. What I’ve done is I’ve asked out on Twitter, my followers on Twitter and follow the show, read a little bit about your background and just ask a what questions you Though. All right, well, the first one’s kind of a softball, trigger. And by the way, for those of you who are listening, if I asked your question and I butcher your name, I’m sorry, but I really am reading them off in real time here. Martin asks, what attributes are you generally looking to select? And how do you do that?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  01:29

Well, Mike, when competency assessments are developed, from scratch, they’re based on a job analysis. And so you’re literally doing a study of the job to determine which competencies are most important and and that’s what you are going to try to develop your assessment to measure. And then for some standard practices, there are some general competencies that it’s assumed will contribute to effectiveness on the job. So for for instance, is sort of generally assumed that if people are smarter, they’ll do better on the job, right? That’s why cognitive abilities assessments are so, so popular. And then let’s see. And then there are certain like industry favorites, as well. So it’s a combination of all those things. It’s a combination of doing a study in a job. And then also you’ll look to what your industry is doing. And then in some cases, you also look to what what the community is doing, right. Like, obviously, in public safety and police testing, there’s been a lot of pushback in the community around psychological assessments around what is being measured during those assessments. How are these police officers getting through these assessments, you know, they should be getting screened out and so and so the community might also dictate what you will be selecting for as well.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  02:56

Okay, well, thank you for sharing that. Just to let you know a little bit about The show almost all of my listeners are either either psychologists or graduate students. So they’re going to be familiar with the general process, although they’re, you know, most of us aren’t as familiar with it as you are. But I think maybe what Mark’s asking specifically is like what, what, what are the competencies or what are the attributes and actually misread a little bit. He’s asking, what do we love to select out? Is there anything that you’re looking for in a test for pre employment testing for law enforcement that you’re trying to disqualify anything you’re not looking for?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  03:35

So if we, I’m sorry, can you can you hear the disconnect?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  03:51

Okay. So I’m sorry to say that you said Are there certain things that we are looking to screen out Yeah, so he actually wrote what attributes? Are they generally looking to select out? And how do they do that? So I’m making an inference that he’s asking, Is there something that we’re looking for him? We’re saying that’s a red flag. You know, this person shouldn’t be a law enforcement officer.

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  04:17

And so yes, so one of the services that we provide for, particularly for public safety are going to be psychological assessments. Your psychological assessments are generally going to be a two part process. The first part is a written assessment. Second part is an oral written assessments. They generally will want it’s a generally a sort of three, it’s kind of a triple play, they want a personality protector, a psychological protector as well as a background screen. And then it’s it’s it’s generally those three and how it plays out might be a little different. But yes, each of those assessments will give you flags. And then you’re you’re going to, and then an actual clinical psychologist will look at the flags that each of those assessments has, you know, has made you aware of, and then might make a pass or fail decision based on either of those flags. And so, so, yes, so in a sense, there is a there is a sort of screening out. And so to give you an example, you know, the background screen will ask you a lot of questions based on a lot of questions about your Financial Integrity. And you know, whether you’ve had, whether you do a lot of unpaid bills, whether you have an unpaid rising bill, whether you have paid credit cards, and so if you have a lot of a lot of flags that pop up in your Financial Integrity portion. it’ll it’ll pop up and if you get enough of them That assessment will give you a recommendation of what not recommend. So you, the candidate would not be recommended for the position according to that assessment.


Is that?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  06:13

Is that truly a recommendation? Or is it more or less a done deal that the person isn’t going to be selected? In other words, is the test binding? Or is it just really like, Hey, here’s a report of you, decider, you will get what you want.

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  06:29

Alternatively, that the clinician is going to make a determination. I mean, ultimately, that written assessment is there to provide you with some fodder with some background. And then that clinician is going to go through all that information and make a determination. So know the written assessment is not necessarily the end all be all, but it can, I mean, it can. It can be in some ways, I mean, there are some flags that are going to be more egregious than others. So For instance, if you’re selecting, for instance, public safety candidates and they are going to be, you know, school safety Eton’s, right? If you have anything in your background that said that alludes to inappropriate behavior with minors, or something like that, or misdemeanor or a felony or anything that has to do with with minors, then that might be an automatic fail in that case, right because of the population that you’re going to be dealing with. And that just because of how that’s gonna, you know, directly impact the specific safety of the population that I’m sending you to work at. So there are some flags that are going to be more egregious than others and then other flags that you’ll be able to use as a part of an evidence packet to pass or denied Canada.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  07:53

Okay. So the written report is going to get handed over to a clinician who’s going to use that as one piece of input along With presumably maybe a candidate interview and make a recommendation from there. So is it fair to say that the clinician gets involved if and only if there are red flags? Or is there a clinician involved in every single hire?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  08:13

Always a clinician?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  08:15

Okay. Oh, man, I’m really learned something today. Next question is from Jimmy Mundell, who asks, what sort of criterion measures are used for validity analysis? particularly how do you know when they are good measures when it seems oftentimes in police brutality incidents? The offending officer has a history of bad behavior, what could be improved in that area? So that was a long one. What sort of criteria and measures are used for validity analysis, I guess is the core of the question

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  08:44

to analyze the solidity of the assessment.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  08:49

Yeah, what sort of criterion measures are used for validity analyses, particularly how do you know when they are good measures when something seems oftentimes completes? 30 incidents if any officer has a history of bad behavior,

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  09:05

so, I mean, well, we could break that question down a little bit. Um, first off, some departments many departments are only using the psychological assessment as a part of a selection tool pre employment selections, which means that the candidate is being offered a job so they have no history at that point. Okay. Aside from you know, maybe some of a job that they’ve had maybe some security positions or they might have had some other position but they don’t necessarily have history as a as a police officer. And then in addition, they don’t always have a whole lot of job history because you have a you have an age requirement for most police officers. department so you, most departments are going to cut you off in your 30s. So some of the candidates don’t don’t even necessarily have a whole lot of job history to speak of.



Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  10:16

And then in terms of what you’re using to validate those assessments. So, what I’ll say is that that’s where for me it gets it gets interest. Because I’m many of the assessments that we use are not necessarily so like you. Now, you. If you’re working in an organization internally as a psychologist, or as an IO psychologist, you develop an assessment like with the population that you’re gonna be working with, and then that assessment would apply to that same population. In police and public safety testing is a little different where in the private sector is developing that assessment somewhere else or with a previous with a population of police or some some population that is similar to police, and there are applying that to other departments in different regions. So there is a little bit of a disconnect in the sense that because our police departments are also different. One validation study for one assessment that was developed in the middle of Iowa somewhere, for instance, is not necessarily going to be the same. It’s not really it’s not instead going to be generalizable to candidates that we are assessing in the middle of an urban environment. And that’s one of the challenges that we find sometimes they Because what will happen is it’ll start to flag those candidates. So for instance, a lot of our New York City candidates right are generally just stressed out with our city people. We run on this high octane fuel. I mean, pre pandemic, you know, you are timing everything and take, it should take you 30 seconds to get the train. You’ve got 30 more seconds to get a bagel you set. And that’s just kind of a world that we live in. And so if your assessment was validated in the middle of South Dakota, where life might not be like that, then it’s going to flag all of your candidates on these anxiety measures.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  12:38

Yeah. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And I actually read he talked about catching the train. And you know, like, you have 30 seconds to do everything in the city. I read that, you know, most, most NYPD cops don’t live anywhere near where they actually police because they can’t afford to. And so they end up or you know, Maybe I’m just making a Manhattan but oh, well, there’s almost always a commute for them a pretty significant commute. Is that fair?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  13:07

Okay. Well, New York City is really is really. It’s kind of spread apart. And so you could First of all, you could live in Brooklyn and service in an area in Manhattan and it takes you an hour, two hours to get to work. That’s just the nature of travel in New York City, pre pandemic. And then you also have a requirement so Police Department police officers currently are not are not allowed to serve in the district. We have a work in the NYPD and the reason that I mean there are a lot of reasons why that is, and I believe that it generally speaks to I believe that it generally speaks to a tension between our public safety personnel and our communities. And the assumption is that if you live in a department where you have to police people, you’ll come back home and they’ll have, you know, thrown egg yolks at your door, and you’ll have to deal with that every day. So when you are coming out of Academy, you can like select three choices as to where you want to work, but neither one of them can be located within the district of your current residence.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  14:40

Okay, so that’s really interesting in that, you know, one of the suggestions that I’m reading in the media for right now for police reform is that you know, you ought to be living where where you’re walking a B, that’s an interesting perspective that you’re sharing and I could probably keep you on here for an hour and a half. I don’t want to do so I’m going to get back to my questions from Twitter. Everything that you say since we often like three different directions, I want to ask you

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  15:10

a lot because there’s so much and this is part of why I was saying it’s important to do and this is what you know, me and another group are getting ready to do the blacks Nioh group is really just have a series which unpacks more of the legislation, more of the laws, more the policies behind how we ended up where we are today, like so some of these videos that are coming out on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, you know, they might seem incredibly shocking, but when you when you look back and you peel back all the layers of legislation of policies, then it starts to make sense why that officer took those actions even though they are breaches even though they’re ridiculous, right? And like beyond common logic, you’ll start to understand why they are the way they are and then that way when we do Pursue, you know, pursuing stuff like defund the police or abolish police, we understand what those types of reforms will actually mean for our communities. Because if we don’t if we don’t understand how our previous legislation is impacting us, there’s no way for us to get behind us today and expect it to have any real useful impact. You know,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  16:24

that is definitely something that I want to follow up on, that I want to learn about and also to share with my audience. So I’ll include a link to you said the Is it a committee or group within psi offers a separate thing,

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  16:38

separate blacks and i o blacks in industrial organizational psychology, and this is a form that we’ll be launching soon. It’s an initiative of law enforcement Task Force. So stay tuned. I’ll send all those details. So that so that we can we can kick it once more, because there is there’s a lot to talk about. There’s a lot to learn. Especially since folks want to be involved, you know, we always everybody always wants engagement. So now everybody’s engaged, right? The whole community is engaged. But we got to be we also got to be educated, we got to understand what what our changes mean. So like, just to give you an example and I will allow you to get back to the give you one example right, um one of the initiatives is to defund police initiative, right? everybody’s like, Okay, why and I totally like it conceptually. Right. Your police department is taking up 50% of your budget and your closing down my community centers. It’s a no brainer, open my community centers back up, give me back my you know, my my school to work programs, give me back my funds for Workforce initiatives and workforce development and like, totally, totally all day I understand the concept but if you face Any given Police Department tomorrow and you say, hey, by the way, I’m going to cut out, you know, half of your budget, what decisions are they going to make in order to make that happen? And what generally happens is that they won’t necessarily fire officers because nobody wants to fire people. It’s it’s not something that people want to do. So what they’ll do is they’ll find ways to sort of stretch people out, right, because they’ll have less of a hiring budget and training and hiring people certainly gonna be more expensive. So they’ll put a particular buyer in freeze, but that means they have to overwork officers that are over there that are already there. And we already have there’s a ton of evidence that shows that people who are fatigued or officers that are fatigued are going to make worse life or death decisions, that means they’re more likely to shoot people. So this is this is why, you know, I talked about the importance of understanding the ramifications of the legislation because hey, defund police in Canada. sexually ys sounds great. But when you come down to it, how that’s implemented, could end up being a really horrible, you know, having really horrible consequences.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  19:12

Okay, thank you. So

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  19:13

let’s go. Yeah,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  19:16

no, that that was awesome. Thank you. All right. The next question is, and the reason I say it’s awesome is because I think that in, at least in, in my social media world of I, O people, there’s this kind of naive assumption that, and I see it with law enforcement. I see it with politics, like, we just need to apply IO stuff to these problems, and we have so much that we can do and so many ways to help it. And that’s all great, and I’m glad people are optimistic about that. But the layers of things that you were just talking about is the stuff that we’re not aware of, and it’s the stuff that we need to be aware of. Okay. Yeah. Do you know about the court case about selection in New London, Connecticut police department? Yeah, Lisa. Cathy’s interested to get your thoughts on that. If they’re aware of it,

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  20:04

okay. Send me a link or something, send me something to look at. And I’ll, I’ll check it out and I’ll get back to you.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  20:11

Okay, I’ll send that to you. I do know about this one. This. This was a case where someone was disqualified from a job with the police department, and they wanted to Connecticut because he was deemed to be too intelligent. So he sued. And I don’t know whether it was a state court or federal, but they ruled that now it’s perfectly okay for this police department to put a ceiling on the intelligence limit, to say, look, if you’re, you know, more than this intelligent, you can’t be a police officer here because you’re probably going to get bored and quit. So that’s the that’s the story there is there’s an upper limit on intelligence and I think I’ve heard this repeated that you can’t be too smart because you got to be just smart enough, but you can’t be too smart. Do you have any reaction to

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  21:00

Um, well, it’s interesting. I mean, our police selection process is very, it’s very a lot of things. It’s very political. It’s very litigious. And although we try to set a lot of parameters in place so that everything is done the right way. You have statute law and you have case law until you get a scenario where somebody decides that somebody is too smart for something. Maybe that hasn’t happened in the past, you’ll get an incident like this. The truth is that there isn’t necessarily police departments are given the discretion as to and I’ll say so also police departments and vendors, because it’s not always necessarily police departments, making those real time decisions. In some cases, it’s whatever vendor they contracted to. supply that test or to carry out that selection process. So so as these decisions are being made, police departments and vendors sometimes have the discretion to use their judgment. Like everything is not just intuitively written down. Um what what will also have I mean, so a couple of things can happen and I’m just going for i don’t i don’t i look more at this Lisa and when I



Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  22:45

just off the top of my head. If a cognitive ability assessment is a cognitive ability assessment, might be a part of a psychological screener and where you do have an individual person, they’re saying Okay, yes or no, and then having to write a justification as to why that person was a yes or no. And then in some cases that can be difficult to do because each person is very different and you’re not sure how to choose, you’re not sure how to describe what you’re seeing and how there is a misfit between that candidate between each job. And so, sometimes in trying to figure out how to explain that, you know, report, you might say something like this person is 12 is above intelligence. Or, because the other part of that is that that kind of assessment was a part of a Was it a part of some entry level or promotional assessment? It could have been, but there generally would not be a cap as to like a score above a certain amount that you would get That would disqualify you. So like, usually there’s a, there’s a cut score. So maybe that cut score is 65, or 70. And if you get over that you’re good to go. So for somebody to get a score that’s too high, and then be denied a job. Or, you know,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  24:17

the other thing is, this is 17 years ago, this case came up in New Haven. So, you know, we can’t really expect you to speak for them. But if I correctly, I want to confirm something I think I heard you say a few minutes ago, which is that sometimes there might be a mismatch between the candidate and the job. There’s kind of like a gut intuition that that’s the case. And, yeah, it’s a way of because you can’t say that you can’t say hey, don’t hire this person because I have a gut feeling.

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  24:51

Tell me.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  24:53

Instead, it might be some something like intelligence fail, this person’s over is a job

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  25:01

particularly in their psychological because it’s such a it’s such a gray area, you know, psycho psych psychology in of itself, as we know is not necessarily a hard science. We do a lot of work and even overwork to try and turn constructs into numerical measures, right? Try to turn like, qualitative data into quantitative data and that doesn’t always, that doesn’t always work out perfectly. And then the other piece about our assessments is that they’re, they’re designed based on somebody’s prediction as to how somebody is supposed to behave, right. So, as a, as an assessment developer, there’s no way for me to predict how everybody’s going to behave. Um, there’s no right. So if somebody taught you, you’re always gonna have those outlier candidates that jump up and I just doing something totally different. That no assessment can really put its finger on. Um, you also have candidates that will get through the unwritten assessments perfectly well and be recommended. And then you get them to the oral portion of the interview, and they’re just bizarre people to interact with. And you’re not sure what to make of it.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  26:20

Yeah. Probably a lot harder to quantify. Yeah, a lot experienced to do a recommendation than compared to like, you know, you’re looking at

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  26:36

Yeah, it is like you’re sitting in an interview and you’re saying that, you know, this person is making me uncomfortable, or this person has some antisocial characteristics. I can’t quite put my finger on and am I comfortable putting them out in a community where they’re going to interact with all kinds of people. You know, this person I’ve had interviews with people who just sort of say things that are kind of offensive. Like they didn’t know they were doing it. And so you’re trying to figure out like, is this is this person going to piss somebody off and just start a fight just because they are not tuned in with the public that they’re working with. So you just, you just have all kinds of, you know, the human brain will might present itself in all kinds of ways. I know you have all the intercultural dynamics to which which adds a whole different layer of complexity, to trying to figure out if this person’s behavior is normal, within the context of winning from, is it going to be normal within the context of the community that I’m going to hire them into? And all of that.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  27:53

Okay, I’m gonna move on to the next question so that I don’t have you here all afternoon that I like the fact that you use the like, shared an offensive statement and didn’t realize they were sharing it as an example of something that that strikes you subjectively as odd. But that not necessarily going to show up on a test because I can hear some listeners with smoke coming out of their ear saying, well, you’re just justifying the subjective judgment stuff or your gut or your intuition. But the example that you gave is, I think a perfect example of when that has to be done. Somebody, especially a law enforcement officer, says something offensive doesn’t even realize they do that. That’s something where that it’s going to affect their job performance. Right. So next,

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  28:33

well, let me say this is not only going to affect the job performance, but rookie officers also it’s not just that somebody in the community might get hurt, but officers get hurt more often than anyone else. And if I’m putting you out there with less communication and less social skills than the average guy, I’m almost sending out there to get yourself shadows. All right, so Okay, let’s move on.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  29:03

I can’t stop that. All right. Christina Moran asks, and I think we’ve already answered this one, but I’ll read it for the sake of completeness, how propensity for violence, abuse of power and other contributors to behavior that does not fit the description to serve and protect are screened out. I think he are addressed that an answer to an earlier question about the criterion, the criterion validity and sort of the difficulty and complexity of doing that when you norming sample is maybe national. It’s tough. It’s tough to make a decision about a New York City cop based on you know, like a rural cop, because the environment is so different. So criterions are tough. The next question is from Katherine slider who asks, considerations for avoiding adverse impact and selection particularly with things like physical tests. If they’ve been doing it for a while, I’d be interested if they meaning you have been doing this for a while, I’d be interested in knowing if and how the process has changed. Those changes. So how do you avoid adverse impact and selection related to physical?

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  30:07

Physical delays?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  30:09

I assume that’s what

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  30:11

she’s asking. Um, so I personally have is there is there have been some problems with adverse impact for physical abilities has, generally it’s not necessary. It’s not typically you don’t typically see adverse impact items like black white population say that the black candidates are going to be less likely to be selected. We have seen women guys come in against in physical abilities as for long times, and a lot of a lot of departments have gone back to try to diversify the departments or add more women to their departments by doing all kinds of different things. You know, we’re looking at their physical physical abilities test and tying it much closer to the job rather than just having people do 50 push ups because we think that 50 push ups, you know, it’s best. If you’re, you know, you have to ask yourself, like, do I really need you to run five miles in 20 seconds? Maybe that’s not necessary. And so


I think that

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  31:28

physical goes, he’s a vigorous physical abilities test. We’re also a lot of it comes from athletic science and gym science is not necessarily rooted in a competency analysis that comes directly from public safety. And so by tying them closely together, I think a lot of police departments have have gone back and look at their physical abilities, requirements and modify them or just updated their physical abilities tests. Okay. Um, so, but I mean yes, in some cases, adverse impacts. The adverse impacts is more prevalent with cognitive ability assessment, though. I think that it does pop up with physical bullets sometimes, but it’s not common. Okay. That is fun.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  32:18

All right. The next question isn’t really a question. It’s a meme. I asked. I said, you know, I’m interviewing someone who has developed pre employment testing for the NYPD. Do you have questions? Richard Mandelson, I just posted a meme of Ross from friends like nodding his head like oh, yeah, I got questions. Question for friends is how they afford to live in that apartment in New York City. I have another question. I’m actually going to combine two of these because I think they’re they’re very closely related read CLI on or client sorry. We asked what were the primary goals and concerns of the police union and the city administration, how they were different how they were managed. And Kevin gray asks pretty much the same thing. How do they navigate the relationship between the Union and the police department and what concessions are made? So, the overall I guess, question here is is what role, if any, does the police union play that selection process as

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  33:19

you Yeah. So I mean, police unions play a role in in in every in everything that police officers do, you know, police officers have rights, and these officers are protected by bias unions, T’s active offices. During the selection process, though your candidate is not necessarily a police officer. Yes. So you are dealing with an applicant or job applicant. So the whole of I mean, well, no, that’s not essential. You also have someplace unions that will do different things like they’ll contract a vendor to review tests.



Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  34:15

so you have you have policies as well. That’s also more so for promotional stuff. I mean, that’s one thing is that somebody who’s applying to be a police officer is not a police officer yet, so they’re not necessarily

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  34:29

they’re not represented until they’re a dues paying member of that. But the last question, or there’s a couple more, one is Shane from Shane Hodgson, but he asks the predict predictive validity question I think we’ve already addressed. There was one more question However, I’m going to be prudent and not ask you this question on the air just because I’m concerned that if you answer it in public, it may. Someone may use that judgment In the future, after I after I click off to turn the show, turn the recording off. I’ll let you know what that question was. And then if you want to answer it, maybe you could follow up and we could do it in the next episode when we talk about blacks and i o or maybe you could just go out and Twitter answered. This was awesome. Thank you very much. And I will include links to your company in the show notes. And I will be talking to you I hope soon about the blocks and IO project or initiative. I really appreciate your time this afternoon. Fast.

Kyana Beckles, M.P.S.  35:35

Yeah. Well, I’m glad we connected and I’m looking forward to more time together as well.