It's the Holy Grail for any employer - finding employees who will do their job well for the sheer joy of it. "Employee engagement" is a watchword of HR departments everywhere. The problem, though, is that getting the right person for the job often comes with undesirable yet unavoidable side-effects. If you're in the customer service business like Commerce Bank you hire eager-to-please extroverts. The downside is the irritated customers who would prefer that the ever-smiling bank teller stop wishing them a nice day and just hurry up with their money. And if you're hiring airline security personnel at the TSA, you want sticklers for rules even they don't provide the service-with-a-smile (or, seemingly, have any God-given common sense) that passengers want. But in neither of these cases is the right person for the job going to land you in the hospital with a concussion or broken collarbone - the cost is merely a bit of delay and frustration.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE LAW
Police departments, though, do bear some similarities to the NFL, and the comparison is instructive. A good cop is one who wants to catch bad guys, and when given the choice between taking a nap or keeping the peace, will go out and risk his life and pension to aggressively enforce the law. As economist Canice Prendergast has pointed out, the type of recruit who will take pleasure in these duties will also tend, predictably, toward ugly and heavy-handed behavior involving an excess of zeal. (Here' s a link to a PDF of his classic paper on the topic.) That's not to say that all cops are bad or brutal, but it's certainly worth noting that hiring the right men and women can have such a side effect.
When taken to extremes, hiring the "right" person for the job of keeping the streets safe can lead to cases like the Rampart scandal, in which members of the Los Angeles Police Department's anti-gang unit were convicted of offenses ranging from unprovoked shootings and beatings to planting false evidence, framing suspects, dealing drugs, bank robbery, and of course the inevitable cover up.
It can be hard to figure out the difference between good policing and police brutality. To the untrained observer, one can look much like the other. So police departments, like the military, are subject to civilian oversight, and civilians typically sit on review boards. As a result, when the police go too far, when they abuse their authority and start cracking heads, there's almost always an outcry.
But sometimes -- as with the residents of Rampart -- the public doesn't care. A New York Times Magazine article about cleaning up the LA police department 10 years after the Rodney King beating reported that the response among Angelinos had been muted, especially among those living in Ramparts. Residents were more concerned with growing gang violence than police abuse, and viewed police brutality as a necessary part of keeping the gangs in check. They were willing to put up with dirty cops for a slightly cleaner neighborhood.