Published: 16-08-2023 11:39 | Updated: 09-10-2023 10:37

Personnel selection in tactical intervention units

Global terrorism is complex and unpredictable; the role and competence of tactical intervention units is therefore important. The national Swedish Counterterrorism Tactical Intervention Unit (CTIU), among others, strive to adapt and maintain security for society. This doctoral thesis examines tactical intervention units, focusing on the work-related characteristics of CTIU officers, applicants, and SWAT officers. It includes four studies exploring personality traits & physical/cognitive abilitie


Amid the increasing complexities and unpredictability of terrorism, the competence of tactical Intervention units is important. This doctoral thesis examines tactical intervention units, emphasizing the work-related characteristics of applicants and officers. The thesis aims to evaluate whether measurements of cognitive and physical abilities and personality traits can predict which individuals are suitable for tactical intervention units with a particular focus on Swedish CTIU.

This thesis comprises four studies:

Study 1 probed the role of cognitive abilities, specifically Executive Functions (EF), in the CTIU selection process. The investigation was conducted using the Delis–Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS) Design Fluency (DF, Delis et al., 2001) paper-and pencil performance test, comparing two groups: Swedish CTIU applicants (n = 45, including one woman, age range 27-41 years; M = 31.7 years, SD = 3.33) and police officer trainees (n = 30, including six women, age range 22-39 years; M = 27.7 years, SD = 4.70). Both groups had higher scores than the general population norms for EF, with the CTIU applicants notably performing better than the police officer trainees in DF [F (1, 71) = 18.98, p < 0.001]. Under the 10-day Counter Terrorism Intervention Assessment and Selection course (CTIAS), CTIU applicants displayed a reduction in DF performance. Despite this decline, a substantial correlation remained between the baseline and retest DF scores [r (40) = .49, p = .001]. Those applicants with the highest baseline scores experienced the greatest percentage decrease during retesting [r (40) = -.46, p = .003]; however, the highest baseline performers still had the highest scores in the retest. The study underscored the impact of stress on cognitive functioning.

Study 2 utilized a paper-and-pencil personality inventory, the NEO-PI-3, to investigate the Five-Factor Model (FFM) personality profiles of CTIU officers by comparing them with the Swedish population norm. The CTIU group consisted of 57 male participants, with ages between 28 and 51 years (M = 39.6 years, SD = 5.2) and an average tenure of 7.6 years (SD = 6.0). At the factor level, CTIU officers exhibited lower levels of neuroticism (Cohen's d = .7), extraversion (Cohen's d = .7), and conscientiousness (Cohen's d = .4). At the facet level, CTIU officers displayed less vulnerability (Cohen's d = .8), angry hostility (Cohen's d = .7), and anxiety (Cohen's d = .6) while displaying higher excitement-seeking (Cohen's d = .9), positive emotions (Cohen's d = .6), and activity (Cohen's d = .6). These results show personality distinctions between Swedish CTIU officers and the general population.

Study 3 investigated both physical and psychological predictors that influenced work sample test performance (WST) during the CTIAS process, involving a cohort of 160 applicants. The approved applicants in CTIAS Phase 1 (n = 28) had an age range of 25–42 years (M = 30.64 years, SD = 3.78), while the rejected applicants in CTIAS Phase 1 (n = 132) ranged in age from 25–47 years (M = 30.68 years, SD = 4.11). The CTIAS selection process consists of a 4-day prescreening (Phase 1) that includes an eight-hour WST, followed by a 10-day WST (Phase 2). Biserial correlations were applied to establish the relationships between the selected predictors: age, general mental ability, EF, personality traits, physical strength, coordination, running capacity, and the dependent variable. The dependent variable in the study was the approval of applicants at the end of CTIAS Phase 1. Biserial correlations were observed between approval and strength (r = .217), coordination (r = .223), and running capacity (r = .412). A logistic regression revealed running capacity as the sole significant predictor for approval at the end of CTIAS Phase 1 (B = .336, SE = .085, Wald = 15.783, p < .001). Aerobic capacity emerged as the key success factor in CTIAS Phase 1, but it may not represent the principal criterion for actual job performance in tactical intervention units. Conducting a job analysis to confirm or develop the selection criteria is essential.

Study 4 delved into the domain of personality traits in SWAT units. The objective was to discern the optimal 30 facets of the NEO FFM personality profile for a SWAT officer through the assessment of subject matter experts (N=159, age range 28-55 years, mean = 39.91, SD = 5.29, tenure range 4-23 years, mean = 7.80, SD = 7.16), and compare it with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) ten maladaptive personality disorders. The findings demonstrated that the opinion of the experts of an optimal SWAT officer's profile is marked by a high level of conscientiousness and a low level of neuroticism. Facets such as vulnerability (which indicated low levels) and competence, dutifulness, and self-discipline (each indicating high levels) were particularly critical in distinguishing a successful SWAT officer. Notably, the experts SWAT profile displayed consistent negative correlations with personality disorders, specifically showing substantial dissimilarity with borderline, schizotypal, dependent, and avoidant personality disorders. These findings can contribute to developing reliable and valid selection processes for prospective SWAT officers.

Peter Tedeholm

Affiliated to Research


Peter Tedeholm Affiliated to Research