There seems to be an increasing number of complaints that we have “lowered the standards” required to become a police officer. When someone says this to me and I ask for specifics, I’m told that “people who admit to having used drugs” or who have “arrest records” are now accepted into the candidate pool to become municipal and state police officers. This may be correct, but doesn’t portray an accurate picture.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to find applicants who have not at one time in their lives tried marijuana. Some departments do allow candidates who admit to having experimented with marijuana (but have not been arrested for possession or the sale of it) several years prior to applying for the job. Those candidates must submit an application and take the written part of the exam. However, even if the candidate were to score high enough on the written exam he or she would still have to participate in the rest of the process — a medical exam, physical agility test, psychological test, background investigation, oral test, and chief’s interview.
The vast majority of our readers on PoliceOne are already law enforcement officers, so you may be wondering why you (or your union/association) should seek input into your town or city police entry level selection process. Here are some reasons you should be concerned:
1. Who earns the privilege to wear the badge and carry the gun reflects on every one of us in law enforcement — not just in your particular department or agency.
2. Persons selected to become police officers have entered into a sacred trust, a time honored way of life, and willingness to step in harm’s way to protect the innocent and serve others. It’s not just another job or even a career. We take our way of life and traditions very seriously. To what degree does your selection process produce candidates who have the potential to do this?
3. Because we engage in combat, have the right to kill under certain circumstances, our ethics must be absolutely pure and our customers are often the mentally unstable, the addicted, the unemployable, and the deranged.
4. We must be able to depend on one another for survival and support in a working environment which the average person has no concept-the other world of the claw and the fang that the average person hopefully never experiences.
I know of no department that accepts candidates who have used cocaine or heroin. But should a 22-year-old candidate who admitted to smoking a marijuana cigarette at age 16 be eliminated from the process? Maybe, but that’s what the selection process is all about — to “weigh the pros and cons” of each candidate against a standard.
Should a breach of peace, disorderly conduct, or a couple of speeding arrest automatically eliminate what otherwise would be an excellent candidate from becoming one of us? Once again, it depends on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the length of time since the matter occurred. In my opinion it should be left to the background investigation team to make a recommendation relative to whether the candidate is viable or not.
Another controversial issue is the recruitment of minority candidates to become police officers. Should a department actually state in it’s advertising for applicants: “We are actively recruiting” qualified African American, Hispanic, and female candidates? Why not? Isn’t the department supposed to reflect the racial and gender make up of the community it serves?
I deal with departments all the time that serve large African American and Hispanic populations, yet have few (if any) ranking members who are of a minority group. Most tell me they can’t do much about the past, but want to attract large numbers of minorities at entry level in order to have sufficient numbers of minority candidates entering the promotional pool. So, the recruitment of qualified applicants may be the key to a department’s staffing and selection needs.
Here are some ideas on how to set up a viable recruitment program that will enable you to fill your ranks with great candidates who meet your agency’s standards.
1. Create or re-design the department’ Web site. The Internet is how people receive information. Your department should have a link on your Web site specially designed to attract people interested in joining the police profession. In addition to containing information on the qualifications needed to apply, when and where to submit applications and salary and benefits, the website should use the type of robust advertising featured by our armed forces. Highlight young officers doing a variety of job tasks — show images of the K-9 unit, SWAT officers repelling down a wall, cops at the local high school, etc. Show the departments color guard marching in formation (a good idea if you also have audio of bagpipes playing in the background), throw in some forensic crime scene activities and cops interrelating with the community. Provide a twenty-question sample test like they do at the motor vehicle department.
2. Form a recruitment team. Choose officers who are — how do I politely say this — attractive in uniform (I mean both men and women here!) with officers who are from every ethnic group you’ve got. Select young officers with excellent “officer friendly” type communication skills and several who speak second languages. Train them in presentation skills and develop a 10-minute video they can show respective recruits.
3. Go to the top colleges and universities. If you want to attract quality candidates make a list of the colleges and universities in your state that have excellent Criminal Justice Programs. Get in touch with the Criminal Justice Program coordinator and schedule a recruitment visit. Bring job applications and brochures to the site visit. Have a written entry level examination developed that can be administered at the college under proper supervision.
These are just a few ideas. I would be interested in receiving feedback from PoliceOne readers relative to how your department goes about recruiting.
This is the first in a two-part series on recruiting and selecting candidates for the position of police officer. My next article will deal with how to develop an examination process for police entry level applicants.
Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet