What to Expect in a Police Officer Background Check
Considering a law enforcement career? Here are four things the police force will investigate about your past.
By Randy Woods
If you're seeking a career defending the public against the criminal element, it's only natural to expect an investigation of your own—past, that is.
To join a federal, state or local police force, you must fill out an application, pass a written exam and a physical fitness test, and complete an in-person interview. But the toughest test may be the background check to ensure that you have not only the aptitude, but also the necessary moral fiber to carry a gun and a badge.
What Your Police Office Background Check Entails
Background checks for law enforcement officers are a lot more thorough than having a hiring manager check your employment history, run a Google search and call a few references. Nearly every personal aspect of your life that can be publicly accessed could be subject to inspection as well. The minimum requirements for acceptance vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another, but here are some of the basic checks most law enforcement candidates can expect to undergo:
- Every permanent record—and then some: Police forces will likely obtain transcripts from high school and college, and some teachers and professors may be interviewed to find out about your demeanor in class and study habits. In some cases, investigators may randomly select former school classmates to interview about their memories of you.
- Friends and family: From here, the background checks can get even more personal. Depending on the state or local jurisdiction, investigators sometimes travel to the candidate's hometown to interview family members and friends to ensure the person is not trying to hide anything. One area that's been getting increased scrutiny as well is the world of online social networks. Rule of thumb: If you have any posts on Facebook, Twitter, or other networks containing language or images you wouldn't want to reveal in a job interview, remove them now.
- School days: Police forces will likely obtain transcripts from high school and college, and some teachers and professors may be interviewed to find out about your demeanor in class and study habits. In some cases, investigators may randomly select former school classmates to interview about their memories of you.
- Drug use: It should be no surprise that law enforcement candidates will be fingerprinted and given a drug test. Use of illegal drugs at any time in a candidate's history is a strike against you, but it's not always an automatic deal-breaker. Provided you've never used hard drugs, like heroin, cocaine or crystal meth, and have been clean of all illegal substances in the last three to five years, most agencies will give a pass. Dealing any kind of illegal drug, however, is a felony and will instantly put you in the reject pile.
Honesty is the Best Policy
These various background checks are often exhaustive—sometimes even requiring a polygraph or "lie detector" test—but investigators aren't looking for perfection. If you were caught pulling a prank in high school or were ticketed for speeding a few times, those are not disqualifying offenses. What the hiring managers are looking for is anything serious you might be trying to hide from them. In some cases, it's not any particular offense that can disqualify you, but rather any attempt to cover it up that can cause the real problems.
Bottom line: The most honest candidates usually have the easiest time during background checks.
Sources: National Association of Police Officers; National Association of Professional Background Screeners; Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
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