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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Background Investigations and Secrets

Your past can and will haunt you if you try to hide it.

February 06, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

I wish you could actually hear some of the phone calls I receive. They would amaze you.

I just got off the phone with a young lad who was applying to a department several states away from my office. He was incensed that he, of all people, should have to submit to a polygraph and background investigation. There is an old saying that the guilty proclaim their innocence the loudest. So why all the protest and what can we learn from this chap?

Do Your Research

If you have lived a tawdry past, then you should know that some astute investigator will find out during your background investigation. If you think that you have any disqualifiers in your past, do yourself a favor and do some research. Go to your state's peace officers training commission Website. Each state has a different name for it.

Research the Website for police officer/deputy certification requirements. There will be a list of requirements such as minimum age, physical, medical, psychological requirements and many more. There will usually be a list that states all of the things your background must be free of to meet the requirements. Read it closely and, since it will be in legal terminology, get the definitions and fully understand each requirement as it applies to you.

I do not care who your daddy may be or who your family knows, for the states set the rules of engagement here. Yes, in some places in the past there might have been a wink and a nod and somebody slipped in, but with the realities of today those days are pretty much over.

Youthful Misadventures and Indiscretions

I am sure that each of you has had some youthful misadventure; it could have been a high school prank or late night indiscretion. Do not confuse a high school in-house suspension with a criminal record. But there are some things that are going to have to be considered.

Past Drug Use

This is a hot topic. Many agencies have eased their viewpoint of this. I am not even going to get into depth here. You know what you have done or did not do and you better read what the agency you are considering will and will not consider. Some still cling to no drug/narcotic use ever. Some will allow "experimentation" and with "last time used" time limitations. And yes, do not forget that some departments now screen for steroids.

Driving History

This has eliminated several applicants. Your driving records will be scrutinized closely. How well you responsibly adhere to the driving laws is considered by many as a character predicator. They will look at whether you are a risk taker (reckless, racing or speeder), drive while impaired (major problem area), and show financial responsibility by taking care of your insurance (personal responsibility).

If you have had a license suspension, do not get your feelings hurt if you are rejected. In several areas, every employee's driving history has to be reviewed by the risk management office or insurance underwriters.

You can be a bright shining star, but if they recommend that you not operate a police vehicle, you are toast. Yes, this can happen.

Financial Responsibility History

Yes, your credit history will be reviewed closely. Your ability to stay out of debt is a major indicator. Many feel that if you are a credit risk, you are subject to breaches of integrity later. If you have a bad history, start working on it now and clear it up. If you have a good one, keep it pristine.

No, I have not covered all of the "but what ifs" of life. Each state and every applicant has a different story. This is what makes it so hard to give a solid answer. So, if you call me, you could get the answer, "it depends."

Preparation for your future begins today.

Tags: Job Applications, Ethics


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

jovel62FPO @ 3/23/2009 8:07 PM

Im currently a 20 year old college student in Maryland and will be applying to a couple of agencies in my area in the next year or so. I have had a clean background in my life except for a speeding citaion witch i recieved late last year. My question is do agencies have alcohol disqualifiers? For example drinking under the age of 21 or something of that nature? Thank You

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