As you apply to become a police officer or deputy, you must meet state and agency eligibility requirements. You'll also need to pass a thorough background investigation.

The background check ensures applicants with criminal pasts or current involvements are filtered out. So if you have a tawdry background, you need not apply.

I'm always amazed by the number of applicants who get caught by background investigations. If you think the background investigator will wake up stupid that morning and let you slip through, please think again. Departments invest vast monies and resources to ensure that you are what they and their communities need. If you know deep down that you can't make the cut, save yourself some aggravation and potential embarrassment. I've seen applicants taken away in handcuffs.

Let's review a few areas of concern.

Your past credit history won't trigger an automatic rejection. I know times are hard, and you may have too many student loans or bad credit card discipline. Departments often view bad credit as an integrity indicator that opens the door for deeper review. If you have bills, do your best to tidy them up, because good effort will be rewarded.

In earlier times, drug use was an automatic rejection. Many departments now follow a policy requiring no recent use and a several-year gap. Some agencies will allow youthful indiscretions. Read all the application materials thoroughly to find out if you meet the requirements.

Please don't run to the local health-food store to pick up some ground-up herbs or poultice to mask use; they don't work. Many departments are switching to hair testing, which offers a more definitive and longer test window. Do some soul searching here. If you expect to test "hot" (positive), re-think your approach.

Your rock-and-roll days will haunt you, as well. One acquaintance of mine lost a higher-level security clearance job in private industry because of a spring break arrest three decades ago. Your college days at a resort town can still linger in the background. A drunken "boys gone wild" moment can end a career before it gets started. For younger readers, think twice before you get drunk and stupid on spring break.

What about trying to evade polygraphs or voice-stress analysis? Some see these methods as electronic voodoo, while others see them as scientific investigative tools. We still use them to test our applicants, so don't try taking anything to mask the readings. When applicants asked me for suggestions to help them get over on the box, I told them to eat several boiled eggs before the test. It doesn't work, but it tells you how gullible they are. These tests can be stressful. Just listen closely to the directions and follow them. Signs of deception give us clues to open doors for further inquiry.

You'll also be given psychological tests. There are no cheat sheets or crib notes to get you the correct answers. Again, listen and follow directions. Giving rehearsed answers usually diminishes your results.

At every step in the application process, applicants need to fully read and understand what they're embarking on. Listen to the departmental contact who's working with you, and ask questions. Above all else, be truthful.

Author

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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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.

View Bio
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