This column is for the pre-service reader or the officer who is about to speak with a young man or woman about becoming a police officer. We as cops are always being asked to attend some job fair at the local high school or speak on public service assignment about law enforcement as a vocation.
Often the audience is a group of high school students with at least three or more years before they can apply for the job. Sooner or later the question will come up, "What advice can you give me to prepare to become a police officer?"Answer—stay out of trouble!
That sounds simple, but I'm seeing a resounding theme coming up on more and more background investigations. These are what I call youthful indiscretions, or better yet just doing stupid things during these in-between years. Ages 18-21 can often bridge a great kid toward a career, if they keep their eyes on the prize. However, one epic weekend at the beach with a bunch of knuckleheads along with a couple of local police interactions will probably remove them from future contention.
What do I mean by youthful indiscretion? Some of life's little moments may be overlooked but many others have been career-enders. What we must do is fully explain the background disqualifiers so future candidates can make sound decisions. Don't do what the others are doing, disengage, and keep your employment dreams alive.
If you need examples of such indiscretions, call your staffing officer or the background investigator, they will have good stories. We must get them over the bridge from teenage to young adult so they don't drive onto the exit ramp for dreams.
One thing we are not doing a good job of is cultivating our future officers. We just rely on good candidates appearing when we need them. Most of the time during a presentation to young adults, we extol the excitement of the job and service to others and avoid the turnoffs that would cause them to lose interest.
Most public service presentations are always positive, because we don't want to lower the self-esteem of the youthful audience. However, if we are going to tell them the truth about what it truly takes to get accepted into our ranks, we must tell them the truth.
Don't sugar-coat the truth. Make them aware of the stark realities of life. If you screw up, you'll probably never make it in law enforcement or other employment that requires a serious background check. Industries involving governmental contracts must ensure that their labor force has a clean background.
This sounds simple, but we need to remind and encourage these aspiring youths so they will have employability and a future. As current leaders, we must ensure a future pool of quality applicants. If you know a young man or woman entering into or in these bridge years, give them the talk to keep them on the straight and narrow to success.