It Must Be Easy

You know when you hear something being passed around as truth and you know in your heart that what is being said is no where near the truth?

Well that is how I feel about how cops are being portrayed these days. Now, I understand my bias because my husband is one, but I also believe that gives me the right to speak up about truths that I see.

There are a lot of things being said about who is being hired as a cop and that departments need to up the ante on their qualifications. I am not sure that these people who are making these statements are even aware of the process that most law enforcement officers go through in order to get hired.

My husband was practically in a law enforcement job search for seven full years before he was officially offered a position. He started his first internship two years prior to his first application. So really he had been after this officer job for almost an entire decade before he was hired. Each time he was told no, he went after another credential to add to his resume. To get the job, Tom had to get a degree in criminal justice, have various internships, and go to war for this country. He has applied to positions in 3 different states (Missouri, Texas, and Iowa). He has been in the process in large cities, small college towns, county departments, and various sizes in the middle. There are several departments that he applied to more than once as well.

To say we know a little bit about police hiring processes would be an understatement. There is a file box completely devoted to his hiring search history.

So what does a person go through in a police officer process?

Again Tom has been through between 25-30 different processes, and all of them have similar ingredients. They may vary on when each step occurs, but generally we have seen each of these in every process.

1. Application.

  • Usually this is pretty basic. It establishes that you meet the minimum state requirements to be a police officer. If you meet the qualifications, you are allowed to test at this point.

2. Physical Training Test

  • Being a physically demanding job, there are some standards that they want to make sure you can meet. It is always a series of push-up, sit-ups, and a run. Some departments will have an obstacle course or a flexibility test as well.

3. Written Exam

  • This is a test that measures your general knowledge and critical thinking skills. It is a standardized test that you can’t really study for.

These are generally the first steps. If you do not pass these, you do not move into the next round.

4. Background Check

  • This is the worst part. Some can be 80 pages long with the documentation you provide. You have to sign a waiver that they can access all kinds of records or contact anyone in the packet. The background check is really your full life. Every address you have ever had, any roommates and their current address, full work history, references which cannot be a repeat of any person you have already listed, bank information, and so much more. They ask for the password to your Facecbook and email. Tom even had to list all of my parents information. They dig deep.

5. Interviews

  • Often there are several of these at varying levels of the process. Usually you will have one with the chief, a panel of officers, and a separate background interview. All of these are pretty intense interviews. Rarely are people asked the type of situational questions officers-to-be are asked. These interviews are attempting to gain an idea of your character and moral being with hypothetical questions. Also typically if you are interviewing with the chief, that means a good thing. But even then that is not a guarantee, as we learned in Iowa.

6. A ride along

  • This is where you ride with an officer to observe a traditional shift. This is one that has been optional at most but required at a few.

7. Polygraph

  • This is an exam that asks you questions you would never have thought to ask someone. This is double checking your background check.

8. Medical /Psychological

  • The department requires you to take a doctor’s physical. It’s very in-depth and includes a normal physical, drug tests, lung capacity tests, and running on a treadmill while hooked to an EKG.
  • You also take several psychological tests and meet with a Psychologist for an interview. They review your background and questions you with some regular questions, as well as some very unorthodox ones.

Each department may have a different order to the process. And some may circle round and do some steps twice.

Some departments won’t look at you unless you have been post-certified, which means that you had to have of already gone through a police academy. More than half of the departments don’t have the funding to put officers through an academy, so they need people to have that already. Many people have to pay for that themselves. (That was Tom’s next step if he was not hired this go around.)

Some departments also don’t look at you if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

If you couldn’t tell, this is not a fast process. Most of them take months to get through each round. For the job Tom has now, it took 6 months to complete the process.

I am really tired of people saying that there needs to be a more stringent process to hire cops because I have watched my husband go through countless processes to be told he wasn’t good enough or that someone else was more qualified. His moral fiber was put into question enough times that would break most people. Many would have given up years ago after chasing a dream that long. To watch him wait for 10 years to get this job, it breaks my heart to watch some of these reports come out saying that departments need to be pickier about their applicants and that our officers today are not of good enough quality to be protecting our communities.

What more would people want out of this process? I really am curious what other screenings people think need to be part of this process. Maybe I am missing something.

Tom has been in a process that had 900 people apply for one position. Not the greatest odds even if you have a bachelor’s, are post-certified, are a veteran, and have a great background in general.

Departments have the opportunity to be picky, and they take the time to be choosy with their applicant process.

It’s really offensive to hear, “Oh whatever, I will just be a cop.” Or to see all these news reports saying that departments aren’t doing a good enough job making personnel decisions.

Like this is something easy.

I am here to tell you that it is not easy for someone to be a cop, regardless of how it may be portrayed in the media. First there is the commitment to put your life on the line for complete strangers. Then the courage and stamina it takes to endure one (if not several) of these processes is great. There is so much vulnerability and your entire being is put under a microscope. Every decision you have ever made is put into question and examined thoroughly. The nerves waiting to be hired is drawn out for months if not years. Then to be ridiculed and spit on by the community that you are hired to protect; that takes a mighty person to want to continue in that field. It is not for the faint of heart.

I hope that people do support our law enforcement officers and realize how much thought is put into the hiring process for those wearing blue (or green, khaki, or whatever the badge requires). I feel like departments realize the gravity of the situation and put in the effort to make an informed decision on hiring their officers.

And this is just the hiring process. There is so much more that goes into the training. But that may be a post for another day.

7 thoughts on “It Must Be Easy

  1. I think a lot of people have two views of cops: either the mean state police who pulls them over when they were actually speeding or the fat desk cop chomping on donuts. As I always tell people when they get tickets, don’t speed. Most cops are just looking out for your best interests.

    • Definitely! Most cops are really there to help you. Unfortunately most people only remember the polarized sides of the profession, when most are sitting very friendly and helpful in the middle.

  2. I knew that it was an involved process, but I had no idea it was THAT involved! Kudos to Tom for having the perseverance to go through it all and find the perfect job!

    I guess my question to you would be where are things going wrong? Are the bad impressions about police officers just a PR problem based off of an isolated few incidents? Does their training need to be changed? Are they overworked? I honestly don’t know. I did listen to two very interesting podcasts from This American Life about the topic, but I still don’t know the answer.

    • I think it is a much too complicated issue to try to say here, but in my observation I have a few comments. I do think a lot of the issue is a misunderstanding with the PR. I think people are looking for people to blame because of a few isolated incidents, but the full picture is not being shown with the media. Because of certain protocols of case management on the police side, they often are not the first to speak about the happenings of the incident. The media spins what they know (which often in Law Enforcement and case work is very little or biased). I get having a scapegoat, but I wish people would dig a little deeper for understanding before placing bold blame. As far as the training piece, I think that is a department and state issue. You have state, county and city departments that may have different funding that allow for more or less training. I think there is a standard with having to have gone through a certified police academy initially but beyond that training will depend and is not standardized as much across entities. I think the stereotypes are similar to those put on the military; most just don’t know what is actually going on from the cops view and don’t really take the time to learn it. I also feel that there are some ownership pieces missing in some realms. When you break the law it is not the cops fault that you behaved that way. Again it is a large and complicated issue. There are concerns that have merit from all sides. But again all sides need to be heard and listened to which I don’t think is happening.

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