Last week I had a meeting with several local criminal-justice agency heads. One thing we discussed was their hiring needs, so I thought this would be a good time to discuss how someone qualifies for a job in law enforcement (there are plenty of other CJ jobs too, but the qualifications for those vary).
In every jurisdiction, the minimum criteria to become a police officer include a high school diploma (or GED) and a record clean of felonies. A driver’s license is usually mandatory too. Once upon a time, those things would have been enough to get you a job as a cop.
Nowadays, though, most agencies want more. Some want an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. All of them will require a clean background check, which means not just lack of criminal activity but also good credit and good associates. Agencies will check candidates’ social media accounts. They may use a lie detector. They will also ask about drug use. Standards for this have shifted, but at least in my area, agencies won’t hire anyone who has ever used hard drugs or who has used pot within the past year or two (even though it’s now legal here).
In many states, applicants will be subject to a psychological evaluation. They’ll also be given a physical agility test and a test to evaluate their ability to communicate clearly in writing.
New police officers have to go through training, of course. Some agencies want new hires to have already completed the academy, but others, especially the larger ones, will hire people first and pay them as they go through the academy.
Last week the chiefs said their ideal candidate is someone who can pass the background check and tests, who has strong writing skills, who has CJ experience as an intern, and who shows a meaningful commitment to the community.
Right now almost every police agency in the US is desperate for strong candidates. The Las Vegas PD has 600 openings! During a recent trip to Vegas, I saw them advertising on the Strip. I don’t know what kind of applicants they think they’ll get from that.