Want a job?

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.

Are you a cop?

Lola batted her eyelashes and smiled at the man. “How about a date?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. How much?”

After a brief hesitation, she countered with a question of her own. “You a cop?”

“Are you kidding? No way. I hate pigs.”

“Okay. You give me a hundred bucks and I’ll rock your world.”

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “Guess my world’s gonna stay steady tonight. Hands behind your back.”

“Hey! You lied! You can’t do that!”

“Already did. Now, you want me to recite your rights or you wanna do it for me?”

Is Lola right? Did Officer Smith entrap her when he lied about his identity?


The police are allowed to lie. They do it all the time when working undercover or performing sting operations. I don’t know when or how the rumor started that they have to tell the truth when they’re asked whether they’re cops, but it’s entirely false. Police can lie about other things too. It would frequently be hard for them to do their jobs if they had to be honest all the time.

Lying does not constitute entrapment. In order for someone to successfully use the entrapment defense, she must prove that police enticed her to perform an illegal act she wasn’t otherwise inclined to do. If that undercover cop offered people a million bucks to sleep with him, a lot of people might be tempted even though they’d never previously¬†considered prostitution. In Lola’s case, however, it’s only a hundred dollars. Plus she initiated the exchange, which is pretty good evidence that she was predisposed.

There are some limits to what police can lie about. If a suspect invokes her Miranda rights and asks to speak to a lawyer, the cops can’t grab a random colleague in a suit, put him in the interrogation room, and have him tell the suspect he’s an attorney.

One frequent lie used to good effect by police happens when there are two or more suspects. Each is questioned separately, and each is (falsely) told that his colleague had confessed and ratted him out. Suspects under those circumstances often confess in a vain attempt to save themselves.

An urban legend says that police have pretended that a Xerox machine is a lie detector, as shown in this scene from The Wire. I don’t know if that’s ever really happened, but police often do get creative.