Surviving the Police Background Investigation
Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith
Once you’ve passed the written test, the oral interview, the physical agility test, and you’ve successfully jumped through a few other hoops, you’re probably ready for the background investigation. How ironic that part of the process to become a crime fighter is to be investigated by one! In this competitive job market, the background investigation is becoming even more important to law enforcement agencies who want to hire the finest, most qualified candidates they can find.
The background investigation actually begins with your application, which you may have filled out months or even more than a year ago. Make sure your original application was properly and thoroughly completed. If you have changed residences, jobs, or any of your listed references have changed, notify the agency immediately. Part of the ongoing background investigation will be to judge your thoroughness and your ability to follow up without being prompted.
Prepare to be Violated
The preliminary investigation will cover your education, residential history, employment, driving record, credit standing, and any arrests or encounters with the police you may have had. Prepare to feel a bit violated. For example, a good background investigator will not only review your high school and college transcripts, but they are going to talk to your teachers and professors to ask about your attitude, your work ethic, and your demeanor in class.
He or she will not only find out your current credit score, but they will delve into you credit history to see how responsible when it comes to handling your finances. They will not only look at the various places that you’ve lived, but they will talk with landlords, roommates, and even your parents to see if you were a responsible resident. Remember, the goal of the background investigation is to determine if you have the moral, ethical and legal character required by someone who carries a gun and a badge.
Meeting the Family
The background investigator will then move on to even more personal issues, and will likely interview your family, your neighbors, your references and your friends. At my agency, our background investigators travel to each candidate’s home town, regardless of there they grew up, and talk to friends, neighbors, teachers, and of course the local cops. The investigator will obviously interview your references, but they are also interested in the people you didn’t list on your application. After all, we need to get an accurate picture of you and we can’t really do that by talking only to the people whose information you provided to us.
The investigators may choose random neighbors, the guy you sat next to in band, or even your first employer down at the Dairy Hut to chat with. Its okay to let people know that someone from a law enforcement agency may be contacting them, but do not ask them to lie about your background! The investigators are going to find out the truth regardless, and discovering that you have friends who are willing to lie for you will not speak well to your own moral character.
The Last Steps
You will also be fingerprinted, possibly drug tested, and you may be asked to take a polygraph examination. If you’re unsure about the background process, contact the agency’s recruiter, or in a small agency, contact a member of the command staff, human resources, or other appropriate person. Don’t worry in silence or rely on the possibly erroneous information provided by friends. Go straight to the agency, and if there is something bothering you about your own background, be forthcoming. If you had a DUI at sixteen, tell them. If you were arrested for shoplifting when you were 19, confess before they find out.
If possible, try to develop a relationship with your investigator, let them know that you are an “open book” and you are willing to help them find the sources they are seeking. Smaller departments will conduct their own investigations; larger agencies may hire an outside contractor to complete the investigation. Make sure that during the entire process you are available, transparent, and cooperative. Good luck!