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Surviving the Police Background Investigation

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 Beginning

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!


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    BLUEOFWATER

    about 5 years ago

    222 Comments

    THANK YOU I NEEDED TO READ THIS. I DO FEEL SORT OF INTEMEDATED, BUT I NEED ALL THE INFO I CAN GET

  • Co_blue_line_max50

    JWILL85

    about 5 years ago

    100 Comments

    This is good info to know.

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    spiritbluiii

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    I applied for CO1 and passed the test with the highest rating. Went for the fingerprinting, and background check and then a month later got a letter stating thanks but no thanks. And I cannot find out why? This bothers me because I have always wanted to be in law enforcement, and if there is an issue I need to resolve I want to do it. But it is like talking to a brickwall! What to do?

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    Unit91Actual

    over 5 years ago

    46 Comments

    No doubt about it, the BG check is stressful. I've always kept my nose clean, but Big Brother can make you nervous. I think the point is, they're not looking for perfect people; they're looking for honest people with good judgment. If you've done something stupid in the past (everyone has, I promise), tell them it was stupid, you'd never do it again, and your take-home lesson was _______.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    wow , I am 27 years old and did make some mistakes in the past. I have never been arrested and my driving record is clean . But this puts me off a little knowing that i am putting not only myself but my family through a process like this for a long time and the thought that i might not get a job doing what i really want to do because of a personal bg test . I am a good person And i am very open minded but like i said people make mistakes. Even with that knowledge I can only have Faith and work hard to overcome anything that comes my way.

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    RealityCheck

    over 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    zackster: Too late. I already was a deputy in the past. I left law enforcement to a career in computers with better compensation and no shift work. But do for yourself whatever you highest ability allows. At the time I did desire to be in law enforcement. I passed all the background checks at the time. Looking back however, and having seen where law enforcement is going with using them, I can no longer support their use in the way they are being utilized. I find it interesting that you feel you have the ability to psychoanalyze me based upon one post, in an effort to classify me in such a way as to put my credibility into question. If having an opinion makes me a "difficult subordinate", then sadly the police ranks are indeed not a place for me, and it casts a sad shadow on fellow officers like you who believe this.

    Cgidney are you high? Another fine example of someone who immediately has to try putting someone down to place themselves into a position of faux authority. Just because someone passes a criminal record check does not make them hirable, neither does a background check. There are just as many examples of people that have made it past the background check. My issue is the nature of the background check and the level of intrusiveness into people's personal lives. I believe there should be a firm line in the sand as to how far the check can go. Like I said in my original post. Any questions of character, authority, responsibility, etc, will be vetted out during the training. It will be quite obvious if they can cut it or not. And the threat that "if I don't like it blah blah blah" is just that... a bunch of BS. Just because it is currently done the way it is, does not mean it should remain the "way it is". As Dwell noted above you there is some serious problems with the way it is done. How many people on the inside have to speak up before we start considering the merits of my point?

    In conclusion, I'd like to also comment on kcsdlew's post from a day ago... I completely disagree that we spend our entire lives "preparing" for a background check. As an American citizen I enjoy my right to privacy, my right to freedom of expression, and my right to my individual liberty. Your comment about "if you have done it all right" is pretty damn scary to me on many levels.

    Who decides "what is right"? By whose standards? Do I want to be "affirmed" as having fit in to a narrow definition of what is currently defined as "right"? Our society is a tremendous blend of cultures, mores, political views, and perspectives. What might be completely acceptable to you, might not to the next person. Actions you consider to be completely within your moral code, might be unacceptable to someone who rigidly intolerant of differing standards.

    I have very troubled that the law enforcement community has become a group that has slid down the path of groupthink in their tolerance of all these different forces. It casts aspersions on the transparency and fairness of the selection process, when you allow the investigators to bring in reports that may be skewed based upon their personal set of beliefs, and/or the skewed opinions of the candidates friends/neighbors/teachers/peers.

    For the candidate boards to not take this into consideration and work to mitigate this potential for prejudice and groupthink is a shame.

    Take care

    RC

  • Cp5_max50

    kcsdlew

    over 5 years ago

    490 Comments

    Whether we know it or not, we all spend our lives "preparing" for a background check. If you've done it right, there's nothing to sweat about the investigation, which will actually wind up being an affirmation. I remember when my daughter, who does criminal investigation for the FBI, went through the year-long BG to get her Top Secret clearance; in the final interview, the lead investigator asked, "What did you do, decide you wanted this in kindergarten and kept a perfect record all these years to make it happen?" Hyperbole, of course, but it reflected, in a complimentary manner, just how "clean" she came back. You reap what you sow.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    okay I just have to say this-not everyone that has this career is amoral and decent person. You know there are some crooked cops out there. So, this has no effect on whom really gets hired! Sure there are a lot more good cops than bad, but ....some get slipped through the cracks. I'm surprised that they ask that many people about you. They can even check what sites you've been on online? That's too much.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    What if I have two misdemeanors (One Open bottle, and the other furnishing?) Should I consider some other field.

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    justinmercier13

    over 5 years ago

    120 Comments

    Word. Thank you for the information.

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    BIGDAVE1954

    over 5 years ago

    10 Comments

    Gleaning someones credit records is just plain stupid. Having a bad time of it because of an injury on or off the job 15 years ago or late on a student loan payment because your wife had cervical cancer and her treatment came first before paying a credit card bill doesn't make me a bad person. There are changes in the works concerning this so the little slimey HR types better hurry. Pretty soon you will be sued in some states for this. I wish it was that way everywhere.

  • Big_dog_avatar_85__max50

    dwell

    over 5 years ago

    32 Comments

    I did backgrounds for an agency I worked for and I think there does need to be some adjustment. In many cases, backgrounds do not allow for the applicant to challenge information obtained (at least in California). Some of those contacted can lie about an applicant because he/she has a grudge against him. When an investigator asks that "character contact" for others that can be contacted, he's referred to those who would cooberate the lie. I've come across that. If an investigator doesn't learn of it, or there's doubt, the applicant may be asked questions or may not be asked. If the applicant is turned down for failing the background, he/she is usually not told why and has already been forced to sign a waiver holding people harmless for whatever they may have said. A person should have the right to know what's been said and challenge it, if necessary. Also, people who lie about or slander an applicant should be held accountable.

    There are those who have passed backgrounds that have a shady or questionable past or just aren't mentally fit to be an officer. I remember one guy that got hired by an agency and he used to try to manipulate the snack machines for free sodas and snacks at the police academy. He later was busted out of his agency for child molestation. Go figure.

    One last thing.... Checking someone's credit, especially in today's economy isn't necessarily a sure fire way to determine if the applicant is a risk for theft or bribery. Many today have lost jobs and then their homes or fallen short of keeping up with their bills. Most people spend according to their incomes. When that's suddenly gone, they may try cash advances to keep afloat hoping to get another job. If that fails, well.... Don't judge them too quickly. Let's face it, some of the worst spenders and credit handlers have been cops. I know way too many who spend too much or are also paying child support/alimony to a former spouse and are working overtime or double jobs to keep up. They're up to their ears in credit. Does that mean they're a risk to being a bad cop? I don't think so. It comes down to moral turpitude and personal ethics. You have it or you don't. Just something to think about.

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    cgidney

    over 5 years ago

    46 Comments

    RealityCheck: Are you high??? Just because someone can come out squeeky clean on a criminal record check, doesn't mean that they should be hired as a police officer. Convicted sex offenders typically have minimal records, yet are the highest risk. just because you have never been arrested doesn't mean that you are of high moral character. I would assume that going back to your high school teachers and neighbors as well as current references might be to determine if there have been changes in your personality as you've grown up, or if there are concerning things that may justlie dormant. The agency will probably want to know if you strangled your neighbor's dog when you were 10, even if you weren't prosecuted. That person would have no business being in Law Enforcement. Personally, I think some agencies need to do far more thourough background checks. If you don't like it, go work somewhere you won't have to worry about whatever it is in your past that won't allow you to pass a background check.

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    zackster29

    over 5 years ago

    12 Comments

    Reality Check: by what you wrote, it looks like you should not be a police officer. If you can indeed find "better careers", then go find them - we won't hold it against you. I never knew of anyone who was FORCED too be a cop - we DESIRE to, and therefore are willing to put up wit the scrutiny of the background checks to achieve the staus of police officer - the best job on earth in my opinion. You seem like you will be much better suited to work for an employer who likes people who challenge everything, including the rules, making you a "difficult subordinate". There are likely to be many different "fuzzy-headed liberal" employers looking for peole just like you, seeing that the White House is full of fuzzy-headed libs right now. Cheers!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    RealityCheck

    over 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    The background checks are ridiculous and too intrusive. Applicants should not expect to have to grovel to an agency and open up their entire private lives just to get hired. It is no wonder this society has become a "police state" with paramilitary overtures. I have no problem with an agency diving into my criminal record, but to go to my neighbors, "guy who sat next to me at band", or other unknown entities with dubious unknown motives and backgrounds themselves be able to have an impact on my worthiness to join a department is ridiculously pathetic at best. Sorry folks, I can find better careers that allow my private home life to be private. I will not subjugate my inherent rights to privacy just to "qualify" my worthiness to some agency.

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