Training >> Browse Articles >> Career Advice


Avoid Recruiting Police Garbage

Avoid Recruiting Police Garbage

By Richard B. Weinblatt

“Garbage in, garbage out.” That old saying captures why the recruitment of quality people into law enforcement is so important. After all, all street-level law enforcers want their backup officer to be good at a complex and dangerous job. Now, that’s not to say that training doesn’t have its priority, but we all know marginal officers who’ve somehow slipped through the cracks and successfully entered the field. No amount of remedial field training officer stints will overcome their limitations.

So what is that stops some people, who may otherwise be ok, from getting through the intensive copper selection process? What should applicants do to make themselves appealing to the gate-keepers of LEO jobs: police chiefs, sheriffs, police academy managers, and law enforcement agency recruiters? And how can recruiters avoid recruiting garbage?

From the recruiters’ perspective, otherwise promising applicants sometimes stumble in the hiring process on items over which at least at some point they have control. In the scramble for quality law enforcement officers, there are those individuals that you scratch your head and say “he (or she) would have been a great cop if it weren’t for X issue.”

Getting a job in law enforcement is not easy. While there are many people out there that aspire to pin on that shiny star, shield or oval, few land on the sheriff or police chief’s A list of hirable prospects. Here’s where knowing what the hiring honchos want to see comes in.

Changing applicants

The folks that go for law enforcement jobs have changed in recent years. There has been a shift from before.

“We see people that have a distorted view of law enforcement,” said Sergeant James McDonald, recruitment unit supervisor for the Orlando Police Department.

Sitting in an envious recruiter position in the land of Mickey in sunny Florida, the 16-year law enforcement veteran oversees a five person recruitment office that draws a wide cross section of aspiring O-Town officers from across the nation. That mega draw enables him and his recruiting colleagues in the Sunshine State to get a good feel for the national applicant pool.

McDonald explained that the media alters the reality people have of the job. He said that many of their 2,000 applicants per year, who are gunning for the 40 openings in the 942-employee agency, want to be in investigations right away and skip the backbone of policing, patrol. In the same vein, he pointed out that those exiting the military are looking for a SWAT position immediately.

“Before, it was the generation of ‘what can I do for the agency.’ Now, it’s ‘what can the agency do for me,’” lamented Officer Nigel Price, the recruiter for the Sanford, Florida, Police Department. “They don’t understand that a good law enforcement officer wears many hats including that of law enforcer, counselor, best friend, and community mentor.”

Price, a proud member of the U.S. Marine Corps before his cop job in the 116 sworn officer agency, pointed out “the only conflict many applicants have dealt with is on PlayStation 2.”

Price and the other police recruitment gurus said that strong interpersonal skills, garnered through life’s experiences, makes for a strong candidate. “A lot of young people have few inter-personal skills. You see that in the interview portion,” said Price who added that most applicants fail the Sanford Police Department’s oral board.

Many of the applicants are kids out of high school or college with zero work history. Price observed that the inexperience hurts them when they apply. McDonald said that the opposite also is bad.

“We see 20 year olds with 20 jobs in their employment history. What kind of stability does that demonstrate?” McDonald asked rhetorically. “Those that are successful with us have a background of responsible behavior and ideally a combination of military and educational credentials.”

Recruits that have military or college in their past are definitely sought after by recruiters. “Those individuals have longevity and don’t tend to jump around,” said Price.

College helps in a variety of ways including passing written examinations. The Orlando Police Department exemplifies the importance of the education issue with 50% failing the civil service exam.

In this age of online and flexible on-campus educational opportunities, there is little excuse not to go for a degree. However, applicants can hurt their chances if they undertake coursework from an educational institution that is of questionable repute. Transcripts or degrees from a diploma mill are worse than not having that resume line at all.

The lower exodus in recent years of military personnel has hurt the law enforcement applicant pool. The pinch is especially acute when it comes to minorities and females. In fact, those two target demographics are the only ones that Orlando has to reach out to in order to meet their recruitment goals. They do so by targeting recruitment forays at historically black colleges and military installations.

Integrity and character issues also make the list of problems that knock people out of contention for cop jobs. Falling expectations of departments are reflected in lowered standards in some agencies. It used to be that there was zero tolerance for drug use, speeding, and DUI. Now, those issues have been relegated to sliding scale formulas in a lot of agencies.

The hiring standard battle rages in many agencies. On the one hand, pressure exists to meet the staffing shortfalls by making it easier to gain entry into the profession. The flip side encompasses those that believe it is better to hire only those that meet long-established criteria for LEOs.

While the debate is framed as an issue of quality versus quantity, some contend that even the quality approach is not as it seems. Some view the “dings” and “dents” in the armor as examples of life’s experiences that make for a well-rounded and more empathetic patrol officer.

For some departments, issues such as so-called minor drug use experimentation are less of an issue if the use was limited and was anywhere from five to ten years ago. For just about all agencies nationwide, any hard drug use, transport or sale of illegal substances results in the application heading for the shredder.

Driving history is a newer disqualifier that has made the recruiter’s lot more difficult. Amid concerns of liability for the hiring of an employee who drives for hours on end, sometimes at high speeds, the track record of the aspiring police car driver becomes important.

Bad credit also looms as an issue that torpedoes many swimming in the applicant pool. Recruiters look at impulsivity or irresponsibility with credit as an indicator of future behavior as an officer. As Price pointed out, “new officers tend to be impulsive.”

Beyond the obvious tales of dishonesty and omission problems listed by recruiters across the country, another big issue stops wannabe law enforcers in their tracks. A lack of respect, organization, and care on the part of applicants are hampering their success. It manifests itself simply as they fail to read the paperwork and that lack of care hurts their chances.

By paying attention to the details, the recruiters and law enforcement execs can see a person who cares and wants to do their best. All of the long-term educational, training, employment, and character pluses will be subtracted if the application is incomplete, messy, or worse yet, contain lies and omissions.

Bottom line, the recruiters’ job should be to avoid taking garbage into the agency, so that they do not end up churning garbage out onto the street in a cruiser. Recruiters are looking for squared away individuals who have a track record of responsible behavior. Cops on the street also are hoping for quality recruits that could eventually evolve into quality law enforcement professionals.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 2 years ago


    Im not sure as to where I stand in this. I am in the last few months of my army service and am looking into becoming a LEO in Orlando. Sure I do have 5 years of military under my belt but, my past life I was a bit reckless. From the age of 16-19 I acquired 17 traffic violations, moving and non moving. My last citation was in 2007 and now at 25 almost 26 I have been citation free since. I would like to say that I have matured tremendously and have went above and beyond during my military service. I have tremendous amount of training and feel that I would be a valued asset but, im just not sure if my past would hurt my chances.

  • Bike_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Good article. Nice to see things from a recruiters point of view.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article, definitely helps someone looking into law enforcement as a career.

  • Th_detective_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I was always amazed at the applicants who became upset or angry when they were told that their arrest record (for CDS or criminal acts) had DQ'd them from the hiring process. They could not understand how a single armed robbery or possession of Heroin over a year in the past could hurt their chances of getting their "Dream Job". We still need to cull the herd and be as selective as possible to keep the high standards of our profession where they need to be!

  • Snoopy-cool_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Azmeangreen- time out cards for feeling too stressed? Are you serious? LOL! I am changing to law enforcement from healthcare.My biggest mistake was doing something that my heart wasn't into just to satisfy my family. They were always adamantly opposed to their daughter being a cop.I finally got to a point where I have to do this. I have to make this change. I have 35 years left until retirement and I can't spend that time not doing what I really want. It's a paycut but life isn't all about money. I would rather make a little less and feel happy, content, and satisfied with my career. That is SO important to me. I know that LEO is a really tough job, but I think it will be worth it. I have been hired already but had to withdraw because I wasn't ready for the paycut. I went through "Hell Week" (first week in academy) and now I will have to do it all over again. It will be so worth it. I just hope that the hiring process won't take as long next time since they already have my file and I have rank as my references. Those time out cards are madness. If you can't deal with instructors up in your face screaming and cursing you, then how will you handle the real world? Border Patrol seems to be very stressful to me. I'm sure that many people who are trying to illegally gain entrance to this country have NOT been angels down there in their native country.

  • 383_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Just the article I looking for. I too am looking to a career change to law enforcment and this aricle really helped me understand what recruiters are looking for and the changes I need to make.

  • Img_20140823_202523_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Great article, thanks. I'm looking to make a career change from retail sales to law enforcement so thank you.

  • Image001_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Steck I agree with you on the point that the most qualified be hired and not the color code. Saying that I also believe that there are departments that only see the color of the appls skin and not the person that they will be on the street. I once saw a college grad (PhD) come out of the academy #1 in in his class. He aced every exam, looked great in his uniform, hit the street that first night and at the end of that first shift quit the department and said that the job was just to hard for him to handle. So I am a great believer that college can make or break a good cop, as you said sometimes it is just good old STREET SMARTS that count.

  • Image001_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Great information, very informative....

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 7 years ago

    I think it was an decent article, but as someone who does backgrounds, which make or break applicants futures, I feel some of the standards for police officer can be too demanding, and we lose several good possible candidates. I for one understand the importance for someone who has a college education, however, we all know there is little gained from most professors who preach theory and rehabilitation that actually apply to the street. It does show maturity, but I feel it may make some administrators overlook someone with good street sense. I know of several departments that have very intelligent officers who never mispell a word, and can add up the amount of property lost in a burglary in a matter of seconds, but they don't have the first clue on trying to read a crime scene or a suspect during an interview, and they often allow a suspect on a stop walk all over them. I also feel the article lacks in the area of race. How are most departments dealing with the pressures from society to hire minorities, simply because their dept. is mostly white males. I've heard several agencies actually turn down qualified applicants because they are white and male, because the agency feels they need more females and minorities to help with their public perception. I feel that is another injustice which causes us to hire less qualified applicants or bypass qualified ones. To me, that is no better than someone being bypassed simply because they are a female or a minority. Our goal should be to hire the best applicant regardless of their race, sex, or religious background. I think I read somewhere that all Americans are created equal, but I guess some departments forget that when conducting the hiring process. Several departments are being criticized because they don't recruit enough, but I believe this is a profession where recruiting people who haven't always wanted to be a cop, brings in candidates who will most likely be mediocre LEO's. What does everyone else think?

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 7 years ago


    Very well stated...It must be of one's character to stand for the truth..and stand against odds of those who have no depth of the "eye"...Details, and more is truly to be, engrained in the person who puts on the uniform to reflect a force that stands for "peace and justice"....It's the fashion of what was taught...It's becoming aware of the numeral deeds of preparing for that day....discipline is stay above disarray..but much is the lack of thought..for each generation has values that are molded from rules they live by...apart of respect we look for in demeanor... the way one carries himself and communicates oneself above the floor.....respect use to be held in accountability.... not to act or say, without being told by the given consent of authority...Not many of our young today can do this...they maybe quick on the draw to play the nintendo games, but I do see actions that supercede their discipline and control...After 30 years in the service, many tell me..they're not going to let someone tell them what to do no matter how big they are, or what they carry...tough talk but this is real...Most could not handle the ill treatment, most could not handle the games we play..nor to stand alone when your friends turn away..its all about a respect of self, and those who came from a time where you knew your weren't a mold of societies face..but a mold of discipline and consciousness.....Apache

  • Xd9201large_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Good read, Very informative, Thank You.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 7 years ago


    This is a great article I learned quite abit

  • Img0004vz8_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Good read! couldn't agree more.

  • Reales_ferdinand_vii_max50


    over 7 years ago


    I think your strict standards are viable and most reliable means of setting standards, but your case-by-case review of applicants is what gives you a better selection for candidates over all. I personally don’t have a shinny record, but now I can relate to a wide range of human behaviors, I am self aware and can make clear moral decisions, I know what I want and don’t, I can survive extreme situations, on top of being fit and skilled in combat, loyalty, GOD fearing and I am educated. So would you use my past as a crutch or a tactical advantage to understand the enemy and equip your self for the fight.

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.

Recent Activity

Hootiewho00 received the quiz result of "You passed with flying colors", 35 minutes ago.
rahasia uploaded the photo: "10430893_1608978619389407_2495887934498698234_n", 37 minutes ago.
SE851 posted in: "The Beagle Has Landed", about 1 hour ago.
uncledennis1 posted in: "Relapse while on probation", about 1 hour ago.
military2009 received the quiz result of "You passed with flying colors", about 1 hour ago.