Law enforcement is an essential part of our society. Police officers work hard to preserve peace and safety among their fellow citizens. Because they play such a crucial role, only the safest, most trustworthy individuals should be able to join the police force. To help ensure this, police agencies customize a police background check process that’s strict and thorough for every new officer they hire. This investigation gathers information from criminal records, employment and education history, the candidate’s friends and family, and other resources to make sure they are a good fit for this important job. We’re here to answer questions like, “can you be a cop with an assault charge,” and, “what disqualifies you from being a police officer?” Here’s a list of the top police background check disqualifiers that agencies look for when hiring new law enforcement officers.
A criminal history check is one of the cornerstones of the police background screening process. This is a fairly straightforward part of the process. If there is a felony conviction in the candidate’s criminal record, their application may stop there, as felonies are a common police background check disqualifier. A guilty plea to a felony will also greatly reduce the chances of becoming a police officer. It’s important to remember that some crimes are characterized differently in different jurisdictions. Say a candidate has pled guilty to a misdemeanor in their current jurisdiction, but the jurisdiction in which they’re applying categorizes that crime as a felony. Their guilty plea counts as a felony conviction in the eyes of the police agency that’s hiring them.
In general, misdemeanors are less severe than felonies, but there are a few serious misdemeanors that will keep a candidate off the force. The definition of a serious misdemeanor isn’t as precise as that of a felony, and it often changes from agency to agency. However, crimes such as driving under the influence, assault, and perjury may disqualify a candidate. If a candidate has a history of violence, theft, or recklessness, they likely don’t uphold the values that make a respectable officer.
Unreported Past Crimes
Even the most qualified police officers make mistakes, and many crimes go unpunished. If a candidate has committed a crime but never faced arrest or conviction because of it, that information can still come up in a law enforcement background check. Agencies often take undetected or unreported crimes as seriously as actual convictions. This is another way for a police agency to ensure that they are hiring safe, responsible, and law-abiding citizens to be on their force.
While most violent crimes will keep a candidate from law enforcement, convictions of domestic violence are in a realm of their own. This is a crime that stands in complete contrast to the values and responsibilities of a police force and is one of the biggest police background check disqualifiers. If an officer has a history of domestic violence, the public can’t trust them to protect victims of that same crime. If any incident of domestic violence appears on a candidate’s record, the agency will likely ban them from the force.
Current or Past Drug Use
Many jobs test for current drug use or a history of substance abuse. Drug-free employees offer a better chance for a safe and dependable workplace, no matter what the job is. This same idea applies to law enforcement. While some police agencies have recently become more forgiving regarding past minor drug use, there is still a hard rule against more severe substances like cocaine or hallucinogens. A history of recreational use or drug dependency is another factor that will prevent most individuals from entering the police force.
Dishonorable Discharge from the Military
Military service and law enforcement are relatively similar career paths, and as such, they follow many of the same standards. Because of this, many employers and agencies value a candidate’s past military service. However, dishonorable discharge from the military is one of the top police background check disqualifiers. A dishonorable discharge occurs when an active member of the military commits a serious offense, such as an act of violence or desertion. This offense carries over into a law enforcement career, and agencies may automatically discard a candidate who has received this sentence.
Poor Credit History
Credit checks are another common step to the background screening process. While a candidate’s credit history is most important in jobs that deal with finances—such as bankers or accountants—it’s still a good indication of an individual’s responsibility and judgment. If someone has good credit, you know they handle their money in a smart and dependable manner. On the other hand, a poor credit history may indicate poor decisions or a failure to meet financial obligations. While law enforcement doesn’t necessarily involve handling finances, these behaviors can be indicative of larger issues. Since most agencies want only the most dependable employees on their staff, they may hold potential officers with a successful credit history in higher esteem.
Poor Driving Record
Minor traffic violations are a common occurrence among drivers—after all, no one’s perfect. However, serious or reoccurring driving offenses show recklessness and disregard for the law—two qualities that have no place in a potential police officer. Traffic violations that can disqualify a potential police officer include a license suspension, a DUI or other type of reckless driving conviction, or a record of multiple moving violations.
Poor Employment History
Employment history plays a role in every job application, no matter what field you’re in. Employers look at a candidate’s employment history to learn more about what types of jobs they’ve had and what kind of employee they’ve been. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to have a poor recommendation or dead-end job in their history. These are sometimes related to unfortunate events like personality conflicts or other easily explained mishaps. However, a history of poor recommendations or short-lived jobs is a common red flag for employers.
False or Incomplete Application Information
As with any type of job, it’s important for potential employees to be as honest and forthcoming as possible during the police background check process, as well as on their application. False or incomplete information on an application or resume raises a few red flags for employers, who will likely wonder what their candidate is hiding. Honesty and integrity are vital in the criminal justice field, so police agencies keep an eye out for anyone who doesn’t follow these principles throughout the application process.
It’s important for police agencies to keep an eye out for these incidents and behaviors throughout the hiring process. By enlisting the help of a professional background screening company, agencies can ensure that every member of their force is committed to upholding both the law and its values. PSI Background Screening helps agencies, companies, and other employers hire the best candidates for their teams, thus creating a safer and more successful workforce, no matter what field they’re in.