How to prepare America's next generation of police officers

Police departments must start recruiting the next generation of officers early in their teenage-adult development to prevent some of the mistakes others have encountered

Article updated on July 2, 2018

With the declining interest in a law enforcement career over the past few years and the difficulties of finding qualified candidates who pass a fully vetted background check, agencies nationwide are experiencing problems recruiting police officers.

Law enforcement needs to start taking a closer look at the next generation of potential police officers before they are of an age where they can apply. By the time these hopeful candidates have reached the appropriate age, many will have something in their background that may preclude them from being hired. At the time of the disqualifying action, the candidate may not have known or fully understood the consequences of their actions. They might be good candidates other for some questionable behavior that might have been prevented if they had known better.

Workshops for next-generation officers
I am part of a group that started an 8-hour “Law Enforcement Candidate Workshop” in conjunction with West Valley College in Saratoga, California, a few years back. The workshop was designed to help college students in the Administration of Justice Department understand the police application and hiring process.

The workshop included four hours of lecture about the various steps a candidate can expect to face during the process. Students were asked to take an honest look at themselves and their suitability for the law enforcement profession. Students were then sequentially guided through the different specific tests they typically encounter. Students began by learning about the written test and were offered guidance, resources and some sample questions on how to best prepare.

We then reviewed a possible essay-type question, underlining the importance of having basic English skills. The lack of these basic skills is a clear problem with many teenagers. After giving them a practice paragraph to write while it was being read to them, we corrected the paragraph as a group.

Students then learned about the physical agility course they must pass based on state standards. Standardized tests include the 6-foot wall, dummy drag and obstacle course. We discussed each of the various tests and some of the specific tests that area agencies require for employment. These supplemental tests include timed push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run.

The oral board process was covered next with some sample questions presented.

After the lecture portion of the workshop, students headed out to the field to see and practice the individual exercises in the physical agility test. The students were then coached and evaluated on each skill.

Honesty and integrity in law enforcement
Concepts of honesty and integrity are at the core of such a course. Students learn that some things in their background can be forgiven if enough time has passed, but lying about an incident is unacceptable. This is a mistake many potential candidates make.

The background process should be discussed in detail. Prior to the workshop, students completed the California POST Personal History Statement, which is available online. This is merely an exercise to demonstrate the depth of the background investigation potential candidates go through. This became a valuable reference resource for the students as they moved forward with their career in law enforcement. Students also learned about the polygraph exam, psychological exam and medical examination.

Recruiting earlier
Students have reaped the benefits of this workshop. Several of them have been successfully hired and reported that the workshop was extremely helpful in the process. Other students realized that they were not ready and that some had made mistakes that would preclude them from being hired in law enforcement.

It is important for agencies to start recruiting the next generation of officers early in their teenage-adult development. A program for next-generation officers should begin with high school students who have expressed interest in law enforcement. The goal is that by setting expectations early with these students, that immature mistakes can be avoided for those who are truly serious about becoming police officers.

So, the question remains for agencies: how do we attract better prepared, qualified and viable candidates? We believe that setting the goals, objectives and expectations early can be part of the solution. This can be accomplished by getting the information to potential candidates early. Those who want to become part of the profession will hopefully take notice and eventually become great candidates.

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