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Book excerpt: Applicant to Police Cadet

Learn how to avoid the hiring process pitfalls that plague so many and skyrocket to the top of any police hiring list

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Veteran officer outlines how to navigate the police hiring process.

The following is excerpted from my book, “Applicant to Police Cadet: How to Navigate the Police Hiring Process,” which helps potential police recruits understand how to be a standout applicant, as well as how to pick the agency that best suits the candidate.

The Hiring Process

Before we get too far into this, and before you start spending hundreds of dollars on paper, ink and copies, you need to ask yourself these critical questions.

  • Are you a convicted felon?
  • Have you ever been convicted of domestic/family violence?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then under federal law and many state laws you will be unable to possess a firearm, which is a basic requirement to be a police officer. This is an unchangeable reality of the profession.

So, you’ve asked yourself the questions and determined that you meet the minimum requirements to submit an application. That being the case, you’ll then need to take these key nuggets of information to heart as you embark on your own application journey.

The first little nugget of information will be to understand that there is a selection process and a precursory elimination process. Most likely, you haven’t heard of too many police departments that have more vacancies then applicants. However, it does happen, and it is actually becoming a much more common occurrence in recent times. Still, many police departments utilize various criteria to eliminate potential candidates before they ever begin the process. For example, let’s say that you have a criminal record or a history of drug abuse, and you are honest and list it on your application.

In addition, there are nine other applicants with cleaner records or less serious crimes than you, who are also applying for a total of six openings. Unfortunately, nine times out of 10, especially in small to medium departments, you’ll be eliminated. The department has never personally met you and probably never will. It’s a tough reality, one that you’ll likely have to face at some point if you fall into one of those categories. Remember, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or unfit to be a cop; it only means you were young and dumb once as a teen or a young adult, and you made some mistakes. Just be honest and be persistent; eventually, it will work out for you.

Another key point during the hiring process is to manage and organize your personal documents and applications. Make sure you have two storage methods; the first is a sturdy folder or binder with multiple copies of all of your diplomas, degrees, DD 214s, birth certificate, etc. The second is to digitize all of the same documents and have them stored electronically in a folder on your computer and a secure thumb drive. Today, many departments are moving away from paper applications and are converting to electronic applications (E-Apps).

Police department applications are extensive; be prepared to undergo an history search about your life.

You’ll need to collect the names, contact numbers, and addresses of the people you’re going to use as references. In addition, you’ll need the addresses of every place you’ve ever lived, and the dates and how long you resided there. You’ll also need to provide every place you’ve ever worked along with the dates and supervisor contacts. (The Social Security Office has something called an earnings statement that can help you remember all of the jobs you’ve had over the years.)

Getting into the habit of keeping good records will pay dividends and make your application process that much smoother. Especially if you are applying to multiple agencies, your answers and information should remain the same. This is critical as agencies will often contact other departments you’ve applied to in order to determine if the information you provided is consistent.

Applying to Departments

At this point, you have your documents, references, and contacts organized, and copies and electronic versions saved and on standby. You’re now ready to begin the initial application process – the first step in your journey to the police academy.

Once you have the application in hand, do yourself a favor and SLOW DOWN! Take some time to look over the application. Well before you set pen to paper, carefully read the questions in the application packet and begin formulating responses in your head.

On that note, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! The initial application is also the initial elimination process. Departments often hide weird and obscure instructions in their application packets, anything from a certain color ink to use to a certain way they want you to handle blank spaces. Again, before putting pen to paper, read the instructions carefully. This is often the department’s first test of an applicant’s attention to detail.

As you go through your application, remember neatness and legibility count. If you make a mistake on a page, print a new one and start over. Illegible handwriting and pages filled with whiteout will increase your odds of being eliminated, and you don’t want that.

Applications can and will cover a wide variety of topics, and they will all be about you, both the good and the bad. Remember, always fill out the application as thoroughly and as honestly as possible.

Take your time filling out the application; spend a few days to ensure that you have completed it to the best of your ability. Two of the most troublesome areas applicants find themselves in when it comes to applications is their employment history and criminal involvement. In addition, even if you can’t remember particulars about a previous job, write it down in your application. You never want to appear as if you’ve omitted anything about your history.

The same goes for your past citations and arrests; list everything, including the maybes, and list them in detail. During the background investigation, the investigators are going to find any dirt on you. They will speak to friends of friends of friends just to find something you may have omitted. If they find something you tried to hide, whether a traffic ticket or a juvenile offense, it will be heavily weighted against you. Honestly, it will probably lead to you being dropped from the hiring process and banned for life from ever reapplying. So,



Xavier Wells is the founder of Cadet, Rookie, Cop, LLC, created to fill training gaps for new officers. He is an active Texas peace officer, disabled veteran and author of four books: “The Rookie Handbook,” “Applicant to Police Cadet,” “Graduating with Honors” and “Expert Witness.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration from Liberty University. Currently, Xavier works patrol and serves as an adjunct defensive tactics instructor for his department.