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Getting the best recruits to take your entry-level police exam

If we really want to attract the brightest and best qualified to our profession how should we do it? Here are some ideas

In my October article about recruiting and selecting candidates for the position of police officer I expressed the opinion that although we now allow candidates who have used marijuana (but not sold it) to enter the candidate pool, I knew of no department that allowed candidates to apply who have used harder narcotics.

Oh boy, was I wrong!

I received a slew of e-mails from readers advising me that their departments allow candidates to apply who admitted to having used meth, coke, or dope. Apparently, it depends on when the drug or narcotic was used — the line in the sand is the sale of drugs. To say that I found these e-mails “disturbing” is an understatement. I wonder whether human resources personnel have ever heard of the term vicarious liability.

I fully understand that allowing people to apply does not mean they will not be vetted during the written, medical, physical agility, polygraph, background, and oral examinations. I feel that the lack of a strict rule prohibiting those admitting to drug use from applying is just another nail in the coffin for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to a way of life in which high standards and ethical behavior are the cornerstones of our profession.

While the response regarding drug use policies in department hiring are disheartening, I’m still convinced that there are untapped reservoirs of quality young men and women across the fruited plain that have what it takes to be one of us. Should a 22-year-old candidate who admitted to smoking a marijuana cigarette at age 16 be eliminated from the process? We all can have an individual option on that, but when it comes time to selecting men and women to join our ranks, that’s what the selection process is all about — to “weigh the pros and cons” of each candidate against a set standards. We do that in the medical exam, physical agility test, psychological test, background investigation, oral test, and chief’s interview.

As a retired police captain and now the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at a college here in Connecticut, I’m in daily contact with just the type of people we are looking for. I’m often surprised that it’s rare a police department contacts me or visits the campus during their recruiting drives. The most I get is a form letter in bulk mail with a test announcement and maybe a poor-quality brochure.

So, if we really want to attract the brightest and best qualified to our profession how should we do it? Here are some ideas:


1. The Chief of Police should establish the recruitment and training of officers as one of the primary goals of the department. It’s so important that there should be a written policy and procedure (with specific objectives) on police officer recruitment.
2. Form a recruitment team. Staff it with the right people, make recruitment a part of the police budget, provide a person of rank and credibility to oversee police recruitment, and recognize that every member of the department should be encouraged to recruit new officers.
3. Design a proactive, state-of-the-art, Web site dedicated specifically to recruitment. As I mentioned in my previous article, in addition to containing information on the qualifications needed to apply, when and where to submit applications, as well as salary and benefits, the Web site should use the type of robust advertising featured by our armed forces. Play the bagpipes in the background; highlight young officers doing a variety of job tasks, (canine, swat team with officers repelling down a wall; cops at the local high school, etc. Show the departments color guard marching in formation, throw in some forensic crime scene activities and cops interrelating with the community. Provide a 20-question sample entry-level test in the same way they do at the motor vehicle department. Provide a telephone number to reach a member of the recruitment team and make certain the phone is answered and/or candidates are gotten back to promptly.
4. Create a recruitment video. The video should not be more than eight to ten minutes long and designed to be played both on the department Web site and when making site visits. It also should be reproduced as part of a mass-mail campaign for colleges and universities.
5. Develop a quality brochure. Have salary projections over five years or so, benefits, retirement, the application process, a business card with a recruiters name and contact number, etc.
6. Almost every community college and university now has a criminal justice program. Each program has a person in charge of it. Go on the web, look up the college, and click on Criminal Justice. Contact the Director of the Criminal Justice Program or Department Chair to arrange to make a class presentation or set up an informational booth.
7. Contact area television and radio and ask for a free spot for recruitment of officers. Most states have some sort of commercial Internet-generated process to post test announcements and dates and times of exams. Get on the list!

Taking Control of the Examination Process
I routinely create and administer police exams. All begin with a job task analysis and creation of a written examination with a writing exemplar. In more progressive departments, I’m able to throw some assessment center testing methodologies into the process. However, for some reason civil service or human resource personnel believe they are either the only ones who can administer a police entry level test, or that the person who created the test must do it. The reason cited is test integrity and security. When I ask them to show me a federal or court decision relative to test administration they cannot. Typically they just fall back on “that’s the way we do it” type of reply.

I would give the test and the answer analysis to the commander of the recruitment team. The test can be administered by any member of the recruitment team, anywhere, at any time. After receiving an application and a fee to take the test (this can range anywhere between $50.00 and $200.00), I see no reason it can’t be given at the department or on site. The Chief needs to make this happen in meetings with the city or town human resources director.

Attracting Minority Candidates
If one of the objectives of recruiting is to attract qualified minority candidates (African/Americans, Hispanics, and Women) have your corporation counsel, city attorney, civil service, or human resource director research whether testing incentives may be granted.

What court case or personnel rule prohibits adding points to an applicant’s final score if our goal is to attract minority candidates? Why can’t we add veteran preference points if we believe that a veteran’s service record in the armed forces indicates knowledge, skill, ability, or personal characteristic we consider to be predictive of success as a police officer? If residency in a town or city is important why can’t we offer an incentive? If we want people who speak Spanish and they can take a language test indicating that they are truly bilingual, why can’t we add two, three, or five points to their final score?

Let’s be frank. Unless a department has a large pool of qualified minority candidates at the officer level, what are the proportionate chances we will see African/American, Hispanic, or female Sergeants, Lieutenant, Captains, Deputy Chief’s and Chief’s of Police?

Is it important? I think so. Do you?

Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet

Career expert teaches how to prepare for and excel on police promotion examinations.