I am nowhere near an expert in the law enforcement hiring process. I have failed more than 20 times and only succeeded once, however, the opportunities I have observed might be able to help agencies hire and give those otherwise qualified candidates a second chance.

The Cone of Secrecy

Time and time again, candidates get disqualified and sometimes do not understand why. What is the purpose behind not providing feedback to these applicants? I will be using my own situation here as an example, which would have saved me more than 20 applications over the last six years.

Having never been arrested, or done any drugs, I have a relatively clean background. I have no secrets in the hiring process. Back when I was 20 (I am 28 now), my vehicle was broken into and items stolen. Not using better judgement, I added a few items on the claim to afford the repairs to my vehicle following the incident. This could not have been more than $250-400 of falsely added items.

In my home state all officers are certified by the state. Our state certification policy on seven years time and distance from this type self-reported undetected crime. No department ever explained that to me, which left me creating my second biggest mistake in the hiring process, a lot of rejection from multiple agencies.

Just like letter of the law and spirt of the law, does this policy of not providing feedback to your applicants who made it this far, do more harm than good?

Rules and Regulations That Do Not Make Sense

I learned of the above seven-year rule back in January 2019 (the offense occurred in December 2010) from a recruiter who had my spot reserved for the upcoming police academy. Turns out there was more to this seven-year rule than I knew.

August 2017 our state police sent my packet to our certification body for a read. They turned me down. The sheriff’s office that now had my spot reserved shed some light. Per our certification board, it is 7 years from first discovery to a law enforcement agency or from the time they are notified. I had been honest from the start of all my applications by filling this one undetected crime out on every application. There must have been a mistake I thought.

I then followed the sergeant’s advice by reaching out to our certification board. Here I learned that all (unsuccessful) sworn applicants’ packets must be shredded after three years from date of application. Our certification board does not keep track of civilians, which means they have no documentation from when they were first notified of the undetected crime. The response I received to my next line of inquiry alarmed me. It was the candidate’s responsibility to keep a copy of the post packet to provide to their background investigator to prove the seven-year rule. I followed up by asking, how do you authenticate that the packet I am showing a background investigator to be accurate if you require the departments to shred after three years?

I reached back out to our state police, hoping that something from 2011 (when I first started applying with them) had fallen through the cracks. They had the next best thing, a volunteer packet I had filled out from 2013, which shows I made discovery then. Their recruiting sergeant and his major were amazing for helping navigate the process to get a certified copy by them. I am now eligible by our state certification board by August of 2020. A little over a one year wait to follow my dreams.

Do the current state, county, and local regulations put unnecessary red tape for our applicants?

The Hiring Process Reimagined

The most important thing your candidate should have is integrity, followed by heart. It is heart that will not only keep a recruit going through the academy, but it is also that same heart that will help them survive a lifelong career in law enforcement. It is having heart, that kept my dad putting on the uniform after investigating heinous crimes, like the murder of two young children. It is heart that keeps every officer going after losing a fallen brother or sister.

Having been through many departments hiring processes in my home state, and one out of state (this is where I received my only offer), I have seen some different variations of the hiring process. What I am about to propose should help you find the candidate with heart, the candidates who fail 20 times and apply again, the future officer who will serve his community with honor.

The normal process would still stand, written test, physical abilities test, background investigation, polygraph and medical. The addition would be to have a one-month interim academy. This would be volunteer, one Saturday a month, and of course, with a liability release waiver to please the lawyers. Each Saturday, you put your candidates through scenarios, through having drill instructors in their faces, etc. The final Saturday, they ride with a senior officer or field training officer. By involving an FTO or senior officer, you are not only allowing them the opportunity to provide input on the people who will serve with them, but this offers individual development opportunity for them. Your officers now feel like they have more of a say in the happenings at the department. You also get a first-hand view to your candidate’s heart before sending them off to the academy (assuming your agency uses a joint academy).

Finally, provide feedback. Providing feedback could save your candidate from making a background mistake (such as applying too much) and shows them that your department cares about their success. Remember, they are not just a former applicant, they are still a member of your community. You now have a vocal community member who can say that their department cares about them and the community.

In Closing

I am well aware I am a second chance candidate. I had my chance in 2014, but had messed up my knee two weeks before the academy and subsequently withdrew. What keeps me driving on is my first real experience with the police. I was 11 when I witnessed a homicide. I ran home to get my father, “he is a policeman, he can fix anything”. It was that experience with the local PD that made me want to pursue this career, I want to be the sheep dog that protects the flock.

I now leave you with this question, can we improve our hiring processes?

– Michael Zananiri, MA-Emergency Management & Homeland Security