Police Recruitment and Selection

Written by Dr. Gary Potter

There are many factors that come into play when making the decision to enter police work. First, there is job security. Second, people choose to become police officers to help people and “fight crime.” Some people think policing will lead to a life of excitement and a prestigious place in the community.

In general, starting salaries in policing are competitive with other entry level positions and benefits for police officers have improved considerably over the years. Departments vary widely in their recruiting strategies. Some departments recruit actively and even recruit across state lines. Other departments don’t prioritize recruitment and have no recruiting strategy. Some departments have begun to take advantage of social networking as a means of recruitment. Departments with a strong recruiting strategy often provide a sample test online, and present clear, up to date instructions online. When the economy is strong and jobs are plentiful recruitment is difficult. When the economy is weak, policing becomes a more attractive line of work. Police departments with strong recruitment initiatives recognize who their competition for personnel is and offer salaries and benefits accordingly

All departments have minimum requirements. With regard to education:

  • 1% require a 4-year degree;
  • 15% require some college (45 to 60 hours); and,
  • The rest require a high school degree or GED.

All departments require proportionate height and weight. Some departments have a residency requirement (an officer must be able to respond to a call into work within a certain time frame). In addition a battery of examinations and investigations are also common:

  • Written examination—general aptitude test;
  • Background investigation—candidates must consent to department personnel checking employment, driving, credit, drug, and criminal history;
  • Physical ability—a test based on job related physical needs (endurance, balance, jumping, climbing, lifting, and running);
  • Polygraph examination—answer a variety of questions about past behavior;
  • Appointing authority interview—one or more officers would set on the questioning board;
  • Psychological examination—interview with a clinical psychologist to determine psychological fitness; and,
  • Medical examination—vision, hearing, general fitness.

Most departments are good at screening out clearly unqualified individuals but not very good at screening in the recruits that will make good officers. The majority of police departments attempt to recruit as many applicants as possible because only 5% to 10% of applicants graduate from the academy. Recently many departments have lowered their background requirements. This has led to some departments finding they have hired felons.

The first century of policing did not include any training. Officers were given a badge and a baton and told to go to work. Today there is formal training consisting of academy training, field training officers, and a probationary period during which the officer is closely evaluated. Larger departments have their own academies and smaller departments use area or statewide academies. The academy includes training in traffic, penal code, constitutional law, human relations, problem solving, and resolution skills. Unfortunately war stories are far too common in most academy training settings. As a result recruits learn that when the department notices you it is usually to punish not to praise. Some academies include physical training. After the academy, the rookie is assigned to a field training officer who evaluates the rookie. The officer is then placed on probation for between six months to two years. During this time the officer can be dismissed without cause.

Published on April 16, 2013