Can I Still Become a Police Officer With a Negative Event in My Past?

Written by Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.

Many people aspiring for a career in law enforcement wonder if they can become a police officer even if they have had some trouble in their past. Of course, the answer to this question is not an easy one and it really depends on what one means by “trouble.”  Fortunately, research conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics provides some answers to this question. 

The Bureau’s (2012) research found that approximately 84% of law enforcement agencies had a policy “that allowed for some applicant screening criteria to be relaxed at times within agency-specified parameters (such as severity, frequency, or time elapsed).” This means that applicants should not be deterred from applying for police positions if they have something in their history that seems to exclude them from the position.

For example the same research shows that a “majority of agencies in all size categories were willing to consider applicants with prior credit-related problems, including about 90% of those employing 100 or more officers.” Likewise, a majority of police agencies “were willing to consider applicants with a misdemeanor conviction, including more than 80% of agencies employing 100 or more officers.”

Even moderate drug use does not automatically exclude applicants from the possibility of employment. About 47 percent of police agencies “allowed the hiring of applicants with prior marijuana use, including more than 80% of agencies with 100 or more officers. Likewise, “a sixth of agencies considered hiring applicants that used illegal drugs other than marijuana, including more than half of agencies with 100 or more officers.”

A poor driving record also need not exclude an applicant from a police career. “About 4 in 10 agencies were willing to consider applicants with prior driving-related problems such as a suspended license or a conviction for driving under the influence. Nearly 9 in 10 agencies with 100 or more officers had such a policy.” The Table below presents some data police agencies positions on hiring applicants with some negative event in their backgrounds.

can I become a cop if i have used drugs or negative event graph

In short, police agencies are not closing the employment door to people with negative events in their past.

Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Associate Dean
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University


Brian A. Reaves (2012). Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical Tables. U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Published on September 10, 2013