The police officer should have the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the strength of Samson, the patience of Job, the leadership of Moses, the kindness of the Good Samaritans, the strategy of Alexander, the faith of Daniel, the diplomacy of Lincoln, the tolerance of the carpenter of Nazareth, and finally an intimate knowledge of every branch of the natural, biological, and social sciences. If one has all these attributes, they might be a good officer. (Vollmer 1936, 222)

Police services are determined primarily by the quality of personnel, and police agencies’ operating costs reflect the importance. Between 80% and 90% of an agency’s budget is for police salaries, with the annual operating cost per officer at $85,786 (Reaves and Hickman 2002).

Local governments spend $50.7 billion, the federal government spends approximately $15 billion, and state governments spend approximately $10.5 billion annually for police services. In the past 20 years, the per capita expenditure at all governmental levels increased 202% for police protection (Bauer and Owens 2004).

The ratio of sworn officers to citizens varies. For large police agencies there are between twenty-three and thirty-one sworn personnel per ten thousand citizens, with Washington, D.C., having the highest ratio at sixty-three per ten thousand citizens (Reeves and Hickman 2002). County and sheriff agencies average fourteen officers per ten thousand, and state agencies approximately two officers per ten thousand citizens (Reeves and Hart 2000).

Entrance Requirements

The level of performance of each officer is determined in advance by agencies’ recruiting and training standards. On the average, for each individual hired, ten applicants are screened out (Leonard and Moore 1993). Criteria for entrance will vary across jurisdictions, but there are a number of qualifications that are fairly typical. Others are more controversial.

Residency requirement. Some departments require residency before an individual can apply, for example, having lived in the city for one year or more at the time of applying. Other agencies require officers to live within the jurisdiction or city limits once they are hired.

Level of education. The percentage of departments requiring new officers to have at least some college has risen to 37%, and those agencies requiring two-year or four-year college educations have grown to 14% (Reaves and Hickman 2002).

Physical requirements. Height and weight requirements have been discarded. Now the physical requirements must be job related and are usually measured with agility testing and weight proportional to height (Smith v. Troyan 1975). Eyesight is usually measured on correctable vision.

Age. The minimum age usually is twenty, with often no restriction of maximum age, although some agencies want to be able to get twenty years of service before retirement.

Court Decisions

There are several court decisions surrounding the process of selecting and the selection itself. In general, the selection process must be job related and nondiscriminating. The selection measures must be valid in that they test the type of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the job and do not place unequal impact on protected groups. In other words, the measures cannot have adverse impact or a different rate of selection (less than 80%) of individuals who are minorities based on race, sex, or ethnic group. Under the authority of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that was expanded in 1972 and then 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was established as the regulatory agency, issued guidelines on employment selection procedures. A number of cases subsequently arose from personnel practices involving police agencies regarding discrimination as interpreted by the courts.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities in employment practices, including selection. Disabilities are defined as physical or mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities. ADA required law enforcement agencies to make substantial revisions, particularly in their selection process. Because no medical inquiries can be made of an applicant before a job offer is made, police agencies have to ensure that no questions are included in any of the processes used until they are ready to give a conditional job offer that is contingent upon the applicant’s ability to pass the medical test. Police agencies had to detail the critical job functions of policing because it is allowable to question applicants about their ability to perform job-related functions as long as the questions are not phrased in terms related to a disability.

ADA also requires the consideration of applicants who can perform the essential functions of a position if reasonable accommodations can be made without undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations can include such things as job restructuring, modifying equipment and devices, and adjusting or modifying examination. Undue hardship is interpreted to mean unduly expensive, extensive, or substantially disruptive.

Mechanics for Selection

Depending on the area, personnel selection is the authority of a central personnel office that serves all departments of the local government, a civil service commission, or the police agency itself. Usually civil service commissions are involved in making final decisions or have control of the examinations for entry and hear appeals. The police agencies themselves usually are responsible for conducting many of the selection procedures.

Coordinated recruiting is especially helpful for smaller and medium-sized departments. It allows a more widespread recruiting effort and sophisticated advertising of opening. The applicant has the opportunity to take a single examination for openings in several jurisdictions. There are uniform procedures in applying for positions in all departments. Potential applicants then are informed of all vacancies in the participating police agencies.


Most applications include the listing of all places and dates of residency, places of employment, educational institutions, financial history, criminal history (this includes arrests as well as convictions), and drug use. All of this information will be verified during the background investigation, and the applicant is likely to be asked about it during a polygraph examination if such is required. Other requirements might include a notarized signature, proof of residency, a copy of a Social Security card, a valid driver’s license, educational transcripts, and military discharge papers.

Written Examination

Written examinations that are often used are cognitive tests measuring reading comprehension, mathematics skills, reasoning, and interests. The reading comprehension examination will usually include narratives consisting of a set of events with different characters and details. Spatial perception questions may be included in the initial written area or later in the psychological/ intelligence testing. These questions are usually formatted into a series of three-dimensional figures, oriented in space and/or folded in different ways. The ability to select the matching figure helps test one’s ability to visualize and orient objects spatially.

Physical Fitness/Agility Testing

The physical abilities tests must be job related and measure one’s abilities to perform those activities required for the job. Physical fitness is the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to engage in leisure time pursuits and to tolerate the above average stresses encountered in emergency situations. To determine the physical challenges that are posed for the police, most states and many local agencies have conducted job task analyses to determine the essential tasks for their law enforcement positions.

Although federal, state, and local agencies will vary in their physical requirements, they are primarily based on aerobic capacity, or cardiorespiratory endurance; strength, both lower and upper body; flexibility; and body fat composition.

Oral Interview

Agencies will vary in their use of interviews. All applicants will be interviewed at least by one human resource officer or police agency recruiting officer to gather some initial information and to explain the application process. Although the recruiting officer may screen for minimum standards, that officer may make no other employment decisions. Some agencies use oral boards consisting of supervisors of different ranks to interview applicants in the final phase of the hiring process. The primary purpose of the oral interview is for the agency administrators to get to know the applicant as a person as well as for the applicant to get a feel for the organization and decide whether it would be comfortable to work in.

The Conditional Offer

ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. In general, individuals cannot be asked questions about disabilities but rather whether they can perform the critical functions of the job. Because information about a disability might come out during the selection process, the process is divided into two steps, before and after a conditional job offer.

Before a conditional job offer is made, the agency’s recruiting staff must restrict its assessment of a candidate to areas that will not disclose a disability but do help to ascertain the candidate’s ability to perform the job. Qualified candidates may then be offered a position on the condition that they can successfully complete the rest of the selection process, such as the psychological exam, background investigation, medical exam, and polygraph—all of which are areas that might disclose a disability. A disability still cannot disqualify the applicant, as long as the person is capable of performing the job. When the applicant is conditionally offered a job, the condition might be documented during the medical exam; however, because the person passed earlier tests that allowed the conditional offer, this discovery should not affect the offer of a job.

The Background Investigation

Done properly, the background investigation is probably the most expensive and time-consuming portion of the law enforcement agency’s recruitment and hiring process. It involves conversations with people who are familiar with the applicant professionally, academically, or personally. The background investigator will then verify all information that the applicant provided on the application form, such as dates and places of employment and reasons for leaving, graduation dates and degrees completed, and financial health. The investigator will interview not only the references that the applicant included but also people with whom the applicant worked, neighbors, and recent classmates.

Law enforcement agencies normally want to know about offenses for which the applicant was arrested, at any age (not just convictions as an adult). The agency will take into account the applicant’s age at the time of committing the offense, but all arrests must be accounted for; omissions will be considered lying. Even offenses that have been expunged should be revealed. Most law enforcement agencies will not hire an individual who has been arrested for a felony as an adult. Certain felonies, however, under certain circumstances might not be enough to eliminate an applicant if the crimes were committed while the applicant was a juvenile.

Psychological Evaluation

The battery of psychological instruments will include at least one measure that identifies mental illness and one or more measures that assess traits important to police work. Such important traits include compatibility, self-confidence, diplomacy, independence, dependability, decisiveness, and integrity. Traits considered important for community-oriented policing and problem solving such as taking the initiative to analyze and solve neighborhood problems and communicate with different types of people without bias might be included.

If the psychological evaluation is conducted before the conditional job offer, the evaluation cannot include measures of mental illness. Some agencies will conduct a preliminary psychological evaluation that measures traits important to law enforcement, such as anger and stress-coping skills. Once a conditional job offer is given, then the applicant returns for a follow-up evaluation of mental illness.

The results of the evaluation are not ranked or graded but rather assessed as acceptable or not acceptable. Some psychologists will also have a “marginal” category. If the applicant is asked to see a second psychologist, more than likely the applicant has received a marginal rating. Applicants will also be told in the introduction to the test that the information belongs to the agency, not the applicant. The evaluation will be sent to the agency. The information will be kept confidential in the applicant’s file; the applicant will not receive a copy of the results (Lord and Peak 2004).

Polygraph Examination

Although the polygraph examination, more commonly called a “lie-detector test,” is not admissible in court for criminal cases, it is legal for law enforcement hiring purposes. The courts have ruled that it is in the public’s interest to be able to ascertain the integrity and other characteristics of its future police officers, who will be carrying firearms and possess the authority to use lethal force. Most polygraph operators have been trained and certified by the American Polygraph Association.

The polygraph exam is based on the fact that when humans experience anxiety, their respiration, perspiration (galvanic skin resistance), and blood pressure rates increase. Its primary use is to substantiate the information collected during the selection process, particularly the background investigation (Frerkes 1998).

Drug Testing

Law enforcement agencies differ with regard to their requirements concerning experimental drug use. Preemployment drug testing is considered legal for any position in which public safety is a concern. Applicants for law enforcement positions may be tested for every form of controlled substance, including opiates, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, barbiturates, and hallucinogenic drugs. If an applicant tests positive for any of these drugs, that person will be rejected for a law enforcement position.

Medical Examination

As with all of the other areas of the selection process, the medical decision is based on the applicant’s ability to perform the duties of an officer. As with the psychological examination, findings are not rated on a scale but rather as being acceptable or not acceptable for hire.

Issues of Diversity in Selection

In recruiting minorities, the standards should remain the same for all candidates. If recruitment procedures fail to attract minority candidates from whom qualified applicants can be selected, there may be a need for new recruitment techniques. All procedures and practices in the area of selection, hiring, and promotions should be assessed for any discrimination.

Civilian Careers

Many tasks that are performed by sworn officers can be carried out effectively and for lower cost by nonsworn personnel. Activities such as administration, crime analysis, evidence collection, telecommunicating, provision of information related to nonemergency situations, and public relations do not require the exercise of police authority but are functions that require specialized training that can be acquired by civilians. Currently, 62% of technical support, 10% of administration, and 8% of field operations are provided by civilians (Reaves and Hart 2000).

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