Poulsbo Police Chief Ron Harding took a moment to discuss what it takes to become a police officer and how today’s climate has impacted officer recruitment.
While the Poulsbo Police Department is currently fully staffed, there is a potential need for more officers in the spring and summer. With that in mind potential candidates or those interested in a career in law enforcement may want to keep in mind the arduous process behind what it takes to become a police officer.
Like most jobs, the first step in becoming a police officer is to apply – unlike most jobs the application process can take up to a week to complete. In Washington state most law enforcement departments work with a third party source to filter out potential applicants, Poulsbo uses publicsafetytesting.com.
“To apply through public safety testing you have to first pass the written and physical exams. Once that’s completed and we (PPD) show interest in the applicant you are asked to fill out a personal history inventory, which is a pretty extensive document that looks back at basically a history of your adult life,” Harding said.
The document requires applicants to list everywhere they have ever lived as adults, any job they have had, educational background, etc., in addition to multiple tiers of references from family and friends to co-workers, teachers and neighbors. The document is then given to a background investigator who will compile information for the first round of interviews.
Each level of the application process is meant to weed out people who are ill fit to become law enforcement officers, if an applicant has lied or fudge the details at all on the personal inventory, the background investigator will know and it could mean the applicant is eliminated from the process.
“If there is any area that you have been untruthful…that will eliminate you,” Harding said.
If a candidate clears the initial interview a conditional offer of employment may be extended. The conditions of the offer require that the candidate pass a polygraph test along with psychological and medical exams. More recently, the conditions call for a candidate to allow for an evaluation of their social media pages. The results of the exams, along with the information gathered through social media can help determine whether a candidate holds any kind of prejudice or racism or is part of any problematic groups.
“We take all that information into the confirmation interview and confront them about anything we find on their social media that may be viewed as problematic,” Harding said.
Harding did however note that when social media pages are evaluated, especially those of younger candidates, there is an understanding that the things that candidate posted when they were younger, may not reflect who they are as adults.
“Honestly what 13-year-old doesn’t say things that they would not say when they’re 22? You have to take that into account, but if there has been any kind of a pattern or they have associations with groups or people that support problematic causes that’s going to show up, and we’ll find it,” Harding said.
“We are highly motivated to find that stuff. When we do a background investigation on a person we are trained to look at it like a criminal investigation. Doing that on the front end — first of all is our responsibility to the community and second of all is that we can avoid years down the road getting into a situation where the city becomes liable for that officer’s actions when their actions are unjustified.”
Once candidates are confirmed hires, they are sent to the Basic Law Enforcement Academy.
“The complicating factor here is getting people into the academy, which has about a three month waiting list. So, that adds to the amount of time it takes to just get a person hired,” Harding said.
When a candidate does eventually get into the BLA they are there for four months. When they graduate they are placed on one-year probation, where they are evaluated weekly by field training officers on if they will have the ability to do the job appropriately.
“If a person can’t perform the duties or we see behavioral issues that weren’t present during the background checks, they can be fired,” Harding said.
If the application process alone isn’t enough to deter potential candidates, the increasing anti-cop sentiment has. Though Harding argues that recruitment efforts have been tempered by increased focus on training as well as more intentionality when looking for recruits.
“We have to focus recruiting on different groups and point out the possibilities available to people who choose a law enforcement career. For example; if you are a young person looking for a purpose, service driven career – law enforcement provides that opportunity. It is a job where you can make a difference in the place where you serve. And, if you believe Law Enforcement needs reform, there is no better way to constructively pursue that goal than from the inside,” Harding said.