Law Enforcement Careers: Background and Credit Checks
26 February 2010
A police officer must be responsible, reliable and worthy of the public’s trust. To ensure that those seeking law enforcement careers meet the highest standards, law enforcement agencies conduct extensive background investigations into all aspects of an applicant’s personal history. These investigations include, but are not limited to, credit checks and criminal background checks. It is understandable why law enforcement agencies would take the time and expensive of thorough research. A police officer who is irresponsible or prone to corruption would be more of a liability than an asset to a police force. To determine if a law enforcement candidate meets the rigid moral and ethical standards necessary for a career as a police officer, investigators conduct both a personal interview with the candidate, as well as thorough independent investigation.
At the onset of the investigation, the person must fill out a lengthy disclosure detailing aspects of his or her education, employment, criminal record and financial history. He or she will also be asked to give character references. In some cases, background investigators may use a polygraph machine during the interview. If the applicant passes the initial interview, the investigator will go on to conduct a full investigation to establish the truthfulness of the information provided by the applicant. Having a criminal record does not necessarily disqualify a person from becoming a police officer. Minor traffic offenses and even some misdemeanors may be overlooked. However, felony convictions will disqualify a person from become a police officer, as will a history of assault or substance abuse.
Background investigators have access to all court records, even those pertaining to convictions that have been expunged. If someone wishing to become a police officer tries to omit an incident because he or she fears it may prevent them from pursuing a career in law enforcement, the chances of being found out are very high. If the investigator discovers that a criminal incident was not disclosed, then that person will usually be immediately barred from becoming a police officer. A law enforcement candidate should never lie or try to hide any negative aspect of his or her history. Honesty is more important that having a spotless record. Law enforcement agencies also view a person’s financial history as indicative of his or her potential as a police officer. If a credit report shows a history of financial mismanagement, then that agency may view the candidate as untrustworthy, irresponsible and susceptible to corruption – characteristics not suitable for a police officer. However, poor credit does not necessarily prevent someone from becoming a police officer. The law enforcement organization may investigate the circumstances surrounding the debt, as well. If the debt is due to events beyond the applicant’s control, such as unexpected medical or funeral expenses, it may be overlooked.