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Background Investigation Information for Police Officer Exam

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Updated on Mar 16, 2011

Your background investigation will be based on the information you supply to your investigator. You provide the information through what is commonly called a personal history statement.

You will be asked to provide many details of your entire life, possibly including every school you ever attended; any address you lived at for the last 15 years; any jobs you had for the same period of time and whether you were ever fired from a job; whether you served in the military and what type of discharge you received; information on your driving record and any vehicles you own; other property in your name; your credit history; whether you have ever been arrested; whether you have used drugs at all or alcohol to excess… you get the idea. Questions may also pertain to parents, step-parents, or guardians; past and present spouses; and siblings (including step-siblings).

In addition to answering questions and being photographed and fingerprinted, you will be required to sign release forms that permit your investigator to gain access to your personal records. You will also be required to submit a number of documents, most which will have to be certified as accurate by their sources or by a notary public. These documents might include your educational records; employment records; military history and discharge papers; driving record and vehicle insurance forms; mortgage or other loan forms; and any papers pertaining to arrests or a criminal history.

You are likely to be asked to include up to three references who are not family members. Do not forget to ask these individuals whether you may use their names; if they agree, make sure their addresses and contact information are correct. If your investigator cannot contact your references, this will show up as an incomplete portion of your investigation and may lead to delays or even termination of your application.

Each of your answers and documents will be checked by your investigator, often a police officer already employed by the department. You will be interviewed about your responses by your investigator, particularly about any that are incomplete or do not seem to match with the timeline of your life.

There are two iron-clad rules to follow for getting through your investigation. One is to start putting together your documentation as soon as you know you have made it to this step: Collect your paperwork; ask parents or guardians for earlier residence addresses if you were too young to remember them; be sure of your replies (now is not the time for guessing); and think about who you will ask to serve as personal or professional references.

The second bit of advice is even more important—do not lie about anything in your past. Not everyone has made it to adulthood without something they would rather not talk about or have publicly known. When you decided to become a police officer, you signed away those secrets. But police departments are not comprised only of perfect people. Whatever you may have been told, not everyone who gets hired is without any small blemishes. Certain youthful indiscretions may not disqualify you if you can explain the circumstances, but falsehoods will assuredly eliminate you from further consideration.

Rarely will two agencies conduct the background investigation exactly the same way, so rather than making yourself tense trying to provide all the information and all the documents that comprise the background investigation, you may decide that concentrating on the agencies where you sincerely want to work is a better use of your time and efforts.

Some departments also include the Law Enforcement Candidate Record (LECR), a 185-question exam that asks about your personal experiences, your education, your work history and habits, your relationships with family members and friends, and your feelings or attitudes on a variety of aspects of your life. Like the psychological exam, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers and your best course of action is to be truthful. Many of the questions may seem to repeat earlier questions in slightly different ways. This is intentional; it is meant to catch you if you are dishonest because the test is based on the premise that eventually you will forget to lie and will answer truthfully.

Each of these types of tests, whether the LECR or a psychological or behavioral test, departments use these to develop a profile of your personality and attitudes and compare this with statistical analyses of successful officers. These statistical profiles help departments determine where you fit on the continuum of officers they have hired.

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