Becoming a Police Officer: The Selection Process
The real selection process begins after you have met the minimum eligibility requirements. If you already know the actual or type of agency to which you will be applying, your process will be somewhat easier than for than for those who are just beginning their job research. As you saw, policing is made up of many categories of agencies and many, many agencies within each category. Some selection process steps are fairly standard across all agencies; others are not. Some agencies' websites are very specific about eligibility requirements; others less so.
Although there are great similarities among agencies, no listing of hiring requirements and eligibility standards will be the same for all agencies or even for a particular category of agencies (i.e., local, state, federal, special jurisdiction).
This explanation of the selection process is not all-inclusive, but it is sufficiently broad to give you a deeper understanding of the hiring process. The most common steps include submitting a completed application form, taking and passing a written test (generally multiple-choice), passing a physical agility/ability test, passing a background investigation, and a psychological and medical evaluation. Additional steps that some agencies rely on include an oral interview and a polygraph (lie detector) test.
In a review of selection procedures published by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2003, the most common screening procedures used by municipal police departments were (in their order of use): a background investigation, a personal interview (often conducted by the investigator assigned to do your background investigation, but sometimes a more formal process before a panel comprised of two or three members of the department), a medical exam, a drug test, a psychological evaluation (which may include a written test and an interview with a psychologist), a physical agility test, a written aptitude test, a polygraph exam, and, lastly, used by very few departments, a voice stress analyzer.
The list can seem intimidating, particularly if you are the first among your family or friends to consider a law enforcement career. Remember, though, that the steps take place over a period of time, giving you time to do research and, as you pass each phase, to gain confidence that you will achieve your aim. If you are attending a college with a police studies or criminal justice program, learn if the career counseling office has people to assist you in the process. Also, if criminal justice-related majors are a major focus of your college, you have probably taken some of these courses and know that some of your professors have worked in law enforcement. Most will be happy to assist you with pointers and to reassure you as you move through the selection process.
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