Time To Revisit Recruitment
Let me say from the outset, I’m well aware the majority of today’s law enforcement officers are quality people and highly professional. I know this because I work with many of them. However, I believe it’s fair and accurate to state that a minority, unfortunately an increasing minority, of officers are unfit for police service and should never have been hired in the first place; only by administrators ignoring their deficiencies did they complete probation. The two pertinent questions are: Why is this the case? What can/should we do about it?
As sometimes happens, my views on this subject may not sit well with some people, but then I don’t view my goal as a columnist as winning any popularity contests.
We seem to have an increasing number of cops who never should’ve been hired in the first place. Is it because there’s a shortage of applicants? In a few places, this may be the case. In all honesty, however, the number of applicants generally far exceeds the vacancies. What seems to be occurring in far too many agencies is that selection criterion focuses on meeting some sort of “quota” rather than selecting the best possible candidates. Perhaps this occurs in some jurisdictions because the agency cut a deal with the devil (the feds) and agreed to a set of hiring benchmarks based upon gender or ethnicity. To do that downsizes the pool of acceptable candidates to a level where, to meet the benchmarks, some watering down of formerly reasonable and accepted standards may have to occur.
Here are some examples. Formerly, little if any drug usage in an applicant’s past was acceptable to law enforcement agencies. Today, however, in too many places the only disqualifier is “recent (within the past year) use of hard drugs.” I know of several agencies that do not disqualify applicants based upon prior use of hallucinogenic drugs even though it’s a well-known fact that undesirable side effects can spontaneously occur years after a drug’s last use. The price paid in some agencies for hiring “former” druggies is on-duty theft or sale of drugs, or smuggling narcotics to inmates.
What about employing those with prior juvenile felony convictions, which may have been sealed or expunged? I know of one agency which has employed multiple officers with backgrounds that include the felony crime of assault with a deadly weapon. And then there are the unnamed but very prominent big city and county agencies that have somehow justified the hiring of “reformed” street gang members only to find they’ve developed their own criminal gangs within the agencies that have employed them. Chiefs and sheriffs are shocked such things can happen. Really?
Call me old school if you wish, but I can read about the relapse rates of alcoholics, druggies and gang bangers as well as anyone else. Do I think some of these offenders are cured? Yes, but the risks of employing them in certain jobs such as teachers and cops is just too great. Should such folks be denied employment opportunities? In some professions, yes, and law enforcement is one of those professions. Unlike “A” grades handed out freely to so many in our schools today, being sworn in as a cop is not a right to be given to just anyone. It’s something which, for the integrity of the profession and the well-being of the public we serve, needs to be earned. And doing drugs, being a street gang member, or engaging in felony crimes does not earn it.
A Wealth Of Candidates
There was once a time when the majority of new hires in our business were former members of the US military. Were they all cut out to be good cops? No. But many were, and they came without the baggage too many of today’s applicants carry with them. Plus, they had some life experience, an understanding of chain of command and above all a devotion to duty. I don’t have a bias in this regard, as the closest I ever came to being in the military was a few years of ROTC in college.
As we downsize our military and back down our effort in Afghanistan (not saying we should, but that seems to be the direction we’re headed in at the time of this writing) we are presented with a tremendous opportunity to add men and women to our ranks with the virtues and experience I just noted. I realize there are bad apples in the military too, but the majority is anything but bad. And, given the composition of the modern military, with many minorities and women distinguishing themselves by their service, it just might be possible to use the military as a recruitment base to meet the quota system so popular in some agencies. I certainly think it’s worth the effort to bring them into our profession.
The author may be contacted with comments or suggestions for future columns via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jerry Boyd