Purposes of the Oral Board Process
The overall objective of the oral board is to try and find out where the applicant's buttons are located, and push them to see what happens. The aim of the questioning is to find out the following about the candidate:
How quick is the person to reach critical mass with regard to temper?
Are they intimidated by the presence of rank?
What do they take seriously?
What don't they take seriously that they should?
Are their answers reflective of how they really feel, or are they trying to guess what the board members want to hear?
In short, the objective is to find out what the candidate will do under stress.
Differences Between Boards
Each oral board is unique. It is the sum of the personalities that sit as board members, combined with those of the applicants that are reviewed. Sometimes, an oral board is just an informal chat session. Other times, it is an intense question and answer session. But the underlying purpose is always the same—to learn as much as possible about the character of the applicant to see if they have what it takes to do the job.
Throughout the prehiring evaluation process, candidates for law enforcement positions are tested in many ways. While there is no specific type of individual that is right for the job, there are clearly many types that are not suited to deal with the demands of the job, and the oral board is a means of eliminating some of them from consideration.
Aside from the character information accumulated by the board members during the oral board, there is a second reason for subjecting would-be law enforcers to the pain and suffering of this ritual. Without specifying gender, law enforcement is a fraternity. And, like any fraternity, new members must undergo certain rites of passage in order to assume their rightful place among the ranks. As difficult and extraordinary as the oral boards may be to those who have never endured one, they represent only the first part of the initiation process, and a necessary first step toward the ultimate goal. Having weathered the ordeal and emerged relatively intact, successful candidates move on to the subsequent phases of hiring.
Overcoming Oral Board Struggles
Those who falter or fail during the oral board should feel no shame. As stated, oral boards are not a natural course of events, and they are purposely designed to place the candidate off balance. Very few people can stand up to the kind of cross-examinations that occur with many oral boards, and failure of an oral board is not synonymous with a lack of character, nor does it mean that the individual is a failure. It simply means that the candidate's performance didn't necessarily mesh with the desires of that particular investigating board. Candidates should not lose hope altogether. There are hundreds of thousands of law enforcement positions in the United States and each one of them will have a different set of challenges to be faced. Answers and attitude that were perceived by one board as a failure may well be applauded by another.
Law enforcement candidates should always remember that no one officer or small group of agents speaks for all of law enforcement. There are general principles on which all can agree, but throughout America, and law enforcement itself, there are different schools of thought on how the job should be done. Candidates should not be discouraged if their concept of the profession is in conflict with a particular agency—chances are there is a department somewhere that practices it the way they have in mind.
A Paramilitary Future?
There is much controversy among law enforcement officers as to whether or not the profession should be classified as paramilitary. The term implies a military-like execution of domestic laws, which is clearly in conflict with the fundamentals outlined in the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers did not want a military authority overseeing their domestic tranquility, and the assertion that law enforcement agents are paramilitary alarms many people. This alarm is probably due to a misunderstanding of the term.
Some people may picture a uniform or a gun when they hear the term
Officers share a common base of training and understanding, just as soldiers do, and this often begins with the ritual of the oral board. It becomes the first war story for a new officer to tell when he is finally accepted into the fraternity. For this reason, oral boards provide common ground upon which agents are better able to bond with each other.