Role-Playing and Scenarios
Since each oral board is unique, it is impossible to know ahead of time what questions will be asked, what kind of role-playing will be required, or what types of scenarios the candidates will have to talk their way through. But it is safe to say that the situations that a candidate must face during the board will probably not be familiar, and they certainly won't be easy.
Candidates should think of an oral board as a dress rehearsal for many law enforcement experiences. Being on the witness stand and undergoing a difficult cross-examination is just as demanding as an oral board. Those who easily handle the rigors of the oral board usually do well in court.
With conventional police departments, there are several classic scenarios that are often used to determine a candidate's ability to show and apply common sense in a situation. One member of the board will pose the scenario, another may add something to it, and so on. But, at some point it may become clear to the candidate that he has talked himself into a dead end. Here is an example:
A board member will ask the candidate if a traffic violation like speed should always be met with a summons to court. The candidate replies that it should.
“In all cases?” asks the board member.
“Yes,” replies the candidate firmly.
The next board member will then pose the situation that the candidate is on patrol and observes a car traveling at 20 miles an hour above the posted speed limit. The panel asks the candidate if he will summons the operator.
“Of course I will,” is the reply from the applicant.
“Okay, you walk up to the driver and it's a man who yells at you that he's trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital because she's in labor and about to deliver a baby. Are you still going to summons him?”asks the third panelist.
At that moment, the candidate is caught—either answer gets him into trouble. If he says yes, then he is potentially risking the lives of both the mother and the baby—not the type of behavior that is likely to win the candidate a position as a police officer. If he answers that he would not summons the driver under those circumstances, then his earlier statement is false, and the panel can accuse him of misrepresenting his true intentions.
If there is a historical precedent for the modern law enforcement oral board, it would have to be the Spanish Inquisition. Many survivors of the process have commented that basic and Special Forces training with the military were easier to endure than a police oral board.
Had the candidate known all of the details of the scenario in the beginning, he would have been able to render a reasonable answer. But the scenario unfolded gradually, just like real-life events invariably do, and constant assessment and reassessment are the critical skills being evaluated as the candidate stumbles his way through the test.
The Right Answer
Of course, neither answer is right, but neither answer is wrong either—it's all in the way the applicant justifies his claim to the panel. If he says he will allow the driver to continue and offer a police escort to get the woman to the hospital faster, then the humanitarian side of the candidate has shown through. If the candidate insists upon issuing a summons for a gross violation of the law, his actions are certainly consistent with law enforcement, even though they lack the milk of human kindness.
Maybe the better answer in this particular case is to escort the driver and the soon-to-be-mother to the hospital and issue the summons there. This still may lack some of the emotional characteristics that are considered reasonable for a police officer, but at least it solves the dilemma that might result if the officer chose to write the summons out at the scene and the woman began to deliver on the side of the road.
Panel members may appear in full dress uniform. Ribbons, medals, and shiny metal nametags are meant to be visually distracting and extremely intimidating. Regardless of the costume, applicants should never assume any one of the members is in charge—just remember when answering a specific question to look at the person who asked it.
An Alternative Scenario
Another common scenario puts you, the officer, on patrol following a car that is all over the road. After observing long enough to make sure there is a real problem, you turn on the blue lights and pull the vehicle over. A panelist then explains to you that the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle is visibly drunk. The logical question that follows is, “Do you arrest the operator?”
Now, the obvious answer is “yes,” but this is an oral board, and you know it can't be that easy, so the safest answer is, “Given the limited circumstances that you've outlined, yes, I would place the driver in custody.”
The panelist then informs you that the driver is your chief and asks the question again, “Do you arrest the operator?”
It should be understood from the get-go that no oral-board member wants a candidate to do anything specific or give a standard answer. What they want to know is what the candidate will do given a set of extremely uncomfortable circumstances. In this case, is there a right answer? Ask 100 police officers and they will say arrest the bum. Ask another 100 and they will tell you that anyone can make a mistake once, and that it isn't wrong to give a guy a break now and then. If you can do that for the average citizen, why can't you do it for a police officer?
But at the moment, you're not somewhere where you can poll 100 other police officers to see what the majority would do. You are in an oral board and you have to decide now and, worse, immediately justify the course of action you plan to take.
Let's say you decide to arrest your chief. Be prepared for derogatory remarks from at least one member of the panel that asserts that you are heartless and have no regard for the brotherhood.
Let's say you decide to give the chief a break and drive him home rather than arrest him. That one board member in plainclothes is going to want to know why you'd give an officer a break but not a civilian. Perhaps you hadn't considered the possibility that the one in plainclothes was actually a civilian. Or is he? Regardless, he reminds you that you willingly followed a civilian to the hospital to write him a summons when his wife was having a baby; wasn't he deserving of a break under those circumstances?
Being able to reasonably justify the course of action that you'd follow is the key to a successful oral board. Interviewees don't need to fear making a decision, but they do need to think about their answers before they inadvertently leap into the abyss, and they need to be prepared to back up their decision with sensible logic. Once a stand is taken on any subject, there is a need to cautiously move away from that stand if the circumstances are spun in a different direction. The purpose in an imposed direction change by the panel is not just to see if the candidate will reverse their opinion, but also to see if she is willing to moderate it once new data is acquired. A fatal mistake often made by candidates is that they don't take the time to evaluate the information in front of them, and they hold a hard-line stance on an issue that probably deserves rethinking.