In recent years, there has been much public attention focused on the issue of profiling by law enforcement agencies. The biggest concerns voiced usually come from minority groups that believe profiling will somehow work against that minority group. In the case of racial or ethnic profiling, those minorities have some viable arguments, but not all profiling is bad.
In the case of law enforcement, applicants conforming to a desired profile (a profile based on certain personality traits and not ethnic or racial characteristics) are the ones that are most sought out to carry a badge. Having certain personality characteristics, and not possessing others, is part of the law enforcement profile.
Personal Background Investigation
Toward the beginning of any hiring process, law enforcement hopefuls complete an application for the job. Somewhere in the fine print on that application is an authorization signed by the applicant. This authorization provides the hiring authority with permission to conduct a multitude of specific inquiries into that person's background. One of the first places that the investigation begins is verification of citizenship. Although it is not essential for all law enforcement agents to be citizens of the United States, nor is U.S. citizenship a prerequisite to swearing and upholding an oath of office, verification of national affiliation is necessary.
A valid driver's license is the most common form of ID offered by candidates, but a passport is considered the best form of photo ID available due to the difficulties in obtaining one. For U.S. passports, this is especially true since September 11, 2001. That is why a passport is deemed among the best forms of identification.
Educational accomplishments are also checked and verified, including grades and any awards or special achievements that were earned. If education was acquired within a recent period, teachers, professors, and fellow students might be interviewed to verify the educational experience and to acquire input about character and personality.
The next step is the employment background check. Provided the agency has the means to conduct a proper background investigation—time, money, and manpower—it will attempt to make contact with every past employer listed on the applicant's resumé. Some agencies ask for applicants to submit past income tax returns as well, so the list of previous employers can be verified more easily.
After that, it's a matter of sending someone from the agency to that employer to talk about the candidate and what his work habits were like. Typical questions are about honesty on the job. The agent might ask your employer:
Was the candidate punctual?
Did she ever do something untrustworthy, or steal from the company?
Did he get along with coworkers?
Was there any indication of improper behavior inside or outside the workplace?
Finally, there is the background check with family and friends—that the interview they were previously prepared for. Investigators will ask a wide range of questions in order to determine that the overall character of the applicant is consistent with what the records show. Questions are asked in private and in complete confidence, in order to encourage people to speak freely. It's not that gossip is considered viable information, but the opinion people hold of a candidate can go a long way toward verifying or contradicting the character that has been projected during the evaluation process. Even if the candidate never got along with an old uncle, a distant cousin, or a former coworker, it doesn't mean that their isolated opinions of the candidate will diminish the chances for hiring. In fact, quite the contrary is true—investigations that reveal absolutely no dissention from people in the applicant's past suggest a contrived background. Applicants need to keep in mind that every person looks at things from their own individual perspectives, and recall events from their personal point of view. No two people will assess a third person exactly the same way, and investigators conducting background checks on applicants know this.
Financial and Credit History
Referring back to the application that started all of the examinations and background checks, applicants also authorize a complete check of their credit and financial history. This means opening up all bank records, disclosure of all loan balances, and a thorough search of the candidate's net worth.
One thing applicants need to bear in mind during the financial disclosure portion of the pre-employment process is that salaries of all public employees are public. From the moment a person is hired in law enforcement, their salary is a matter of public record. Within the agency, it's pretty clear who is making what, because pay schedules are published, and one only needs to look at the person's rank to determine their pay. Even after retirement there is very little that isn't public information. Disclosure is essential to a degree, in order to promote fidelity in pubic servants and to ensure that outside influences have not compromised loyalty.
It might sound as though the financial disclosure is an intrusion into private matters, but it is essential to determine if extreme debt is a primary motivation for application for a law enforcement position. An agent who is in debt may be more likely to succumb to bribery and other forms of corruption. Other financial problems, such as excessive gambling, can be found through a financial investigation.
One method of improving a bad credit rating is to take out a short-term secured loan and pay it back according to the terms of the loan. It will cost you the interest, but paying it off according to plan gives you a positive credit score that will elevate your rating.
The idea of an overall financial check is an important concept for applicants to grasp, because an extreme debt to income ratio may be acceptable in many areas of society, but not in law enforcement. Although candidates might receive the benefit of the doubt in the personality profile and the background check, the books must balance in the financial review, and the candidate's financial status and credit score must be in line with what is appropriate under the agency's established criteria.