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Careers: Police/Difficulty of application process for law enforcement



I'm hoping I can soon apply to some police departments in the hopes of being hired as a new officer.

I have many questions, but one that particularly concerns me is what I have seen so far of the application process.  The application I looked at seems to require an extraordinary amount of highly detailed personal information.  For example, I think the one I saw needed all kinds of information about every school the applicant ever attended, including elementary schools, bank account numbers and the amount in the account, every girlfriend you ever had and the dates you saw them with addresses and phone numbers, or something similar, and so on.

I fully understand that a department needs to run a thorough background check on anyone given the chance they would be placed in a highly significant position such as law enforcement, but I'm wondering whether and why this level of detail is necessary?  I don't even know if I could come up with some of this information, since it concerns things that happened years or perhaps decades ago, and if I could come up with it, given that some of this information is fairly personal or sensitive, I find an unwillingness to do so.  I'm also wondering if some of the people you need to list, with names, phone numbers, etc., will actually all be contacted by the department.  It seems unjust for an applicant to be dismissed or harmed in consideration for hire because a department contacts some estranged family member who has nothing but harsh (and false or misleading) things to say about the applicant.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn't possible to use other tests, interviews, and such to find out whether a person would make a good fit, without contacting elementary school teachers or long-lost cousins who haven't seen the man in many years?

I do wish to apply and be hired, but if the application process is nearly impossible to complete because I can't come up with all these details, I don't know I can get it done.

I thank you for the help.

ANSWER: Mike, sorry for the delay, had a death in the family.

Basically, you are either going to list all the stuff that the agency wants, or they won't even consider the application and DQ you immediately.  That is just the way the proces works.  Now, if you can't give the information because you don't KNOW it, then that is one thing.  But not giving it because you don't want to, or think they don't have any business knowing it, or are concerned about privacy, is just going to get your app tossed.  When you go into this kind of work, every aspect of your life becomes an 'open book' to the agency, due to the level of responsibility you'll eventually be entrusted with.   

The rules and policies are in the agencys favor, and this is one of those things where you pretty much have no choice in the matter.   

Part of the background process is to determine how willing you are to give the information out.  Obviously, not everyone will be interviewed, as that is simply impossible.  But filling in the little details shows an 'attention to detail' that agencies look for, because part of the process is seeing how well you think on your feet and how good your basic investigative skills are.   There is more to this than meets the eye.

Best advice? Fill out as much as you can, like it or not.  

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QUESTION: Dear Sergeant Grabill,

Thank you for your reply, and I'm sorry for your recent loss.

As a follow-up question, will police departments actually go and contact all the people who they ask you to list?  Will my kindergarten teachers be receiving phone calls about whether I would be a suitable officer? (I know the question may sound silly, but I'm trying to understand how a law enforcement unit would be able to form a good idea of someone's suitability for police work by contacting people who haven't seen or interacted with the candidate for decades).  I understand the points you make about why, in some cases, they'd ask for this, but in particular I worry that giving the names of estranged family members, if they are actually going to be contacted, would be very unfair to the candidate, since those people are biased and are not going to give a fair comment.  So I suppose my question is, does it make sense to even attempt an application in the case I am describing?  It seems like a rock and a hard place: if I withhold names, you say that they won't even consider me.  But if I give some of the names, and if they call them, they'll get (inaccurate) negative, biased reviews which will also lead to a rejected application, plus the embarrassment of having these people back in the picture.

Thank you again for the helpful replies.


  If you tell an agency that someone is going to intentionally give you a bad review, then they do understand.   They'll probably go and ask them anyway, but if you are forthright about the 'why', then that is understood.   There are places in the investigation where you can explain this out to the investigator so they understand.   Trust me, they do this all the time and run into this situation more than you think.

Best of luck!

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Jason Grabill


General Maryland Law Enforcement, Maryland Law & Traffic Law, the Court System. How to start the process to become a Police Officer, different Police careers, the Interview process, General Police career questions


18 Years experience as a local and Federal Police officer. In addition to working "the road", I've worked as an Academy Instructor, Law Digest Compiler for Police Department, Community Policing coordinator, Department Gang officer, Bike Patrol Officer, and Advanced Accident Investigator. I've also served on the SWAT/SRT team, and currently work for the Department of Army Police (Federal Civilian) at Fort Detrick, Frederick Md, as a Sergeant. I'm Certified as a Police and Emergency Medical dispatcher through the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

Police Marksman Association Fraternal Order of Police

South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy
Prince Georges County Maryland Municipal Police Academy, Western Maryland Police Academy
Radar, Portable Breath Test, PR-24 Police Baton, ASP, Police Mountain Bike Certified. Maryland Police Training Commission Basic Instructor Certified. CALEA Certified Field Training Officer (FTO), Advanced Criminal Investigator School, Advanced Crash Investigator School, National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Certified Emergency Police Dispatch, Emergency Medical Dispatch, Emergency Telecommunications Operator.

Awards and Honors
Police Officer of the Year, Prince Georges County Municipal Police Chiefs Association (1995).
City of District Heights Police Officer of the Year, 1995.
Distinguished Service Cross for Valor, 1995 (National Association Chiefs of Police).

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