Police Officer Candidate Background Investigation: Law Enforcement Management's Most Effective Tool for Employing the Most Qualified Candidate

Article excerpt

The Crime Bill of 1994 has generated a large cash flow of federal funds into state and local coffers for hiring additional personnel. In the rush to get the federal funding, many agencies have altered their hiring practices for police personnel in order to meet deadlines and quotas. Agencies have experienced a vast array of libelous situations, occupational problems, non-productive employees, and worst of all, bad cops charged with criminal activities when pre-employment screening practices have been shortcut. This article examines what can happen when hiring practices are accelerated and thorough background investigations condensed or eliminated. The article presents three elements of a quality background investigation and five policy development guidelines for producing a background investigation manual and procedure. The article also presents a sample Background Investigation Manual and Procedure and related forms developed by the author for use in his agency utilizing the concepts and principles presented.

One of the most contested issues of the 96 Presidential Campaign was the crime rate in the United States. President Clinton credited the falling crime rate to the 1994 Crime Bill grants and programs administered by the U.S. Justice Department and his goal of putting one hundred thousand more police officers on America's streets. Senator Dole credited the declining crime rate to the efforts of state and local governments. History reveals that the crime rate in the United States has risen and fallen over the years and will continue to do so. Also, it is probably too early in the evolution of COPS (Community Oriented Policing Programs) to judge the extent of their success or affect on the crime rate. According to Charles Mahtesian, city officials and voters continue to believe that more police officers result in less crime, in spite of evidence to the contrary.(2)

COPS programs have indeed put more police officers on the streets. Not since the seventies and the Law Enforcement Assistance Grants has the lure of the federal bounty sent local law enforcement administrators scrambling to initiate qualified Community Oriented Policing Programs and sharpen their grant application pencils. While the increase in the number of the officers on the street may have citizens feeling a greater sense of security, a specific problem cannot be ignored. The rush to put more officers on the street and take advantage of available federal funding has seduced many local law enforcement administrators to speed up the hiring process. Washington, D.C. and Miami are two prime examples of what happens to the effectiveness, quality, and reputation of a police organization when the standards of a law enforcement organization are compromised for the sake of numbers that artificially reflect effectiveness.(3) When effectiveness is diminished due to the lack of quality officers, citizens are not served and bad situations worsen. In 1988 Congress coerced the District of Columbia by threatening to withhold $430 million in aid if the D.C. Government did not hire 1500 new police officers in a 20 month period. The local government complied and in 1994, the Washington Post began to detail the results of the expedited and rushed hiring of the classes of 1989 and 1990. More than half of the classes were brought up on charges and arrested. The U.S. Attorney described these officers as so tainted that they could not be put on the witness stand because of their lack of credibility.

In the early 1980s Miami was plagued with an immigration problem. Coping with an influx of illegal drugs flowing into the country through Miami made the immigration problem even worse. Encouraged by the federal funding offered by the U.S. Government, Miami nearly doubled the size of its police department. The result became known as the River Cops Scandal, in which the newly hired officers formed their own drug ring and made millions selling confiscated cocaine. …