Police Interview Newsletter - The Realities of a Police
Officer Lateral Hiring Process
THE REALITIES OF A POLICE OFFICER LATERAL HIRING PROCESS
After more than 20 years of new police officer selection work for an elite and highly regarded county law enforcement agency, I recently had my first opportunity to interview some veteran officers in a lateral hiring process. What a surprising experience this proved to be!
Given the precipitous drop in new police officer applicants over the past five years and the department's desire to employ the most highly qualified people available, law enforcement officers from across the state were invited to participate in a lateral hiring process. For the first time in this central Virginia jurisdiction, seasoned patrol officers were being offered the opportunity to quickly re-tool in a six week modified academy setting and to earn a salary commensurate with their current earnings.
A well-seasoned and expert oral interview panel was convened. It consisted of the police chief, a trusted major, the lieutenant overseeing the personnel department and hiring process, and me - the police psychologist. Over the course of two days we interviewed approximately twelve police transfer applicants.
This interview and assessment process proved to be much more difficult, challenging, and complex than I would have imagined. Unlike interviewing the would-be rookie police officer applicants, who possesses little or no law enforcement experience - and, for that matter, limited life experience - these veteran officers had worked in law enforcement for a number of years and possessed extensive personal and professional life experience. Generally speaking, these male and female officers had a good deal of police experience under their belts - lots of contact with the bad guys on the street, rotating- shift exposure, and the challenges of coping with all the stressors inherent in law enforcement duties.
As I look back on that lateral transfer oral board process, I realize there was a fairly stark contrast between my expectations about these applicants and the realities that we encountered throughout the interviewing and hiring process.
Assumption #1 - We would be interviewing an elite and highly successful group of law enforcement officers who were interested in new and challenging opportunities in a moderately large and progressive county police agency.
Reality - Approximately one third of our transfer applicants met my expectation of being “elite and highly successful.” Another third appeared to be struggling significantly with personal and/or professional issues. And, the final third were best described as “average- range” law enforcement officers wanting to change jobs for a variety of reasons. In some situations, applicants were motivated by quality of life concerns or the desire to escape the politics and infighting of smaller agencies.
Assumption #2 - Transfer applicants will possess solid communication skills. They are tactful and verbally effective in dealing with citizens and fellow co-workers.
Reality - My expectation was fairly accurate for most of the applicants. They were confident, clear, and concise in responding to oral board interview questions. In addition, the majority of these officers were personable and friendly; it was easy to imagine them relating effectively with the public. It was surprising, however, to encounter a couple of veteran officers who struggled to express themselves verbally. Poor grammar and/or below average sentence construction detracted noticeably from their presentations. It would be difficult to imagine these officers communicating effectively with county residents.
Assumption #3 - Transfer applicants can be described as individuals who are highly respectful of authority and readily accepting of the chain-of-command structures in police agencies.
Reality - All except two of our transfer applicants were squared away, duty-oriented, and respectful of those in charge. One male officer, however, was disparaging towards his fellow co-workers and seemed to blame everyone else for his shortcomings and inability to obtain promotion within the department. Another applicant with nearly 10 years of investigative experience, related to board members in a very entitled, blasé, overly familiar fashion - that conveyed little interest in the job and little respect for us. It will come as no surprise that both of these applicants “failed” the oral board and were removed from the process. Assumption #4 - Police officers who are functioning successfully in other law enforcement departments will probably meet our basic employment qualifications.
Reality - This was true. Each of the transfer applicants met the most basic requirements: U.S. citizens, 21 years of age, high school education, no history of felony arrests, etc.
Assumption #5 - A modified and curtailed police academy will more than adequately prepare these transfer officers for basic patrol duties and integration into the department.
Reality - This appeared to be a correct assumption for each of the transfer applicants who successfully “passed” the oral board process. Police Academy Training, of modified or full length, however, could not be expected to remedy those problems or attitudes exhibited by the lower third of those interviewed (referenced in Reality #1). The academy training is designed to address the recruits' informational needs and skill development, not poor attitudes or interpersonal problems that may be present.
Assumption #6 - Any disciplinary issues will be minor in nature and relatively easy to evaluate and understand.
Reality - Most of the disciplinary issues cited by the applicants were minor in nature. However, some of them proved to be very difficult to assess with any degree of confidence.
As an interview board member, it felt like applicants were omitting important information at times - leaving us with unanswered questions. At least one applicant appeared to be leaving his agency because of an accumulation of minor performance problems.
Assumption #7 - Given that the oral interview panel is comprised of highly experienced, well-seasoned professionals, it will be fairly easy to reach a “pass” or “fail” consensus among board members.
Reality - It was not easy! On two occasions the board was split down the middle (2-2 vote) on whether the transfer applicant was a good prospect or not, and should be “passed” or “failed.” This was certainly unexpected.
Assumption #8 - Transfer hire police officers will not have difficulty with the polygraph exam.
Reality - I am told that some of the lateral transfer police applicants who “passed” the oral board process experienced some significant difficult on polygraph exam. These of course were sorted out, one way or the other, through additional questioning and background investigations. Yet, it was surprising to me that a significant percentage of veteran law enforcement officers exhibited possible deception on their polygraph exams. This is never surprising in the new officer selection process. I simply didn't expect it with veteran police officers. Of course it is possible that this finding says more about the polygraph testing process in general than about any specific truth-telling or deception on the part of these lateral hire applicants.
TARGET AREAS FOR PRE-EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEWING
In the July 2003 police magazine, Law And Order, Stanley M. Slowik (who provides interview training for law enforcement agencies) lists 19 different “objective pre- employment interviewing targets for patrol positions.” The following areas of inquiry should be used to evaluate all police patrol applicants-whether they do or do not possess previous law enforcement experience. Mr. Slowik can be reached at www.stanleyslowik.com.
His list of the target interview areas are as follows (p.100-101):
1. Biographical data
All police applicants, new recruits and transfer hires alike, would be
well-advised to anticipate difficult and probing questions in each of
these 19 realms.
Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
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