Officers should possess certain traits due to the range of duties they will have to perform. These traits include physically agility, the ability to cope with difficult situations, well-developed writing skills, good communication skills, sound judgment, compassion, strong powers of observation, and the ability to both exert and respect commands of authority (Grant & Terry, 2008). Every department sets its own standards therefore there is not a set standard for officer selection.
The minimum requirements that most departments require that the officer be at least 21 years of age, have a driver’s license in the state or be eligible for one, have no prior felony convictions, and be able to pass a written exam, a medical exam, an interview, a physical agility test, and psychological screening. Individuals must be able to obtain a driver’s license because their primary duty will be patrol and must be twenty one years of age as they will have to qualify for a firearm.
A police officer will not have full police powers until at least the age of twenty one, for that reason some departments will not even allow recruits to enter the police academy until they reach that age. A convicted felony is prohibited from possessing a firearm, which thereby bars them from becoming police officers. Most police departments now have educational requirements for recruits. Nearly all departments require officers to have a minimum of a high school diploma, and many require at least some college credits.
Officers need to be able to deal with the constant changing law of criminal procedures, and the idea is that the departments need to raise their requirements to keep pace with the rising levels of education in society. With the increase use of technology in policing is another reason for high education among the officers. In most states, small departments send their new officers to a state training academy or program certified by the state. During this time the officer is on probation for a period of a year or two years in which the officer is evaluated.
Some of the programs are operated through community colleges. The separate police academies run by the large police departments are similarly certified by the state. Officers who complete state training are then certified or licensed as peace officers in the state. The academy provides formal training during which the recruits who prove to be unqualified are weeded out. During the time at the police academy the officers receive physical training, training in the use of firearms, and training in the systems of patrol and traffic.
The officers must learn about the department, its policies, and its relationship with other agencies such as state, county, federal. Once out of the academy, the police officer is assigned a field training officer (FTO). The FTO assist the new officer in using the knowledge and skills learned at the academy. The FTO also assist the new officer to acclimate into the police culture, and experience the socialization process. The FTO’s can have a significant influence over the new officers and assist the officer in dealing with the stress and cynicism that comes with the job.
In some states, the officers are required to be Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) certified as the officers are often confronted with acts of civil disobedience. The promotion process for police officers is very competitive. Officers may be promoted through several methods; these methods may differ from department to department and agency to agency. The officer typically will take a written exam and partake in an interview; the officers are then assessed on qualities relating to the job.
The written exam usually is in a multiple choice format. During the interview, a board of several members asks the candidates a variety of questions. These questions may range from information about the candidates background and personal characteristics to judgments about policing situations. After the interview, the candidates are assessed, during which time the candidates are observed, tested, rated, and evaluated. The purpose of these assessment tools is to determine how well the candidate would perform at supervisory levels.
Promotions are not based on these factors alone, but are considered in combination with the performance evaluation. Performance evaluations look at the candidate’s quantity and quality of work, work habits, human relations, and ability to accept new situations. The officer selection process has evolved over the past 100 years. The police began actively recruiting women and minorities, implement affirmative action policies to keep the departments as equal opportunities for hiring of police officers.
The selection process is similar among the local, state, and federal agencies. The law enforcement departments are all looking for the brightest and best for their departments. The departments require the officers to be healthy of mind and body, ability to learn and adapt to different situations, and have good communication skills with the community. Each agency is willing to train and educate the officers as it is difficult to find the ideal candidate with all the qualities necessary.