How to Grow a Good “COP”

By C. J. Oakes

In recent years, police recruiting, selection, and training has begun to develop along the same lines as farming.

Just as a farmer locates the best field of land, Police Departments are developing recruiting methods for the best cultivation of recruits possible.  Like farmers selecting the finest seed, departments are developing guidelines for determining the most desireable qualities when selecting candidates.  Like farmers cultivating their crops, law enforcement departments are improving criminal justice training so as to retain the best police officers.  This article will consider the first of these three issues.

Recruit the Best Police Officers

In the case of recruiting, the most important factor in recent years has been to promote policing as a career instead of merely a job (Walker-Katz, 2008).  Whereas this may seem a minor difference, in reality, it is not.  A career is viewed as a profession that a person enters for life.  As a job, a person tends to believe that if it does not “pan out” then something else will come along, but the career-minded person takes a far more serious approach to duties; the career-minded officer performs better.

Cover of "The Police in America: An Intro...
Cover of The Police in America: An Introduction

When recruiting, Walker-Katz describes three elements necessary to the process.  The three elements they describe are…

  1. the minimum qualifications of a candidate
  2. the recruitment effort itself, and
  3. the desire of the applicant considered

As for the minimum qualifications, an applicant must usually be between the ages of 21 and 35, although there are some exceptions to this.  The recruit should be weight/height proportional and in reasonably good physical condition.  The majority of departments require a high school diploma with about a third of all law enforcement agencies today seeking some college and a handful requiring a degree.  A clean (no felonies) adult record is generally expected and about a quarter of the departments expect the officers to reside within the jurisdiction.  The residency requirement, however, has been a matter of controversy in recent years (Walker-Katz, 2008).

Active Recruiting Yeilds a Better Crop of Cop

In the past, police departments did not actively recruit. Today, law enforcement agencies are finding that active recruiting brings the best applicants.  However, there are issues that hinder such efforts, such as stereotyping and identification barriers.

Stereotyping often presents police officers in a manner that dissuades many qualified females from seeking positions and in many communities, especially African American, police are often viewed with hostility, as the enemy.  This causes problems for the Black person seeking a career in the field of law enforcement because on gaining entry to the police force, he or she tends to become alienated from the community, a pariah; identification with the “enemy” makes the African American officer an automatic enemy among former friends and even family (Walker-Katz, 2008).  This can be a serious matter, for identity is a powerful force in a community (Lewis, 2003).

More police at the swearing-out ceremony.
More police at the swearing-out ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once the recruiting effort has born fruit, the selection process begins; this process can often take several months, depending on the needs and requirements of the department (Walker-Katz, 2008).  The general method employed could best be described as “weeding out” and “selecting in” (Sanders, 2007, p. 130).  This weeding out involves…

  • criminal background checks
  • drug tests
  • examination of driving records
  • psychological exams
  • physical tests, such as agility
  • polygraphs, and
  • medical exams.

After all clearly undesireable candidates have been eliminated, the department will then seek the best police candidates by conducting selection tests and interviews.  Eventually, the department has ideally found the best possible recruit for the department.  By following such guidelines, departments nationwide are hoping to grow the finest crop of police possible.

If you are interested in Law Enforcement, you will certainly enjoy reading the page on this website devoted to explaining how to best prepare for a career as a Police Officer here.

You may also enjoy reading

Police Professionalism in the Age of YouTube

And you will find a complete listing of all Police/Law Enforcement Agencies in the United States here.

Finally, if you do not yet have a degree or would like to get a higher degree in pursuit of your decision to enter Law Enforcement as a professional poice officer, be sure to check out Degree Finder below. Degree Finder will provide you with information related to either an undergraduate or an advanced degree program, helping you determine the best program for you. I used it years ago when I returned to school for my Criminal Justice degree and recommend them highly. There is no cost for the information and you will be pleased with the results.


  • Lewis, H. (2003). A Question of Values: Six Ways We Make the Personal Choices That Shape Our Lives (3rd ed.). Mount Jackson, VA: Axios Press.
  • Sanders, B. (2008). Using personality traits to predict officer performance. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 31(1), 129-147.
  • Walker-Katz, . (2008). The Police in America: An Introduction (6th ed.). : McGraw Hill.
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2 thoughts on “How to Grow a Good “COP””

  1. NR,In 1974 I was training with one of Bruce Lee’s sudtents, who told me this: You get ALL THE FAIR you can ENFORCE . He also rhetorically asked, Where would you get your food, were it not for Safeway and the like? .TRUTH, NR, is some of us have been discussing ALL this for 20 years.I will tell you what happens next, just as I have been tellingpeople what was coming all the way to here.Weimar Republic(cons) will now drive the populace to massiveprotests. They will place provocateurs in position to causeviolence, which will then allow rationalization of martial law. We are seeing the formative stage of this in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana. The extreme right, having CAUSED violence, in fact placed provocateurs in position to DO violence which they then will BLAME on protesters, will now call for ORDER . Military law will ensue.It’s all been done before-(Sacco and Vinzetti), and many othertimes. Americans don’t learn history, or from it.The only positive is these fascists have so destroyed the economy, and are refusing regulation, that it will happen again, and much worse. Then everyone will be in the same boat, which is the only way capitalism readjusts. Millions will dies. See William Blum’s, Killing Hope , to discover how the U.S. has perpetrated exactly this upon other countriesfor a very, very long time. And Americans are now surprised it has Come home to roost ; (Malcolm).This is where DENIAL gets us-and is largely due to the amountof paper debt Americans are so crushed under (which was cheap under Bushit) they can’t do anything about it-or did you thinkbanksters changing bankruptcy law just prior to economic meltdown was a coincidence?

  2. Nice format and inevteirw Todd. Highly relevant topic. Where recruiters can help themselves is to make sure that the slate of candidates that are presented are a representation of the targeted marketplace. Even if you you were looking nationally for a sales position, there are over 85% of the sales people in the US who are working, so it would be a tough sale logically to show a slate of 5 unemployed candidates. Just as it would be to show a slate of all male candidates.Or all female candidates.This raises an eyebrow or two. Its not representative.So sticking to the basics of making sure that people have the skills, experiences, and talents associated is the best place to start. Have a strong slate of 4 or 5 candidates (passive, active, employed, unemployed, whatever) that is representative and hits the mark. The bad move is showing a combination of 5 people that are not logical at all. They can’t all be stretch candidates 🙂 If you are going to put forward ANY slate that is not logically representative of the marketplace have those reasons ready. Rather than pushing that water uphill, one tactic is to show a smaller very representative slate (3 or 4 candidates) and then show ANOTHER slate that showcases other talent that would skew the logical representation. Do the you HAVE to see this person or we are SO lucky . If you show the manager that you did your job and then some, you can get into a conversation about candidates that may fall outside the manager’s box and that includes the long term unemployed.

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