Your Past = Your Future

You have set your college goal on earning a degree in Criminal Justice or a related concentration, such as forensics. Therefore, we will assume that your career path will take you to a job in law enforcement. What you do in high school and even prior to that could make or break your chances of doing police work. Whether it is local, state, or federal law enforcement, you need to be aware of what can derail your career in this field. This article will address some of the non-academic events that may disqualify you before you even apply for college.

Law enforcement is about, as the name states, enforcing local, state, and federal laws. In addition, it is about upholding the law of the U.S. Constitution and respecting civil rights. Your prior actions and behavior are a reflection of how you have conducted yourself with respect to the laws. If you have a troubled past, then you should select another degree or choose a profession in the private sector using your criminal justice degree.

As a candidate for becoming a police officer, you need to be aware of the hiring process and the common application steps involved prior to submitting your application for a given position. One very important step in the entire application process is the background investigation. This process determines whether you are eligible to become a law enforcement officer or not. The hiring agency requires that you meet all of their hiring qualifications. This includes checking on your past and present life.

Family and Friends

Interviews of your friends and family may expose character and/or behavior issues. The investigators will visit your birthplace and the place where you currently reside and ask questions to find out personal information. You can let your friends know that they might be visited, but do not ask them to lie for you, it will do you no good. You should also note that if you have been divorced in the past ten years, your ex-spouse will also be interviewed. If you have established the image of being a delinquent or associating with the ‘wrong’ people in your youth, this may come back to haunt you.


Not only will investigators examine your high school grades, they may interview teachers and/or your principal. This will shed light on what kind of student you were or are. Do you have a reputation for causing problems or bullying? Have you been expelled? All of these reflect on your character.

Criminal Record

This goes beyond a shoplifting arrest that will surely affect you adversely on your application for becoming a police officer. Something as uneventful as speeding tickets or a misdemeanor can be harmful. A record of domestic violence and/or gambling is also disqualifiers. If you have committed a crime that was unnoticed in the past, it is possible that it will be detected during the background investigation. Therefore, it is better to confess any small misdemeanor rather than try to hide it or lie about it. A domestic violence conviction will prohibit you from carrying a firearm and thus becoming a law enforcement officer.

You may have had a brush with the law in a small rural town. Nothing to worry about, you believe. That minor offense could be sitting in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Criminal justice agencies enter records into NCIC that are accessible to law enforcement agencies nationwide. Launched in 1967 with a database of 356,784 records, as of 2015 the system contained 12 million active records. In addition, this information is available instantly, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Credit History

This one affects your life in many ways in today’s society. It has a bearing on obtaining a car or home loan, the cost of insurance for those two, health insurance, and employment, regardless of the occupation. Your background check exposes your financial history. Have you missed payments multiple times for rent, a car loan or mortgage? Are you maxed out on more than one credit card? What is your credit rating? Anyone of these could dash your hopes of working in law enforcement.

Federal Agencies

A federal agency as the FBI has their own screening process that is lengthy and thorough. It is a multi-step interview and vetting ordeal. The FBI does some of the same background investigation procedures as a police officer applicant. During the interviewing process (federal agencies), the interviewers may conduct a polygraph test. The polygraph is used as an investigative tool to verify the truthfulness of your responses on the FBI background investigation forms.

Another important condition of qualifying to be an FBI agent is to pass the medical and fitness test. The Physical Requirements of the FBI involve passing a fitness assessment that includes a 300-meter sprint, sit-ups, a 1.5-mile run, and push-ups. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Agents also have a pre-employment physical task test (PTT). Similar to the FBI, the PTT requires applicants to finish 1.5 mile run in 12 minutes, 18 seconds or less. Perform a minimum of 33 push-ups in one minute and 40 situps in one minute.


This is a highly competitive occupation to secure employment. An article dated June 2017 in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper emphasized this point. The Orlando Police Department received 5,000 applications in 2016. About half advanced to the formal application process. Of the approximately 2,500 remaining candidates, only 50 officers were hired. This is not encouraging news. However, what you do during your high school years will definitely increase the opportunity to work in law enforcement.

Possible Disqualifiers