Police Agencies Cop a New Attitude on Hiring!

Police Agencies Cop a New Attitude on Hiring!
Posted by FoM on January 03, 1999 at 15:53:08 PT

Take down the old sign: Drug users need not apply.It's the late '90s, time for a new attitude in law enforcement.
Fifteen years ago it was virtually impossible to become a police officer if you had smoked marijuana or used hard drugs.Not today.Many of those now seeking jobs as city police, sheriff's deputies, Highway Patrol officers or FBI agents have used drugs.But it's no longer a reason for rejection -- as long as the applicant is honest about it and was not a habitual drug user."Some find it very hard to swallow that we'd take people who used drugs," said Mike McCrystle, a retired FBI special agent who now teaches criminal investigation at California State University, Sacramento. But "this is a new time, a new place. You have to come to the party sooner or later.""We're dealing with . . . a whole different generation than we were 15 or 20 years ago," said John F. Langenour, a former police officer who now does background investigations for several Sacramento Valley police agencies. "It's a generational values thing."According to federal figures, about half of all Americans ages 18 to 34 have reported using drugs at some point in their lives.Applicants who have used felony drugs -- such as cocaine or heroin -- within the last 10 years usually are rejected by most agencies, Langenour said.Despite the change in hiring guidelines, new officers today "are just as good as they used to be," said Lt. Jim Cooper of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. "Are they better? In some ways, perhaps. They might have more street smarts."What derails most candidates who have used drugs, Langenour said, "is lying about it. Ninety percent of those who fail, it's because they weren't honest in the application process."Two of three candidates for most law enforcement jobs either fail the written test or oral boards, law enforcement officials said. And of those remaining, half flunk the background investigations."We look at everything, and I mean everything," including relationships with former in-laws and ex-employers, said Sgt. Tony Asano of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department.In addition to questions about prior drug use, academic records and credit histories are checked, Asano said. Candidates with felony convictions are automatically disqualified.Until a few years ago, the FBI refused to hire anyone who admitted to using illegal drugs, other than experimental use of marijuana."It was difficult, because we had some talented applicants, very good people, not qualify due to recreational use of drugs," said Thomas P. Griffin Sr., a retired FBI special agent who helped screen prospective hires when he worked in the Sacramento office."You definitely have to draw the line somewhere, but you can have a no-tolerance policy and hurt yourself," Griffin said.To keep up with the times, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh changed that policy in 1994, announcing new hiring guidelines.A booklet given to prospective agents now says: "The FBI does not condone any prior unlawful drug use by applicants ... (but) realizes ... some otherwise qualified applicants may have used drugs at some point in their past."According to the FBI, prospective special agents may have used marijuana a total of 15 times, but not during the past three years; or used hard drugs up to five times, but not during the past 10 years."If you can pass that on the polygraph, fine. But if you've used 30, 40, 50 times, you're not going to pass the polygraph, so why go on," said Nancy Wedick, a special agent in the FBI field office in Sacramento. "Besides, you've lied on your application, which shows lack of candor."At the Sacramento Police Department, however, any hard drug use -- even on an experimental basis -- after the age of 18 automatically disqualifies an applicant, said Deputy Chief Albert Najera."We have one of the most restrictive policies of any agency," Najera said.Najera said his department's hard line has resulted in the loss of some otherwise first-rate applicants -- "people we really wanted to hire."Chief Deputy John Benbow of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said, "It's not a quality issue, it's a recruitment issue." So many young adults have experimented with narcotics, he said, police administrators have been forced to soften their stance."It's become a necessity for most agencies," Benbow said.But Sacramento County Undersheriff Carol Daly said that applicants with prior drug use get scrutinized "really closely.""They better have everything else in order," she said. "They've got to be really good."
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