Home Career Demystifying the Background Investigation Process: What You Can Expect When Applying for a Law Enforcement Job
Demystifying the Background Investigation Process: What You Can Expect When Applying for a Law Enforcement Job

Demystifying the Background Investigation Process: What You Can Expect When Applying for a Law Enforcement Job


By Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University

For five years, I served as the background investigator at a county sheriff’s department. After that, I was hired by a municipal police department and was immediately assigned as their background investigator for the next three years before finally escaping the office to return to road patrol.

Frequently, job seekers would ask me the same questions time and again and it became apparent to me that no one had really taken the time to explain the background investigation process to individuals applying for jobs in law enforcement and corrections. While each department may conduct the background investigation a bit differently, there are many commonalities that apply to all criminal justice agencies.

Step 1: The Application Process

First you must decide to submit an application for a sworn position with an agency. If your application is incomplete, you may receive a letter saying so, along with another application packet to complete. However, in some agencies, the application is logged as incomplete and you will never hear from that agency again.

If the application is complete when it comes into the office, it is frequently logged into a background investigation spreadsheet and the background investigator starts a folder for your application.

Step 2: Background Investigator Initial Screening Process

The background investigator now gets to work. He or she will begin by first pulling all your records. If the agency is only hiring personnel who have already enrolled in or completed the law enforcement academy for part-time/full-time positions and for those without the academy civilian officer positions (traffic control specialists), the background investigator will go into the state’s law enforcement/corrections record management system (e.g. Florida’s Automated Training Management System, ATMS). Investigators will use these databases to check your agency employment history and your state certification.

These records show the background investigator all the agencies you have worked for in the state, if any, and the reason for separation (voluntary separation, terminated, under investigation). If your record shows “terminated” or “under investigation” the background investigator will often contact the agency to determine the cause of separation.

If you are a male, the background investigator will check to see if you have registered for the Selective Service. The background investigator will then run your name through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) as well as the state database (e.g. FCIC in Florida) to see if you have any criminal history.

The investigator will also pull your driver license history to see what violations you have collected. If you have a staple in your driver license history—meaning there’s more than one page—that is not good as it often indicates a DUI, suspension, or insurance problems.

The background investigator may also pull a background information report on you that includes everything from property ownership to relatives to places you lived when you were a kid, and compare this information to your application.

If you were prior military, the investigator will send for your records. At this point, if you are not certified as an officer or were terminated for cause or about to be terminated for cause, if you are not registered for Selective Service and should be, if you have a criminal history, have issues with your driver license history, or your report does not match with your application, generally the background investigator will stop processing your application and issue you a “thanks, but no thanks” letter.

Step 3: In-Person Interviews with Department Officers

If you pass the previous phase, you will move on if the agency has an opening. The background investigator may start this phase with an oral interview. Typically the background investigator does not participate in the oral interview, but may escort you into the interview and remain in the room during the interview.

You will be asked a series of questions and the agency will gauge your responses. “The agency” may consist of a line employee (officer/deputy), a supervisor (corporal/sergeant), a manager (lieutenant/captain), or some variation of these ranks/individuals. Those in the interview will issue a score and a “yes” or “no” response.

A “no” means you get a “thanks, but no thanks letter.” A score and “yes” means the background investigator has more work to do and thus he or she begins the next phase of the investigation process.

Step 4: Checking Your References

The background investigator will start the process by contacting your references, checking your places of employment, and contacting your neighbors. Their goal at this phase is to confirm the information you have self-reported and find out more about you.

He/she will contact the law enforcement agencies where you live/have lived and ask them to check their records for any contacts with you. The background investigator will contact all agencies you have worked for either by phone or in person and pull your employment jacket.

This stage requires a lot of work and takes time to complete. The background investigator plays a lot of phone tag with people—leaving messages back and forth—

and does a bit of driving in some cases. During this phase, the background investigator may also drop by and see you without warning to verify how you live.

He/she may also contact academy instructors and even your former professors. If he/she discovers any differences between your application and reality—such as poor employment history—or if the investigator is unable to contact any of your references, then he/she will likely send you a “thanks, but no thanks” letter. Sometimes he/she may “know” something isn’t right, but has not been able to turn up any evidence. When this occurs, he/she will dig deeper and deeper until what is giving him/her that uneasy feeling is discovered or discounted.

Step 5: Medical, Polygraph and Psychological Exams

If you have made it this far, consider yourself in really good shape as the vast majority of applicants do not get to this phase. Now begins the next phase of the process: your medical screening, drug screening, polygraph and psychological exam.

Your psychological exam may be a paper and pencil 150+ question test and an interpretation session with a doctor, which will generate a report to the agency. The information in the report may vary from a matrix that ranks you in one of three categories (low risk, medium risk, and high risk) to a paragraph that states the individual is deemed “fit” or “unfit” for the duties and responsibilities of the position.

Agencies want low risk, they don’t want high risk, and they will often take a good look at medium risk scores. High-risk individuals have a probability of finding themselves on the front page of the newspaper and not for good reasons. Medium-risk individuals may get on that front page, while low-risk individuals have a probability of being on the front page, but for the good reasons.

The medical and drug screen are pretty cut and dry–no drugs in your system and you will not drop dead tomorrow. The question to be answered is: “Are you able to physically perform the tasks associated with being a sworn officer?”

The polygraph consists of an extensive interview followed by the attachment of sensors to the body. The interviewer asks a series of questions and observes the results on the polygraph. If no deception is reported and no new information emerges from this process, you are good to be hired for a position. If the agency has more successful applicants than openings, they then make a decision on who to hire full-time and who may receive offers for reserve/part-time positions.


Going through the application process for a law enforcement position is a rigorous and time-consuming process. While each agency does things a bit differently, the process is generally the same. Every time a background investigator picks up or handles your application, you run the risk of getting a “thanks, but no thanks” letter. It is very easy to get one of those letters–much easier than it is to successfully make it through the process.

About the Author:  Dr. Chuck Russo has been involved with American Military University since 2001. He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East.

Dr. Russo earned his Master of Arts degree in education in 1995 and Master of Science degree in criminal justice in 1996 from the University of Central Florida. He earned his doctoral degree in public affairs at the University of Central Florida in 2006. His research focuses on emerging technology and law enforcement applications. 



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  1. What is considered in Phase 3 of a city/county law enforcement background investigation…if someone didn’t pass Phase 3, what could be the reason(s)

    1. Katherine,

      There could be any number of reasons why someone doesn’t pass any section of a background investigation. Phase 3 in one agency may be something different in another agency so it is hard for me to answer “why”.

      It could also be nothing on the part of the applicant as positions sometimes get initially funded only to have that funding pulled when individuals are in process. This may cause a “thanks but no thanks” letter to be sent.

      Dr. Russo

  2. Thanks for the great article! I do have one question for you if you don’t mind: Why do virtually all major law enforcement agencies rely on polygraph exams? There is plenty of evidence out there that says the polygraph has anywhere from a 5-25% false positive/negative rate. It has not been deemed reliable enough for our courts and seems like the skill of the person administering the test can greatly affect the outcome. Seems like an unreliable way of determining a candidates fate. Thanks so much!-Tony in Aurora, CO

    1. Tony,

      That is a very valid question. While the polygraph exam, and voice stress exam for that matter, may not be acceptable in a criminal court, the background investigation is not held to the same standard as “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. Often the valuable information, valuable to the background investigator, gathered in the polygraph or voice stress examination is obtained in the interview stage prior to going “live” on the instrument. In this stage, the operator asks the individual to be examined several questions and allows the individual to provide responses to those questions – again before being on the instrument. The information voluntarily provided by the individual coupled with the actual results obtained while being on the instrument is yet another nugget of information used to determine if the individual will advance in processing for the sworn position or if that individual will receive the dreaded “thanks but no thanks” letter. The information voluntarily provided by individuals prior to going “live” on the instrument has been both shocking and entertaining at times – and yes in these cases the “thanks but no thanks letter” follows.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Jeff,

      Typically phone calls and mailed surveys. He/she may also contact another background investigator in your area to do follow up on his/her behalf.

      Dr. Russo

  3. Question. If I’ve been polygraphed before by the polygraph examiner the technical institute requires future police academy students to see and then a year down the road or so I apply to a law enforcement agency a few counties away from where the tech institue is located can the background investigator for the law enforcement agency I am currently applying for find that previous polygraph done a year or so back? In other words are these polygraph test/ scores in a database to where anyone who is a polygraph examiner get his hand on that old polygraph test? Am I making sense here?

    Thank you.for your time.

  4. Xavier,

    The investigator doing your current background may contact the previous polygraph examiner to review results however there is no central database I am aware of that maintains prior exam results. Also each background investigator typically will require its own polygraph exam using its own examiner.

    Dr. Russo

  5. Dr. Russo,

    I have a question about background checks for a fire department, which I am sure are very similar to law enforcement background investigations.

    What is a background investigators options for obtaining information about my finances?

    1) is it just a credit report they pull?
    2) can they get access to bank accounts?
    3) is there a way for them to check your purchases or any bills / payment plans you have set up? Even if it is somehow linked to a social security number?
    4) if something is not reported to a credit bureau, is there any way for someone to find it?

    My background packet asks about monthly income and spending, bills getting sent to a collection agency, and bankruptcy.

    I’d appreciate any help with this.
    Thank you.

    1. Sean,

      Some agencies pull credit reports and request you provide financial documents from your bank(s). Other agencies will pull more detailed financial and history reports provided by various data collection agencies. If when reviewing these documents, things do not “add up” you may be requested to provide additional documentation in order to clarify issues in order to advance in processing. If you sufficiently address concerns, you may advance in the processing. If the investigator feels the issue has not been properly addressed, you may not advance in processing.

      Background investigations utilize examples of past judgment and decision making to attempt to predict future judgment and decision making. Discrepancies in reporting financial information may lead an investigator to believe future financial issues may occur. Examples of poor financial judgment in the past may lead an investigator to believe poor financial judgment in the future may occur. Past issues may be an indicator of future issues that may be best avoided by not hiring the individual.

      Dr. Russo

  6. Dr. Russo,
    I’ve recently been contacted by a department and was told they were going to start running my background check. The investigator called me back and told me we needed to set up a meeting to get my fingerprints done and an integrity questioner needed to be done. What can i expect out of this meeting and what is the appropriate attire for meeting the investigator?? Thanks for your time Dr. Russo


    1. Teo,

      For attire, I would present myself in “business casual” attire at a minimum – slacks and a collared shirt for males and corresponding attire for females. For males, a long sleeve shirt and tie along with the slacks would be preferred.

      Regarding the integrity questioner, I’m not exactly sure what this will entail. My GUESS would be it would be similar to the interview questions asked prior to the start of a polygraph/voice stress exam. As such you may be asked to verify certain aspects of your application including but not limited to prior employers, driving history, prior contacts with law enforcement, drug/alcohol/tobacco use, etc.

      Dr. Russo

  7. Dr. Russo,
    Do previous federal applications, such as a background inquiry and application to Border Patrol, show up in a background investigation for a state or county police department LE jobs? only process of the border patrol hiring process my cousin completed was the application/background inquiry and written test and was wondering if state/county LE agencies pull up a record of reason not hired, even if it was just the first stage of the hiring process. Or are state, county, and federal background investigations separate? This was over 5 years ago. Thank You.

    1. Vincent,

      Many law enforcement applications do ask the applicant to list other law enfacement/related positions applied for. If one is not disclosed and the investigator uncovers it, it may be cause for concern. Typically each agency does its own separate background investigation, independent of any others that were done or are in process. One exception to this is consolidated testing centers that conduct background investigations for multiple agencies. I can’t speak for the federal system as I have had very limited exposure with that background process over the years. I do not know if they formally share information. If someone has a question as to why he/she was not hired, I strongly recommend he/she contacts that agency. Many agencies have no obligation to inform the individual as to why he/she was not hired but some may do so.

      Dr. Russo

  8. I am new to the applicant process of applying to PD’s and I have a couple of questions. I have applied to several police departments in a different state but never really made it past the application process.

    1. Do PD’s share application information with other PD’s out of state if I were to apply to a different agency?
    2. When the pull the background information, are they checking your credit for financial history or do they have access to all of the financial items that arent listed on your credit?
    3. Lastly, in the state that I am from, items drop off of our driving records after a certain amount of years. The record becomes clean again after 7 years. Ive had prior suspensions but they are no longer on my driving record. Would I still mention these on my application or omit them because they are no longer on my record?

    Im just trying to put all the pieces together to properly apply and be considered for an agency.

    1. Ness,

      Many law enforcement applications do ask the applicant to list other law enforcement/related positions applied for. If one is not disclosed and the investigator uncovers it, it may be cause for concern. An agency doing a background check may request documents from another agency so in that respect yes they do share. Also the background investigators in an area often know each other and do talk amongst themselves about the current applicant pool.

      Many agencies pull credit reports and have access to all that is listed on those. There are more detailed reports available if the agency elects to utilize and that may show items not available on a credit report.

      For auto insurance purposes, items “drop off” a driving history after a period of time and they do not impact your rates. As they said in high school, they are still part of your permanent record and still show up when an agency pulls your driving history. It is up to the agency how much of that driving history the agency uses for consideration of employment.

      Dr. Russo

  9. Dr. Russo,

    Thank you for shining light on this very complex process! Do you know how an agency verifies employment history (with a private company)? Is it based solely on what you provide to the investigator?

    Thank you,


  10. Marvin,

    The information provided on the application is verified often through a combination of site visits, letters sent and returned as well as phone calls. In addition, employment files at those companies may be reviewed and compared to the submitted application to determine if items have been omitted. Questions on a polygraph and/or voice stress exam will also have questions concerning employment history.

    Dr. Russo

  11. hi i had a question for you dr. russo about background investigations. when i was 19 i went awol from the army for a girl. i turnedr myself in 60 days later and was court martialed out with an oth discharge. this was almost 10 years ago since then i have been working as a correctional officer but i lied on my application to get this job. i had to pass a finger print background check to get the job and everything came back clear. my question for you is if i attemp to go to a police academy or finish my college degree will this one mistake haunt me forever and hold me back?

  12. Gilbert,

    The short answer is yes. It can have an impact if you choose to go to the academy and find employment as a law enforcement officer.

    Dr. Russo

  13. thank you for the fast reply. will it ever show up if i continue to hide it? From what i have read online it should on become a problem when applying for a secret security clearance.

  14. I applied for a sheriff’s office my app was closed they told me to reapply early on my first app i put that i was suspended from my place of employment but turns out my manager did not mark me down as suspended he just said i left world early what should i put on my. Second. App as is it a good idea to write a letter stating what happen

  15. I’ve recently had my background interview and was asked what other agencies I’ve applied to and I listed all the agencies I’ve gone into the process and backgrounds with. It’s 3 days later and I’m thinking I misunderstood the question. Years ago ( 1 almost 10 years ago) I filled out online applications with 4 other agencies but never took the exams. I assumed he wanted to know where I applied as to check with them about my background or a potential dq, etc. but did he want the ones that stopped at just the application as well? If I call back immediately and give these updates and explain that I misunderstood will it make me look bad?

  16. I have a question for you sir that is very critical. As everyone does I have some skeletons in my closet from about 2 1/2 -3 years ago. I was in a domestic violent relationship and it kind of drove me to anxiety and a little depression. I had called the police on him for being physical. And one night I was emotional and he had called the police and they sent me to a mental hospital. I was there for about a day and a half. I wasn’t diagnosed with anything and they saw that I was fine and just In a troubled relationship. Another issue I had with the same person was one night we were arguing and I didn’t intentionally do this but I was knocking on the plastic next to his door and it cracked the window. He called the police, no charges were made.

    This was just a dramatic time for me. I’m stable I don’t even take medication or have to see a doctor. I really hope I make it through this process. My family is full of police officers and firefighters. It’s all I want to do.

  17. Toni,

    What may hinder you is the competition amongst other applicants. As others may not have anything that needs to be “explained away”, those applicants will process quicker than you. What you describe will not make a challenging process any easier and may prove very difficult to overcome.

    Dr. Russo

  18. Hi Dr Russo,
    How would an agency find out about a previous employer that you failed to list on an application? In other words if I worked somewhere for 2 months and were terminated could the agency find out I was employed there is I didn’t list then on my app.

    1. Nichole,

      It is easy to find out information such as you describe. I good background investigator will speak with all employers and ask about an individuals previous and next job. In addition when speaking to references, these things frequently come up.

      A termination can be explained. Leaving an item off an application is deceptive and will frequently lead to a “thanks but no thanks” letter.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Luis,

      It depends on the agency and the state. In many states and agencies, there is no appeal process as there is no requirement to hire anyone. In others, there may be an appeal process. You would need to contact that specific agency and ask.

      Dr. Russo

  19. Hi Dr. Russo,

    I recently lost two close friends of mine which affected me hard, therefore affecting my job (coming in late). I was terminated after 4 years of working for this company. I never did anything wrong besides that and when the bosses sat me down and terminated me, they told me that it was strictly business and that they would gladly take a call if I were to use them as references for a job in the future. I have a good GPA in school, no driving record, no criminal record, this is the only thing that I think would hold me back once I graduate from school this spring semester and begin applying to schools. I just wanted to ask you how damaging being terminated could be for me when applying to PD’s later this year?


  20. Neil,

    Personally, I have recommended applicants for hire who had an earlier termination in their background. In these cases, it was explained away and was coupled with a positive recommendation from that previous employer – similar to what you have described here. While it is something that would require an explanation, I would not view it as an automatic disqualifier and believe others would view it in a similar manner.

    Dr. Russo

  21. Hello Dr. Russo,

    My name is Frank. I am 33 years old and I have worked as a commercial truck driver for the last 13 years. I am in high hopes applying for the LAPD this year. There are two things that I’ve come to my attention that I need clarity on. I hope your expertise can shed some light on my questions.

    Selective service. I did not register for selective service between the ages of 18 through 25. Will this be a disqualifying factor?

    My second question is about a vandalism charge that I got myself into at the age of 18. I was booked for felony vandalism in 1999. The case was ultimately rejected by the district attorney and no conviction was made. I spent six hours in jail and then was let free. To my knowledge it’s the only criminal history to my name. Will this be a disqualifying factor? If not how much of an explanation should I give my background investigator?

    Many Thanks. You have been of great service

    1. Frank,

      In many agencies failure to register for selective service is an automatic disqualifier. As the failure to register is a violation of the Military Selective Service Act, with a conviction for the violation resulting in imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine of not more than $250,000, agencies take this seriously. State penalties may also apply for failing to register. Go to sss.gov to see what options are available to you.

      While some agencies require arrests to be disclosed others may require only convictions be disclosed. How this would be handled would be on an agency by agency basis. You should provide the background investigator as much information as possible. I would even consider including the original report as well as the rejection/dismissal/nol pros letter by the DA. If it makes it easier for the background investigator to “explain away”, it improves your odds at getting hired.

      Dr. Russo

  22. I have been applying to several Sheriff departments, and the State Troopers here in Colorado. I recently went through a fitness test and board interview with Teller County. I was given a no thanks letter. I’m worried that they may have denied me due to an application error I made between departments. When I applied at another department, I miss thought my timeline of Marijuana use, so it only had three times of use on it, but when I applied to teller county I remembered a fourth time of use. So, I kept my applications consistent there after. My question is: Could that have played a factor in my disqualification? Do investigators compare applications from other departments I’ve applied to, and could this have an effect on me forever on if I get hired or not? Should I simply just bring this concern up in the initial interview, or only bring it up if I’m asked?

    A second question I have is, do you disqualify people for being on antidepressants? Is this something I can omit from my application, and only bring up if asked? Do investigators have access to Dr and medication history if I simply just don’t tell them?

    1. Tara,

      Could that have played a factor? Yes it could have. Background investigators frequently compare applications and look for inconsistencies. I would not bring it up however if asked be truthful in your response.

      Regarding antidepressants, this would fall under self disclosure and/or if you signed a waiver for the background investigator to have access to your medical files. If prescribed, they would not be an automatic disqualifier in many of the agencies I am familiar with.

      Dr. Russo

  23. Dr. Russo

    I applied for a County Corrections position in April of 2014. They called me in November of 2014 for a background check. I interviewed with the investigator and filled out the packet. I have not heard anything back either a letter or a call. I emailed the investigator a few weeks ago to find out the status. The investigator said that her investigation was complete and she sent the information up the chain. I was wondering if sometimes they don’t send a thanks/ no thanks letter, and do you think I still have a chance? Thanks for your time.

  24. Sarah,

    Frequently there is no requirement to send a “thanks but no thanks letter”. If you successfully completed everything, the agency may keep you on file for a particular period of time (6 months, a year, etc.) so that it can pull from a list of “ready to hire individuals” when openings pop up. No news may in fact be good news.

    Dr. Russo

  25. Hello Dr. Russo, I have a long question for you but any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    I recently received a disqualification letter in my e-mail notifying me that I failed the background investigation for “contradictory information” and “drug usage”. I know the reason that I got disqualified because during the background investigation, the background investigator called me into headquarters to ask me about a discrepancy.

    The discrepancy was from another application that I submitted ONLINE for another department 6 months prior to applying to this department. On the application that I submitted to this department I told them I smoked marijuana a total of 5 times in my life all in high school and that I have never driven under the influence of alcohol. On the application that I submitted to the other department, the background investigator said that I typed on the ONLINE application that I smoked weed a total of 51 times and drove under influence of alcohol 5 times. I honestly do not remember answering any of those questions when I filled out the application online. What I do remember is that I filled out the online application for the other department late night and had work the next morning. I remember rushing through it to see how long it was because I wanted to see if that particular department would let me apply even if I did not have a peace officer certification yet. I remember going all the way to the end to see if it would ask that and to also see how long the whole application was so that I could finish it later on. What I think happened was I just put any numbers in the boxes online so that I can click next and didn’t pay attention. At the end of the application, it only let me choose correctional officer instead of deputy so I tried to click “back” but it did not let me so I just hit submit. I had no intention of even submitting that application because I had no interest in being a correctional officer. When they emailed me to come in for testing I even declined.

    Short story is, I got declined for another application that I submitted online in which I do not even remember filling out questions on. There were some other questions they said I answered differently on the other department’s online application along with some dates that were completely off compared to the application that I actually hand filled for this department. I already passed physical, written and polygraph for this particular department and only had to do psychological test if I did not get disqualified for the background. I applied for a third department as well in which the personal history statement was filled out by my hand as well. If they compare my application with that department’s application everything should match. The only problem was the ONLINE app for the other department that I rushed through and do not remember filling out questionnaires. With that said, the disqualification letter said that I can appeal the decision.

    Do you think it is worth my time to appeal? Do appeals ever get the disqualification overturned in this type of situation?

    I have worked really hard to even qualify to apply for this job and for 4 straight years I managed to work full time, take care of my kids, be the sole breadwinner for my family, attend college and get straight A’s, and work out at the gym to get in shape all just to prepare for a career in law enforcement. I would hate a dumb mistake on my part to kill everything that I worked for.

    Thanks for your time Dr. Russo. Any response would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Derek,

      Appealing a decision is your option and one you may exercise. I do not have any experience with a formal appeal process in this situation as few agencies in Florida have formal appeals review at this point in the hiring process. I have had friends in other parts of the country appeal hiring disqualifications based on medical reasons. The results have been mixed.

      Many have “dumb mistakes” in their past that need to be explained away in backgrounds. These take time, energy and if there are other candidates who do not have “dumb mistakes” in their background, you may never find the chance to provide the explanation. These candidates are offered and accept the position prior to the background investigator working his/her way down the list to you.

      At a minimum, it sounds like you set yourself back in your quest to be hired. Your best approach to future applications is to submit a well written letter detailing the information you presented here. It may allow you to provide the explanation the background investigator needs to process your file along with those who do not have those “dumb mistakes” in their background.

      Dr. Russo

  26. I made it through to the background stage but got a letter stating that I didn’t pass and that I would be removed from the city candidate list. Here’s the problem: they refuse to tell me why I failed the background check. Is this normal/legal? This was the response I received when I inquired about it:

    “We are not at liberty to discuss the circumstances surrounding a candidate removal, per the City Attorney’s office”.

    I believe candidates should have a right to know why they failed the background investigation so they know if it’s worth their time ever applying again in the future….

    1. Ricky,

      This is common and legal. Agencies are not obligated to inform a candidate why one did not pass. The agency in this case is protecting itself from legal liability as anything the agency tells you could be used to challenge their decision in a court. It is in the agency’s best interest to say as little as possible in these cases.

      Dr. Russo

  27. Hey Mr Russo im applying for a corrections officer job whoever I have two dismissed assault charges one of them domestic but I was never convicted of anything all was dropped.. What do you think my chances are of getting the job

  28. If you were removed from Dept. Of Corrections for a disorderly persons offense which was dismissed in court, can you ever apply to another law enforcement agency. I have no criminal record and had an excellent work history for the prior 15 years?

  29. Frank,

    It definitely won’t help. However as the charges were dismissed, they may not be “automatic” disqualifications. If you are going up against someone else for the position who does not have anything needing to be explained away, he/she would probably get the slot before you. If going up against someone else for the position who has things that need to be explained away, you would be on equal ground with that person.

    Dr. Russo

  30. JoJo,

    Yes you can apply to another agency. As I just stated to Frank, “However as the charges were dismissed, they may not be “automatic” disqualifications. If you are going up against someone else for the position who does not have anything needing to be explained away, he/she would probably get the slot before you. If going up against someone else for the position who has things that need to be explained away, you would be on equal ground with that person.”

    Dr. Russo

  31. When you fail a background check, is there any possible way to find out why? The email I received stated that the information was confidential. How am I to improve my application for a future reapply without knowing why I failed in the first place?

  32. Hello Dr. Russo,

    I’m currently in the back ground process with a police department, and I wanted to know how long do other departments I applied to previously,keep my application on record for them to cross reference?


  33. Carlos,

    One common question asked is, “Have you committed any crimes that you were not arrested or your involvement was not detected?” In the example you provide, the answer would be yes and an explanation would be necessary.

    Dr. Russo

  34. Victor,

    You can answer a question any way you like however the application will require you to answer truthfully. In addition to this request, there is a high probability that you will be asked by the voice stress test operator and/or polygraph operator if you answered each question/completed the application truthfully/honestly. Indicators of deception with these will be a problem when it comes time for your application to advance forward.

    Dr. Russo

  35. mg,

    For the most part yes these same steps apply to non-sworn positions within a law enforcement and/or corrections agency. It may not be necessary for the investigator to go into the state’s law enforcement/corrections record management system. If the individual was once employed by such an agency in a sworn position, typically the investigator will pull those related records.

    Dr. Russo

  36. So Dr. Russo, all of that is required just to be a cop? I was wondering if you perhaps knew what steps I have to take to be a criminal investigator. I know that I have to go through the police Academy first and then be a patrol cop for two or so years to be an investigator but different websites say different things. I would love to know so I can map out an exact plan. Also, what certification and college majors I need. And I am 4’9 and only 83 pounds. (No I’m not a kid I’m 18) but I want to know if I can still pursue this career being the height and weight I am.

  37. Trina,

    Height and weight are not necessarily automatic disqualifiers as long as you can complete the tasks associated with the position. Most agencies do not require you have completed a college education prior to being hired. Of those that do, generally they require a specific degree (BA/BS or AA/AS) or a number of credit hours and not necessarily a specific major. Different agencies have different requirements for being transferred/promoted to investigations. Some agencies may require 3, 5 or even more years first spent in patrol. Others may require specific advanced and specialized training prior to the transfer/promotion. It is best that you check with the specific agencies you are interested in to see exactly what their requirements are for becoming an investigator.

    Dr. Russo

  38. Dr. Russo,

    If you have been disqualified from a previous background investigation from on agency and make it to the background stage for different agency can the new agency view your background check from the previous agency? I know a confidentiality agreement is signed at the time of the interview. Can that be broken by another agency? Even for a non-sworn position.

    Additionally, if you were asked in the first check about a topic, let’s say drug use, but didn’t remember all the times or drugs, but remembered as time goes on afterwards. Would the new agency become aware of this discrepancy? Or is that simply a matter of explaining poor memory? I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t keep a logbook about something stupid and wholly shameful I did as a teen and tend to try to forget those moments.

    Thank you.

    1. Chris,

      Background investigators do frequently review the results of work done by other agencies when conducting their own background investigation. Many applications ask if you have applied to any other agencies and if so list those. Investigators may review the files at those agencies. Inconsistencies between applications are generally noted and you may be asked to explain why the response differ.

      Dr. Russo

  39. Can a department ask about infidelity issues? For example, an applicant is found to have been involved in an extramarital affair. There are no other blemishes in the background and the applicant is otherwise highly qualified for the job. Obviously there is no direct question asked about this in the application packet, but information is revealed during the preliminary background. Can an investigator legally ask you to explain the findings?

    1. Chuck,

      First off be aware I am not an attorney. With law enforcement background investigations, due to the nature of the business, questions are asked that are not part of the typical hiring process. This may be one of them. Law enforcement backgrounds delve into moral turpitude and questions related to infidelity may fall under this area.

      Dr. Russo

  40. Dr. Russo,

    Thank you for your quick response. As a follow up question a friend of mine asked me if a polygraph exam from an agency from one state can be used in a background check by another agency from a state that does not allow a polygraph or stress analysers to be used for background checks and employment (even for law enforcement). On the one hand I can see where the information will be helpful however clearly one state does not hold the polygraph as a valid method in a background check. As such I can make arguments for either case, however I was wondering with your experience if you had ever come across this.

    Thank you,

    1. Chris,

      Most agencies will want to collect their own information for their background check. The work done by other agencies can and will often be used to confirm/support the investigator’s work as well as to provide leads on specific incidents/events that may need clarification and/or follow up. A CVSA or polygraph completed by another agency is no different. If an investigator reviews one done by another agency, the investigator may use that information as a lead to proceed down an avenue of inquiry that will confirm the information.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Joe,

      Regarding interviews – yes there are typically differences between civilian and sworn interviews. The civilian interviews often do not contain the same types of tactical and/or ethical based scenario questions that would be part of the interview for a sworn position.

      Dr. Russo

  41. i got a question, I was charged with a burglary as a minor. what are my chances that my application will be turned down when I submitted. I wanna apply for border patrol.

    1. David,

      In your case, I would contact Border Patrol and ask them specifically if this would be an automatic disqualifier. Some agencies do not take the same approach to juvenile incidents compared to adult incidents so it is best to direct the question to the particular agency.

      Dr. Russo

      1. Someone I know is applying she has a clean record the only thing they found was that the police was called recently to her residence for a dispute between her and the husband. Would that disqualifies her? The background investigator asked about it.

  42. Cortez,

    You may want to contact the agency to see if they will provide further details as to why you are no longer being considered for the position. Be aware that in many states, agencies are not required to notify you as to the reason why you are no longer being considered.

    Dr. Russo

  43. A question regarding my background….I’m currently a 23 yesr old applicant to a number of departments with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. As I am approaching the background phase in the various processes, I am worried about a number of things that I feel could potentially get me eliminated. To start I pled Probation Before Judgment to a charge of Underage Possession of Alcohol when I was 18 (almost 5 years ago now) the charge has since been expunged but I know departments can still see it. More worrying to me is that I failed a pre-employment drug test (marijuana) when I was 19 (4 years ago). Prior to taking the drug test for said job I was up front and honest about my usage and that I would not pass the test. I was officially released for a “failure to meet a condition of employment”. The employer will obviously have to disclose this if questioned, though he said he would give me a good recommendation aside from that (had worked there for 3 years) I have not used any other drugs period, or marijuana in more than 3 years now, further the marijuana usage was experimental only. I also have three speeding tickets, though none within the past 2 years. Does an applicant with such a background have any realistic chance of getting into a law enforcement career? Would more time as a cushion to show maturation and potential help? I’m currently enrolled In a college program that would knock 6 weeks off of the academy in the state I live (essentially a fast track) would this help? I’m truly repentant for past mistakes and trying to take every opportunity to make up for said mistakes, but I also want to be realistic with myself regarding I start looking into a different career field. Thank you in advance.

  44. Dr. Russo,
    Does an applicant who is otherwise very qualified have a chance at passing a background if they have an underage possession of alcohol charge (now expunged and 5 years removed), a release from employment for admission of prior marijuana use (now 4 years removed), and 3 minor speeding tickets (all at least 2 years removed)? If not, would more time make all of the above look better in the eyes of an investigator?

    1. Josh,

      With those items that you mention time and distance are your greatest help in the “teenage” you from the present. Those items you stated do not generally automatically eliminate you from a law enforcement position and prevent you from getting hired. The more time you have between those events and your trying to get hired, the better off you will be.

      Dr. Russo

  45. I have 2 question, in the hiring process do the investigators contact our previous jobs’ managers? Do investigators go based on what our managers explain about us? Cause I got into an argument with the assistant manager and it let to the manager. I didn’t get fired, but I’m just worried the manager in the future will say something bad. I’m leaving the job in about a month to go back to school.

  46. Hugo,

    Background investigators speak to anyone and everyone when conducting a thorough background. As the information each individual may provide will vary, the investigator weighs each item in relation to all the other information available. If 9 people have positive things to say and 1 has negative things to say, the weight of the 9 would be greater than the weight of the 1 … all other things being equal.

    Dr. Russo

  47. Dr. Russo,

    I recently failed a background investigation due to “inconsistencies” with the status of the various law enforcement agencies I’ve applied to. I listed every agency I’ve applied with and the exact outcome of each agency. The background investigator for this agency was very thorough. We went over each agency, and I told him exactly what happened, withdrawn/non-select/eligibility list expired, etc.

    I have passed previous investigations with no problems, that is why this baffles me. Is it possible that an agency will say you were removed from the process for one reason, but then mark down something different in their database? Many of these agencies are very ambiguous in their “thanks, but no thanks” letters. I understand they do not have to tell me anything, but I have to put down the outcome on the personal history form.

    I was just invited to a written exam for another agency. I know every agency is different; should I proceed with this new agency?

    Thank you.

  48. Dave,

    If you want to pursue a career in law enforcement/corrections, you should proceed with the new agency. Agencies have no reason to provide a false reason for being removed for the process. Either the agency will not provide you a reason or state why the process was stopped. The agency has nothing to gain by providing you a false response.

    Dr. Russo

  49. My husband recently got denied for a position, and is blaming me. We had gotten into a really big argument the week prior, and I had kicked him out. He said the investigator said that he interviewed the neighbors and they “heard screaming and slamming” and “were going to call the police”. Without any knowledge of who was in the home, or anything to that extent, could he have been denied based on us fighting? The police didn’t show up, there were no charges, and he was back the next day. He also said that this argument could prevent him from getting any further jobs with any other department. How much truth is there to this?

    Thanks so much!

  50. Question Dr. Russo,

    My question is… Do the background investigator have a “database/program/or phone number” something to aid them; in finding out where you have turned in a “Personal History Packet”/or applied?

    or is it more who they know; and the luck of the draw, where they decide to call and check to see if you have applied there?
    & lets see if Police Dept A runs your background during the hiring process. Does Police Dept B see that PDA ran your background?

    Does it make sense?

  51. Hello dr russo….13 yrs ago i was tricked into signing i lied on my application…i want to retest for another county…will this void my chances…

  52. Question Dr. Russo,

    My question is… Do the background investigator have a “database/program/or phone number” something to aid them; in finding out where you have turned in a “Personal History Packet”/or applied?

    or is it more who they know; and the luck of the draw, where they decide to call and check to see if you have applied there?
    & lets see if Police Dept A runs your background during the hiring process. Does Police Dept B see that PDA ran your background?

    Does it make sense?

    1. Adrian,

      As I’ve stated earlier as a reply to a similar question:

      Many law enforcement applications do ask the applicant to list other law enforcement/related positions applied for. If one is not disclosed and the investigator uncovers it, it may be cause for concern. An agency doing a background check may request documents from another agency so in that respect yes they do share. Also the background investigators in an area often know each other and do talk amongst themselves about the current applicant pool.

      Some areas have a central database shared with multiple agencies that can see who is processing/has processed an individual applicant.

      Dr. Russo

  53. Dr. Russo,
    Over 7 years ago, I worked for a large, multi-state “private company” and was let go during a time of company-wide lay-offs. I have since earned a grad degree and held steady employment with good references.

    A month ago, I filled out an application for a county law enforcement agency in CA and checked the box that indicated I’ve never been terminated from a job (which I mistakenly thought to be true at the time).

    However, afterwards, when I called for specifics of my dates of employment for an updated resume, the HR director of “private company” disclosed to me that my personnel file notes showed that I was terminated for poor performance. I was surprised at the discrepancy, and because the company was bought out and my old supervisors are no longer there and also it was over 7 years ago, I feel as though there is not much I can do about it at this point in time.

    I was also informed by “private company’s” HR that if a prospective employer seeks any information regarding my previous employment, they would only disclose my dates of employment and position title, and nothing else.

    I have my first background investigation appointment with this County LE dept in a week and I am unsure of what to do about my new found information regarding the termination (and not lay-off) of my previous employment.

    My main questions:
    Should I disclose this upfront in the background packet? If I do, it will contradict my initial application info.
    If so, when should I disclose it?
    Or should I just leave it alone and hope that “private company’s” HR really won’t disclose anything beyond dates of employment and position title? (the county LE dept will have me sign an Authorization release for info regarding my previous employment).

    Thank you.

    1. Lisa,

      In this case your best course of action may be to demonstrate honesty and your desire to do the right thing by providing a written explanation of why you checked the box at the time of completing the application and what you have since discovered. Being terminated from previous employment is not an automatic disqualifier to law enforcement employment while being deceptive and withholding information usually is.

      Dr. Russo

  54. Hi,
    I apologize if you have answered a similar question before, I have not looked through it. However, I would like to ask you if certain crimes committed that one was not caught/charged for should be put on the background check.
    Hypothetically, are these crimes in these scenarios disqualifies?
    petty theft (under $400) 3 years ago
    hit & run: no injuries & no damage, over 1 year ago
    Using another persons ID (for any reason): one time, a couple weeks ago to buy beer/margarita at a professional sporting event,
    Possession of alcohol as a minor; partying
    Taking adderall 3 times in your life, over 8 months ago.
    …as you can see, it’s not perfect. But I’d really appreciate your answer as it is urgent!
    Oh, also, 18 years old, applying for police cadet position but want to be a federal agent one day.
    Many people have said not to put things down you haven’t been charged for but I believe honesty is better.. May you tell me what you think?
    Thank you very much.

    1. Gigi,

      As this is a concern of yours, it would have a higher probability of showing up on the polygraph and/or voice stress test. It is better to be up front than to be caught trying to be deceptive.

      Dr. Russo

  55. What if you apply for the county Sheriff and you go to a background interview and you seen them pull out someone else’s record that has the same name but wrong date of birth? And you tell them and they close up the chart and disqualify you? What legal action can be done?

  56. Dr Russo, I had a temporary restraining order placed on me by a ex girl friend once we went to court the gudge thought it was frivolous and dismissed it. Will this effect my background process even if I disclosed it.

    1. Hunter,

      Most in law enforcement are very aware of the situation you describe. You should be prepared to explain this and provide the necessary documentation to support what you said here. With the proper explanation and supporting documentation, it should not hinder your progress towards obtaining a sworn position.

      Dr. Russo

  57. Hi Dr. Russo, I am in law enforcement with the federal government. Unfortunately, it’s good possibility I will be terminated. My attorney informed me if I resign my department will seal my records, which she explained another agency would not be aware of what happened. Is this true? Another question, this bothers me because it appears that my department was right and I gave up. I am wondering if I should just wait to see what happens. And if I do get terminated, do you think I would get disqualified from another government agency hiring me? I have been with the federal government for 13 years with an unblimished record until now.

  58. Last question sir. Are there any agencies I could do a mock LE background investigation to know what areas need to be worked on IE fix is credit, better references, passed tickets old job info etc. To help make my back ground look better..because where I live the police department hires rarly and I don’t want to go in unprepared.

    1. Hunter,

      Great question! Unfortunately due to the time that goes in to conducting a proper investigation, I am not aware of any agencies that provide this service. Due to the nature of the databases an agency background investigator utilizes when conducting his/her investigation, I am not sure if a private company/individual/entity would be able to accurately conduct a mock law enforcement background investigation. A private company/individual/entity may be able to get close however they may not be able to duplicate it. Also I cannot imagine this being a cheap service however if one looks at it as an investment rather than a cost, it may make sense to go down this path.

      Dr. Russo

  59. I am currently seeking employment with a local agency but not as a sworn officer but a electrical technician and have to go through a background test and polygraph test as well. My question is will my testing be as thorough and intense as some of the above scenarios?

    1. Nathan,

      While the process for civilian positions are not as “intense” as the process for sworn positions, it typically does go “deeper” than a background investigation for a typical non-government position. This is often due to the sensitive nature of the documents, materials and information one will have access to as a civilian employee in a law enforcement organization.

      Dr. Russo

  60. My question is:
    I’m about to start my physical and background check for the California sheriffs. When I was 18 I got a medical marijuana card. I ended up going to the military at age 21 and haven’t used pot or alcohol since. Will they find out about my card? If so how is it legal since its medical. And my other question is how do they decide which friends to call about you?

  61. I’m currently in the process for a police dispatcher position. During my cvsa I admitted to infidelity after being asked what the most dishonest thing I’ve ever done was. Will this hinder me in the process? Does it hold any weight to my hireability? I’m otherwise a very clean slate and I’m very embarrassed by the fact that I was unfaithful. How much of this information is passed around for everyone to see? I don’t want a bad name made for myself before I even work there.

  62. Sarah,

    The ability to disclose such information would vary by state. Regarding hindering you in the process, while it technically could most of the agencies I am familiar with wouldn’t consider it worthy of terminating you in the hiring process.

    Dr. Russo

  63. I have a question, if an applicant currently works for a police department but applies somewhere else and the background investigator uncovers information they believe was withheld from the current employer, are they compelled or can they contact the current employer to disclose the information found?

  64. Kellee,

    While the background investigator is not necessarily compelled to notify the other agency, if a serious issue is detected frequently a call will be made to the employing agencies background investigator letting him/her know that he/she may want to make time to come by and review the background investigation.

    Dr. Russo

  65. I applied for a county corrections position last year. I hadn’t heard anything until yesterday when the Captain called and asked me if I was still interested, (which I am). The Captain scheduled a meeting for me to come in because he has some questions about my background. Is this a good or a bad thing?

  66. Dr. Russo,

    I’m in process of hiring for administrative position with Sheriffs dept. I have history of voluntary hospitalization 20 years ago for depression. I take antidepressants. I have bad credit score due to high utilizatiin, but have paid my bills on time. What chance do I have? Should I just withdraw now? The have me scheduled for polygraph and psych eval…don’t want to waste time and resources if poor chance of hire.

  67. my ex and I got into a physical altercation one night and the PD were called. They came out did their investigation and determined that both of us just needed to separate for the night. The officer did tell me I could have been charged with DV but since there was lack of evidence on her’s and mine’s story nothing happened. I never received any paperwork and no citation was issued. also when I was younger I was involved in two acts of what you call “sexual misconduct” that took place over 10 years ago and although I do regret the things in the past I have moved on and put it past me.

    8 years ago I applied at an agency and disclosed all this information as I truly believe that it’s right to be honest. They in return permanently disqualified me. I went to the local pd and requested a copy of the night the PD came to my house again it said nothing about a solid DV charge because there wasn’t one. I know you as a former LEO say honesty is the only way to go but I’m having a real hard time seeing the honesty from that PD that dqed me when they were really pro active to all the applicants about being truthful and you would go further then as if you weren’t.

    I am now applying to another agency and I feel that I shouldn’t have to tell them about the DV because it wasn’t really a DV as judged by the officers that were there. I know it was physical but nothing came of it. I don’t think I should also have to disclose my undetected past either anymore because look where it got me. I hope you can understand why I feel this way.

    My question to you is what is the true likely chance that the next investigator will find out about these things if I never mention them and get past a poly/voice stress test. I’m a good person and I’m being honest with you by telling you I’m not being honest with them but would you be honest if you were lied to by a previous agency. You can email me your answer if you don’t want to post it here I’ll understand.

    Thanks for any info you can give.

    1. M,

      Even if a report was not filed, there is a record of the call and incident in the CAD (dispatch) system. When conducting a background, an agency will request any and all information regarding contacts the applicant had with the agency. This is done for all agencies where you lived, worked, etc. If they look they will find a record of the incident. Depending on how the question is worded on the voice stress/polygraph, it may require you to present the information about the contact. If it appears you attempted to conceal the incident or present false information, the process will not end well for you.

      Dr. Russo

  68. my son is going for interview for co. On his application it asks if he knows anyone that has ever been incarcerated. He doesn’t. However. My husband was in prison about 35 yrs ago for a drug incident in his teens. My son is not aware of this. Do I need to tell him? Should he put it on application?

  69. Hey I just started my back ground packet . and its for a senior food correctional position . I rush thrue the app while DoN it on my phone . so sum stuff on my app is different from my packet . will I b disqualified b4 they read my packet or give me a chance to explain . I kno they said any false info on the app will b automatic disqualification but men then is a opportunity of a life time for me is there any thing I can do .

  70. Just recently passed written exam to become a police service tech. Going thru application section and was wondering if i would have to do a poly even though its a non sworn position.

  71. Dr. Russo,
    I was recently going through b.i. with the sheriffs department I passed everything and was already in pre academy classes, however, I had to withdraw from the process am I still able to apply at other departments or do I have to wait?

    1. Damon,

      I do not see any reason why you would be prohibited from applying to other agencies. You may not be able to reapply to that agency for a period of time but I’m not aware of any issues if you were to apply to others.

      Dr. Russo

  72. Hello Dr. Russo,

    I am considering applying for a deputy position with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. There are two areas that I see as potential road bumps:

    1. I’ve worked at my current position for 4 years but prior to that I have a poor employment history.

    2. I was at fault in an automobile accident in 2011. My car was uninsured and as a result, my driver’s license was suspended for 1 year (though it was reinstated in late 2012). Otherwise clean.

    I have excellent credit, a bachelor’s degree, no criminal record, and no debt besides a small mortgage on my home.

    Can the two items listed above disqualify me during the background check?



    1. Miguel,

      It would seem odd to me if those two items disqualified you. Having the last 4 years of good employment history would probably overshadow the earlier employment history. Many larger agencies I am aware of require the driver license not be suspended within one year of the application date.

      Dr. Russo

  73. When you have been screened out from a backgrounds stage can you reapply to the same dept. my husband submitted his PHS packet and the day after he realized he forgot to put the academic dishonesty he had in 2013 due to a computer error we had and per the dean she documented that it was and error and it just needed to be documented for future patterns of it were to happen again. We was fine through backgrounds until it was time to question the academic dishonesty form and then 2 days later he received an email stating he was screened out. Right now he has been in contact with the dean of the school to appeal it and he is in the process of appealing to be removed and the school even stated to him that they were shock he wasn’t able to get employment due to the form and even offered a letter stating its just for documentation for the school but he advised him no it needs to be removed because of preventing from getting him employment with his career of being a police officer. With him appealing to be removed and it gets approved to be removed can that be better to have towards other agencies as well when applying even though he was screened out from one agency for that? Also if it gets appealed and removed and he question on the application asked if you have ever been accused of cheating or plagiarism what do you out of it has been appealed and removed do you but yes but then state it was appealed and removed advising there was no evidence of plagiarism or do you out no because it has been appealed an removed ? I know it’s alot to ask all this but my husband was devastated when he got that email because he has such a clean record no criminal background no financial issues nothing else negative except for that and passed polygraph and passed the psych doctor oral interview and only had the medical exam to compete until he received the email regarding this. Any advice is great to provide to him

    1. Shandralina,

      You may not be able to reapply to that agency for a period of time but the length of time between applications depends on the agency. Your husband needs to check with the agency. If the incident is in fact documented as a computer error then it is a computer error and not dishonesty/cheating/etc. If it is documented as something other than a computer error, then go with whatever the documentation states.

      Dr. Russo

      1. Okay perfect thank you. So can he apply to other agencies since it has been explained thoroughly and corrected and we received a formal letter from the dean? He wants to apply to 4 other agencies that interest him is that okay to do? Is it bad to apply to multiple agencies at once or is it common thats what applicants do to hopefully get in with a department?

  74. Hello Dr. Russo,
    I have a question I am hoping you can answer. I have always wanted to be in law enforcement, and my whole family is in law enforcement. Well let’s say I’ve lived a very abusive life, which lacked my motivation to become a police officer. I’m 27 now, went through hell and back and finally gained strength and motivation to achieve my goal.
    I can’t say I’ve done anything excruciatingly crazy that should permanently disqualify me from becoming an officer, I hope, but maybe you can shed some light on informing me if I should wait wait a year or so longer just incase.

    My credit is aweful. Mainly debt on 3 credit cards that were only 300 limit. This was 6 years ago. But more so now breaking a lease which will not be easy to pay off right away. And maybe 3 or 4 bills that have not been paid and went to collections.

    I received 1 speeding ticket 4 years ago which almost garnished my wages but I ended up paying the ticket off before that happened.

    I was arrested 5 years ago for going into an abandoned hospital but no charges were filed. They just took prints.

    Now the last thing that I fear may sabotage my goal in becoming a officer is a job I started and lasted not even a month and was terminated….not because I was drunk ( I did not have one sip of alcohol) but my employer did find a water bottle filled with alcohol and lead to my termination. Yes i had it with me, no i did not drink it. This occurred a year ago.

    I’d definitely appreciate your thoughts as all 3 of my uncles are in law enforcement, and I want to prove I can do this without them helping me in any way.

    Thank you

    1. Desrae,

      Different agencies put different weights on credit issues. For some agencies what you state here may disqualify you while for others it would not be an issue. You may want to put some time with some good employment history between you and that termination. Employment history is looked at closely at most agencies so the more time you can show as a good employee the better the outcome may be.

      Dr. Russo

  75. Hi – Out of curiosity, this national database of crime is fairly complete even for juveniles 25+ years ago? In semi-computerized 80s? Even if the juvenile offence was very minor? It seems like there’s a disparity between the legality of Hoover’s record-keeping and the lawful ruling of courts to expunge undeveloped juveniles of their minor folly. I can see why HR is reluctant to disclose the reason for rejection – HR’s policies may not be lawful … much less legal. I can guess what happens if an applicant refused to answer such questions. Tempting!

    On to my other question, I was recently under FBI/ICE RICO Act investigation for 4 years due to a friend’s activities, and I was never indicted/charged with anything – I’m sure that is fine then? Also, I’m a teacher with a fingerprint clearance card, and I was thinking of an admin job.

    1. Daisy,

      I’m not to person to ask about the database – not my area. Regarding the RICO inquiry, agencies may take a close look at that to determine if it is/should be a factor in employment. The nature of the investigation, scope, etc. may all come into play for an administrative and/or sworn position.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Mary,

      If asked about court or court related activity, you disclose it in that area. Many applications allow for you to attach an additional page or have any area for additional explanation to any item. It could also be addressed there.

      Dr. Russo

  76. Hi I was curious if you reapply at an agency after going through the whole process once before, and having to fill out new background information forms and etc, will the agency use the old forms and the new forms when considering rehiring, or will they just look at the new background forms?

  77. Hi, I am from Canada….so I’m not sure how different the background investigation is here compared to in the states….I just had a question about the employment check….I have a good employment history until recently. I got hired at a bar. The manager there is very unprofessional and there are rumors of him using drugs. He pays the employees under the table and doesn’t treat his employees well. Every week we are expected to text him our availability for the week and he schedules us accordingly . Last week, I sent him my availability but I couldn’t work the weekend, because my other job scheduled me. He never responded to me and never sent me a schedule for the week. When I texted him asking if I was working this week , he said no because I wasn’t available that weekend. I forgot to send him my availability this week and he never texted me asking for it. I’m assuming that means i’m fired? I’ve never worked for someone that insane and disorganized before. But it doesn’t look good on my part that I didn’t quit properly like I normally do. I only worked there for one month. I’m just wondering if that would prevent me from getting a job in the criminal justice field in the future. I’m looking to get into probation after I graduate next year.

  78. Also, on the application, do you have to say every single job that you’ve ever had? A couple jobs I had for a month or so and then there’s a couple jobs I’ve had for a few years.

    1. Meaghan,

      One termination without cause/questionable cause typically does not prevent one from getting a criminal justice job in the future. If the application states something along the lines of “list all jobs” or “state all employment” then ALL must be listed. Investigators do often contact spouses and significant others – both current and former.

      Dr. Russo

      1. I have a question my husband had been working in law enforcement for 16 years he resent o fired because the chief put him on bad position he was working investigation he had hep DPS with the internal investigation on 2 officers the officers refuse o cooperate but quit the agency they investigation was about they using a 5 times convicted felon to arrest and harass people well after this guy left the department my husband become the motor officer for the dep. well they team up with the convicted felon to harass my husband like driving fast him off following me and my kids i file a complain with the chief she told me nothing would happen this individual always drives different cars so every time he did something unlawful he got pull over and every time he file a complain he comander did investigation and he stated that this guy was after my husband job my husband was order if he ever come across this guy to call for an other unit , well the other unit took 20 minutes the guys call my husband names file complain, my husband told the comander that sounf like he said why are u fucking pulling me over my husband in the report put sounds like bad words hell of f. just because of that the chief fired my husband and send his certification so now azpost is talink his certification and my husband had never been written up or anything. and is over one year now and everywhere my husband apply the chief is telling people his certification is pending, is this legal

  79. Dr. Russo
    Would I be able to apply to a different agency if I was dismissed from another agency? Would they be able to pull up an administrative investigation report during a background check?

  80. Hi Dr Russo

    I am currently in the process of applying as a dispatcher with the PD in a Canadian city. I had my interview with the investigator and after 2 hours I informed him I was engaged to a guy but he had a criminal past which was way before we started dating or even got engaged. This ex of mine has changed for the better. The investigator will contact my mother which we had a bad relationship all my childhood and haven’t spoken in almost 3 years. He said he wouldn’t contact her but recently asked me for her telephone number. He keeps insisting if I went ahead with the wedding but I called it off a long time ago and was honest and told him. All my references and friends said the same thing. He is still pushing this idea that we are married secretly ?!? He is going to ask that question to my mother who hates my guts and is out to ruin my life. She would say anything and since she isn’t involved in my life she might as well say we did get married without her approval. This is so frustrating that he won’t let this go. I am not in a relationship anymore and have been single a long time now. Could this affect me in the process? No criminal history no debt no bad credit great education history great employment history great relationship with my ex managers and colleagues and neighbors.

    1. Nadia,

      There are an endless number of factors that can affect an individual in the process. Current and past relationships do enter into consideration when processing an applicant. As we still haven’t found a way to accurately predict future behavior, all that can be done is to review past behavior and decision making to determine a likelihood of performance and action of future behavior. The more that must be “explained away” in someone’s past the greater likelihood it will affect the process.

      Dr. Russo

  81. Dr. Russo,
    My husband was hired as a police cadet when he was 22. He started the academy and was injured during it. After a few years, he applied to multiple agencies and has never been hired again despite going all the way through the process each time. Most agencies have given him no answer as to why he isnt hired however one told him he want selected for “poor decision making”. Everything in his background is perfect. The only thing he can think of as bad is he has an angry ex girlfriend who has been listed on each application. Could she be the reason? Its now been 5 years since his last application with a department and since then he has gone to law school and graduated. He is currently waiting for bar results and in the mean time he has made it through the process at a local PD for a civilian investigator position. Do you think he will not get hired again because he has never been hired in the past? Do they keep records from over 5 years ago?
    The only think we can think of that is preventing him from being hired is that his ex must have said something bad and now it has carried over from one department to the next. Also, why does he always go through every step of the process and then at the end recieve a no when hes passed the polygraph, medical, board interview, written and physical?

    1. Jessica,

      There are an endless number of factors that can affect an individual in the process. Current and past relationships do enter into consideration when processing an applicant. As we still haven’t found a way to accurately predict future behavior, all that can be done is to review past behavior and decision making to determine a likelihood of performance and action of future behavior. The more that must be “explained away” in someone’s past the greater likelihood it will affect the process. Other candidates in the process may have less that needs to be “explained away” and thus are offered positions ahead of your husband.

      Dr. Russo

  82. Sir,
    I have a question in regards to the backgrounds. ive had many jobs over my years but about 3 jobs ago(4 years ago) i exagerated on one of my applications with one of the old jobs i applied for. Do agencies go through old applications for jobs i got hired at? the job is a great reference and its nothing to be a negative mark. but am wondering if the investigators go over old job applications or is that too time consuming?

    thank you,


  83. Hello, Dr Russo, can I ask you a question that is related to how to answer a background question? I would like to know if I can ask my question to you in a private email. The reason why I ask this, is because what I’d like to discuss is kind of controversial.
    Thank you for taking the time to read my message.

  84. Hi
    I was wondering what information are law enforcement agencies are able to share with other law enforcement agencies when it comes to background investigations for employment. I applied for an agency approximately 8 years ago, I did the polygraph and received a letter a couple of weeks later saying I was disqualified due to “significant inconsistencies”. When I contacted the agency to find out what the inconsistencies were they wouldn’t tell me anything. So does that mean they don’t have to tell me why I was disqualified but they will tell my current background investigator why I was disqualified? It doesn’t seem fair that they are not obligated to tell me but they can provide that info to another background investigator.

    1. Meghan,

      In Florida, for example, the agency is not required to inform you why you were disqualified. As a background investigator with a signed release form, if the agency still has the information on file I can review the case file. The length of time an agency must keep this information on file may vary from state to state. You may want to consult an employment attorney about the requirements in place in your state.

      Dr. Russo

  85. Hey Dr. Russo, two questions if I failed a drug test applying for a job an failed can the department see that? Also if I applied to be in the military but was disqualified because of an injury but told the recruiter that I have smoke marijuana, can they see that as well?

  86. Hi Dr. Russo,

    I have a few questions regarding different applications. Im 23 yrs old.

    I applied to my city PD last year (Oct 2014) & passed the written/physical but not the PIQ. In my PIQ I stated that I had shoplifted when I was 18 (I cant remember what yr/mo I wrote because I couldn’t remember how long ago it was) but after receiving a “thnx but no thnx” letter I kept thinking about all my possible “disqualifiers” & specific dates to them. So I remembered I was actually 17 when I shoplifted because it was around my 18th bday.

    So during the initial supplemental questionnaire (it was when you first apply) for the city PD application I checkmarked I had shoplifted bc it asked if you were 18 & older. I also checkmarked for my other application for the Sheriffs Cadet back in January (but I’ve only passed the written & have not scheduled to go for the orientation so I have not filled out a PIQ).

    Okay so now I recently (July) applied to Sheriffs Dispatch & was wondering if they will cross reference the applications & will the shoplifting be a disqualifier? I was never caught or anything & I shoplifted twice. I also smoked marijuana a few times when I was 18 so do you think that could be a disqualifier so a public safety dispatch position?

    I have my PIQ date in a week for dispatch so anything will help. I truly want this job! Thank you so much.


    1. Leah,

      Background investigators do cross reference past applications as well as your current application with those submitted to other agencies. If discrepancies do exist, like you describe here, be prepared to explain the issue(s) during an interview or prepare a written explanation that you can provide upon request.

      Many things can disqualify an applicant from the process. While some agencies might be concerned with your marijuana usage, others may not. The same can be said for self disclosed shoplifting incidents.

      Dr. Russo

  87. Hi again,

    For the PIQ in a week they said that the background investigator would let me know right then & there if I passed or failed. Do you think I should immediately tell my background investigator about my different answers as he/she is reviewing it? Thanks for the fast response!


  88. Hello Dr. Russo,

    I am currently going through the hiring process for Sac Sheriff and am quickly approaching the oral interview. My biggest and only concern that I have is my credit. My credit score suffered significant damage when I went through my divorce. This include repossession of 2 cars since then. If I am totally upfront about my debt and bad credit, but can show that I have taken steps to rectify my financial situation, do I stand a good chance of making it into the academy? I am currently working with all my creditors to setup payment plans to work off my debt. I figured this would show that I am a man of good character who has chosen to pay off my debt rather than file for bankruptcy. What do you think?

  89. Robbie,

    Different agencies take different views regarding credit. Some do not look at credit history for sworn employment. Some only review credit history when transferring into certain areas after employment – narcotics/organized crime units. Still other agencies do review credit history prior to any employment. You may want to check with the agency and find out how this will be perceived. As many in a typical agency have gone through divorce, chances are there are some there who understand your pain in this area all too well.

    Dr. Russo

  90. Hello Dr. Russo

    I have a question for you and I hope u can help me.

    I was going through the background with l.a county probation. I submitted my background packet. I didnt think anything on my packet would disqualify me but I was wrong. I had put that I falsified information to the edd department and recevied an over payment in 2013.I sent an appeal and explainEd why I did what I did and I was still disqualified. if I was honest with giving them this information and I didn’t know this information would disqualify me I would of never gave them this information. If I didn’t disclose this information would they have found out anyways? Also if I reapply for this position would they use the same background packet? How long do I have to wait until I can reapply for a law enforcement agency to have this decision not determine if I pass or fail?

    1. B,

      Each agency has different criteria for reapplying. Some require you to wait a year while others require no time between applications. Most agencies compare new applications to the ones you have previously submitted at this and other agencies. Chances are it would have come out sometime in the background. It may be something that keeps you from receiving a job offer. It is up to the agency completing your background investigation.

      Dr. Russo

  91. Sir,
    How does the whole references part of the process work? I hear they ask the references for even more references? what if they give a name of someone who you did not get along with, and they give faulty information on you?
    Thank you sir.

  92. Dr. Russo

    Can I apply to other agencies and not put this information? Would that be something that would hurt me in the background process ?That I know of this type of information is not for public record.. do you recommend me not applying for any type of sworn officers job and since I have this situation?

    1. B,

      That is for you to decide. Not putting it on an application will cause them to believe a deception attempt when it is discovered. Putting it on the application may result in disqualification from the process.

      Dr. Russo

  93. Dr, Russo

    So either way I am going to get disqualified from it either way. Would u recommend me not applying to any sworn officer jobs for a while? This is very discouraging for me. I know I made a mistake and in paying for it now. Do u recommend me not applying for these types of jobs anymore? It’s like I’m damn if I do and damn if I don’t .

    Thank you for ur help

  94. When Police departments conduct background checks in regards to criminal records, do they look at applicants medical information when they try to figure out if they have engaged in criminal behavior?

  95. From reading I can see that these “thanks but no thanks letter” are far too common. Can someone truly be dismissed because of their family history? Some drug related situation, I guess anything is a good reason. If lets say I write a letter fighting the decision. Do you have some tips for me? Worth a try.

    1. Judith,

      The appeals process varies depending on state and/or agency. With some, there is no appeals process. With others it is very detailed. You would need to contact the specific agency to see what recourse, if any, is available.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Charles,

      The short answer is because they can. Storage requires time, space and resources … all of which are often in demand at an agency.

      Dr. Russo

  96. When applying for a police agency, can statements made on a personal history statement/questionnaire regarding any illegal activity committed, be used as evidence for charges or for prosecution against you?

    Such as drug use, possession, etc..

    Or anything illegal that you were never charged with. Can agencies use that info to
    use as way to arrest?

  97. Hello Dr. Russo,

    A few years ago my boyfriend applied to the LAPD but was DQ’d in the initial background process. He just recently reapplied, passed the essay portion again and received a phone call saying he needed to appeal to even move forward to the initial background investigation process because of his answers from his 2013 application. He is a great candidate, has never done drugs, does not drink, graduated from college and was a division 1 athlete. They said it was because he put on there that some of his college roommates smoked marijuana. He never partook and never even stuck around when this was happening. Any advice??

  98. I applied for a Sheriff’s Technician position 2 and 3 years ago. I was contacted in july to complete the background process. As of last month I have completed my packet, had my background interview, turned in supporting documents and have gotten fingerprinted. The only thing that is left is the character reference portion. I reached out about 2-3 weeks ago to see if there was anything else I should. I was told my reference forms had not been sent out yet. Is there a timeline I should adhere to before reaching out again or should I just be completely patient and not contact them? How long does this process usually take?

    1. RP,

      At this point you should be patient. Background investigations are a “hurry up then wait” process. The background investigator will get the letters out when the time is appropriate. Sending out too early for an anticipated position may result in them having to be sent out again as they are not within X months or Y years of the hiring.

      Dr. Russo

  99. Dr. Russo,

    I was scanning through the questions and couldn’t find one that really fit my situation, I’m hoping you might be able to shed some light for me. During the background process when they interview people, do they take those conversations with a grain of salt? I have great standing with all my employers, friends, and family… HOWEVER, I was involved in a relationship a few years ago that ended quite badly. My ex was not a stable person emotionally so I moved back home for safety reasons. I know my ex and his family would try to tell lies in order to sabotage my career. Would an investigator be able to recognize this or would they take their word for truth? Also, would it benefit me to be open about the details of this relationship to them before hand?

    Thank you!

    1. Cat,

      Information obtained from interviews and such are just one source used to “paint an overall picture” of the applicant. If the majority of people say one thing about a person and there is one individual saying another without support, chances are that information will be valued less than what the others are providing. If asked you may want to state that the relationship ended badly and you were in fear for your safety due to perceived instability. If asked to further explain, you will have to decide what to share or what not to share.

      Dr. Russo

  100. Hey Dr. Russo,

    My name is Alex, I’m a junior dual majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology. After college I’d like to apply to several law enforcement jobs in my area. I have a clean background, no criminal history, clean driving record ETC. During my senior year of high school and early into my Freshman year of college I was on antidepressants briefly (4 months continuously and then another 3 months later the same year.) I have been fine since then. My grades are excellent (3.8 non-weighted GPA). Will this be a major disqualifying factor for me? Should I get the ball rolling now to be declared mentally fit for law enforcement work by a psychologist? Also, for my own curiosity how beneficial is it in the hiring process to have college experience?


    1. Alex,

      Most agencies I know of do not have an automatic disqualifier for antidepressant prescription. I am aware of many officers who are prescribed these medications and it is not an issue for their agencies. If you want to have that letter from a psychologist to “keep in your back pocket” until/if needed, you may want to do so however I would not be submitting it without being asked (just my opinion). A college degree definitely helps in a competitive job market and can result in you being processed for a position much earlier compared to one who doesn’t have a degree.

      Dr. Russo

  101. Hey Dr . Russo,

    I am applying for a job at a radio shop that requires me to work on the state radio system.
    They asked me to fill out a personal inquiry waiver. My question is , what are the chances they will contact my former eployers. Why I ask is on my last job I was let go for miss use of the company credit card. Can the employer tell them that? How deep will they go just for me to work on their radio system with this waiver?

    1. Hello Dr. Russo

      Actually I was already hired by the radio company and its the sheriffs office that I signed a personal inquirey waiver for. How deep will they investigat a previous employer just to work on their radio system as a contractor?

      1. James,

        If it was my agency, I would be conducting a full background on you due to the nature of the systems you have access to/will be working on. It would be similar to what would be done for any civilian employee working for the agency. Whether or not the previous employer can share that information is a question best answered by a labor attorney.

        Dr. Russo

  102. Hi Dr. Russo,

    I filled out a few applications to different Sheriff Corrections departments. One of the departments responded with an invite for me to take the written examination and physical test. The prerequisite for the examination is to provide them with a filled out “Personal History Statement”. After careful review of the lengthy form, I declined the invite until I have the documents to answer the questions truthfully. Reading some of your answers, I am worried that my applications to the few departments might not match completely in date of work history. I only gave them an estimation of time-frame. It’s been so many years ago, I don’t remember the actual date. Will this hurt my chance? It’s the kind of application that I’ve filled out on their website. Will this be an automatic disqualification? Will the departments collaborate with one another and do they look at such a mistake to be serious or just a minor over-site… same reason why I declined the PHS, because I don’t have the information ready…

    Also, I have a juvenile criminal history dating back 20 years ago when I was 13 years old. The record is sealed and will be physically destroyed after I petition the court to release the files to me. Will the background investigator still have access to or obtain any trace of my juvenile record after I take possession of my sealed record? I’m going to burn it. Dark times…


    1. Ryan,

      Regarding the dates, as long as they are in the ballpark it usually isn’t an issue. It when there appears to be deception as in extending employment dates to cover lapses in employment or in an attempt to mask a job not listed that these things become problematic. With juvenile criminal histories, there are typically ways that associated files and such can be unearthed. If asked about it, the best course of action is to be up front. Rarely are all records associated with an incident destroyed.

      Dr. Russo

  103. Hi Dr. Russo,

    Do prison guards go through the same background check as police officers? Such as police academy, PHS, poly test, background investigator… etc?

  104. Have you ever heard of a police department requesting that the applicant provide their military records? And then suggest you give them your user name and password so they can just pull them up themselves? (I declined by the way and said I would come to the station and pull them up on one of their computers) seems shady to me. Thanks in advanced.

  105. While under a background investigation for Police, I was told that an applicants cell phone can be tracked to see who is being called/texted/emailed and also what the person is looking at online?

  106. Hello- thanks for your response. I wanted to further clarify my question. They aren’t asking for dd 214. They want access to the entire military records and are asking that I do the leg work to provide that. They asked that I request access to my complete records. They already have been provided with disharge papers which show honorable discharge. Having been a police officer/detective prior to military service, it strikes me as odd. Seems like something they would request directly and not have me do leg work. I also it was against federal law to ask for complete military records. Any clarification would be helpful. Thanks in advanced.

  107. Hello Dr. Russo
    I applied with the Lapd back in 2013 everything was going well. I don’t have a criminal history and I haven’t been in any trouble. My background investigator called my wife the day he was closing my file and expressed to her how he had found nothing in my background to suggest I wouldn’t make a great police officer, 2 months later I got a letter of diqualification due to “descision making and judgement”. I called my mentor and found out that my licsence was suspended due to a misunderstanding with a court extension. The investigator had also spoke to a previous employer from 2008 who stated I got into an argument and quit without 2 weeks notice, which was not the case. I did have a mild argument with another employee but I quit because I was offered a better job with more pay and needed to start on the day they have me to start. I didn’t want to loose the opportunity if I asked for more time give to my current employer at the time.
    I did not appeal at the time because I was told if I got denied I could never apply again. I was suggested I wait a couple years and then reapply. I did. I passed my exam but was told in order to proceed I needed to appeal the initial application. Why is that?
    And how could I got about proving that my
    Judgement and decision making had always been good?

  108. Hi Dr. Russo, I have a question. How do I explain behavioral conduct that is found in a police report, when filling out a background questionare? For example, a report where an arrest isn’t made but an officer makes an observation, and mentions what happens. In order to give out more information; if a person of interest engages in behavior that can either
    Be classified as disorderly conduct or obscenity.

    1. Charles,

      Many applications allow for additional sheets/pages to be added to “explain” information contained in the packet. If so, this would be an opportunity to explain behavior mentioned in a police report.

      Dr. Russo

  109. Dr. Russo,

    I am an Army veteran from a special operations unit(75th Ranger Regiment) that I spent 8 years in. I have been out a year and a half and am finishing up my college degree and got terminated from my job for making a terrible mistake and leaving my pistol out at the office thus violating company policy. This is the one and only thing on my record of any sort and It has kept me up at night the past few nights because I don’t want it to ruin my chances of becoming a cop and eventually working for a federal job. Will I be instantly turned away from departments for this mistake I have made? thank you Tyler

    1. By record I mean blip on me personally. It did not result in any sort of law enforcement involvement. My criminal and driving record is clean. Tyler

  110. Tyler,

    In many agencies, a termination from a prior employer is not an immediate disqualification for future employment with the agency. When I have served as a background investigator, what you described would still allow for you continuing in the hiring process.

    Dr. Russo

  111. Dr. Russo,

    I have two questions as I’m filling out my background packet now.

    I put only professional positions (I had during college) on my initial application to a LE agency to be an officer, like I do for any resume of mine. However, of course I have worked in part-time restaurant/ retail positions way back during high school when I was 16. Actually both businesses are no longer in business. This was so long ago for me and I don’t even remember employment dates or manager/numbers, plus they aren’t professional type positions. Should I still list them on my questionnaire …although I didn’t during my initial application and just talk to my investigator about it when we meet, or leave them off completely? Technically that wouldn’t be completely honest about my full employment history…but they were just some after school high school jobs that were about 9 years ago…no bad marks or anything. Since I didn’t list them on my initial application would that be looked at as being deceptive if I include them now? I didn’t even consider them ever when applying for jobs….I just don’t want to somehow lie on a polygraph about employment history.

    I applied for two other LE agencies about the same time I applied for this current position…and was accepted to go to the written test/initial meeting…but in both cases I neglected to go because they weren’t the right fit for me so I didn’t proceed with the process. Do I still put on my questionnaire that I applied for these LE agencies even though I no loner wish to pursue employment with them?

    There seems to be so much grey area with this whole packet and I don’t want to appear to be deceptive even when I’m not.

    1. Jay,

      If the application requires “all” employment, you need to put all paid positions on the application. It just depends on what is stated in the instructions.

      If the application requires you to list all law enforcement agencies you have applied to, you need to list these agencies even though you no longer seek those positions.

      Dr. Russo

  112. Dear dr Russo

    If I was terminated from a police department while I was on my probabtionary period and I wanted to apply to another police department, would I be automatically disqualified for being terminated by a police department?

    1. John,

      A termination from a previous employer is not usually an automatic disqualifier – even if it was from a law enforcement agency. The background investigator will often pull that agency’s file to determine “why” and proceed accordingly. What may happen is that other applicants who do not have that in their file may be processed before you. If the agency happens to fill all vacancies before getting to your application, you will not be processed.

      Dr. Russo

  113. Dr Russo,
    How in depth does the background investigate a persons spouse? Would a spouses legal status affect the background check or even disqualify the applicant when applying for a law enforcement position?

    1. Stacy,

      Yes agencies do gather information on a person’s spouse and this information can be used in the course of the background investigation to determine if the individual will be eligible for hire.

      Dr. Russo

  114. Dr. Russo,
    Are School Safety Agents subject to the same background investigation ? How about 911 dispatchers and traffic enforcers ? Thank you

  115. Dr. Russo:

    First of all thank you for all the guidance you have provided for us LE-hopefuls insofar!

    I recently passed through the stages of written test, physical ability test, background investigation interview, polygraph, and psychological assessment test, photo and fingerprinting for the department I have applied to… with ride-along being the next step if everything goes smoothly, followed by panel interview.

    My background investigator have proceeded to mail out questionnaires to my 15 personal references, and 5 landlord references, and 3 neighbor references. This is not including one military service supervisor reference (currently still in… the reserves–10+ years of continuous service), and a plethora of former employer references spanning the past 13 years. Lots and lots of references, as you can see. All the 15 personal references I’ve selected will respond, I’m sure… as will the one military supervisor reference.

    Neighbor #1 confirmed he received the questionnaire in the mail and will complete it and send it back. Neighbor #2 travels frequently weeks at a time for work, so his response my be delayed. Neighbor #3 sadly passed away, incidentally on the day the the questionnaire was mailed out. So she will not be responding.

    My concern is my previous “landlord” I listed (Landlord #2), who also happens to be a relative (whom we’re not on speaking terms with). This was noted on my background investigation packet. I rented a room from her in her house. I have prefect rental and payment history, even with her despite no formal agreement was written. I even provided her with a written 30 day notice to vacate before moving out. So there really is no reason for her to lie. But my concern is that she may use the questionnaire as a tool to blackmail me into doing what she wants me to do. Her constant need to be in control was the chief reason that prompted me to seek residence somewhere else… and pay rent to a total stranger instead (Landlord #1, my current landlord… who is an awesome and non-intrusive landlord). What do you suppose would happen if she simply refuse to send the questionnaire back… or worse, lie and bad-mouth about me in order to sabotage my goal of becoming a police officer? I have contacted Landlord #3 (an actual apartment complex property owner) whom I’ve rented an apartment from for 3+ consecutive years– perfectly problem-free prior to moving in with Landlord #2 when my lease was up. He said he’ll be more than happy to provide landlord reference on my behalf. Landlord #4 was the owner of the house where I was a sub-tenant. I just remembered his name but no over info. Landlord #5, my first landlord, of several multi-unit buildings in the city… incidentally is sitting in jail having been arrested for housing/building fraud.

    So my question is… would the lack of cooperation and deceit from previous landlords or former employers be held against me? I’ve been truthful all the way on my background investigation… but there is nothing I can do should these two types of references decide NOT to participate or cooperate (there is no law saying that they have to).

    And what about the landlord/apartment rental property and employers who are no longer in businesses or cannot be contacted?

    Any thoughts on these possible scenarios or would I be SOL?

    1. Pirate,

      Frequently not all letters sent out are returned. Frequently the investigator hopes for a majority of the letters sent to be returned. Each returned is reviewed and results are compiled to attempt to form a picture of the applicant. One item/letter that seems to be vastly different than the others will usually be considered an outlier and not necessarily impact the background investigation.

      Dr. Russo

  116. Dear Mr Russo

    I recently spoke to a private investigator and provided him with some information about my ex, who has a clean record, aside from and the fact that he his hiding an online sex addiction, which he was engaging in deceptive behaviour for six years and whilst with two partners and towards many, many other women. Using fake names, accounts, etc, in order to obtain sexual favours. The PI asked me some questions and has a lot of evidence that I had. He said he would have to inform my ex about the activity on his email account, without naming me. This sounded weird to me because I assumed you were not told why if you were unsuccessful. The department has stated that they deem deception as very important, and especially as the applicant has withheld that he has an addiction, which i think he needs help for. Can you help? I am worried about women once he has his police hat on and power going to his head. Anyone can abuse their position.

    1. Katherine,

      Different states and agencies have different policies regarding notification as to why one was not selected. It would depend on that particular agency’s policies and state law regarding these matters.

      Dr. Russo

  117. Dr. Russo,

    I just would like to say thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions. I don’t have a question because I found my answer within your responses.

    God Bless

  118. Dr. Russo,

    I am currently in the hiring process for my county’s reserve deputy program. I was very honest on my application and admitted to using a handful of drugs while in high school, which has been almost 10 years ago (marijuana, opiates (pill form), pain pills, and a handful of times I tried methamphetamine). I never had any disciplinary actions or charges for drugs. I was young and dumb and was an experimental teen. Since then I have become an EMT, currently enrolled in Paramedic school, and a senior at a local college finishing my B.S. in Biology. My ultimate goals are not to work full-time as an LEO. I want to become a tactical medic and in order to do so I must be deputized. I’m nervous my past is going to impede my future and I’d like to know if this is going to prevent me from ever reaching my career goals and if I should start thinking of a plan B.

    1. Nicole,

      Each agency takes a different view on prior drug use. Some it depends on number of times used, others on what was used, others may depend on how long ago the incident(s) took place to determine eligibility. I would seek out this information from each agency you are interested.

      Dr. Russo

  119. Timothy,

    An agency hiring a person with “sexting” in his/her background would be exposing the agency to potential liability down the road. If for example that individual after being hired was accused of unwanted sexual advances or any type of sex crime, it would not look positive on the agency to have hired this individual and play out very poorly for the individual and agency in the media.

    Dr. Russo

  120. Dr. Russo,

    I have recently applied to a PD in my home town. The application had your typical employment history section asking for your 5 most recent employers. I have a full time job I’ve been with for over a year. Within this year I took on 2 separate part time retail jobs to do on the side. I left both of them after not long, working at both for maybe a couple weeks a piece. I didn’t include either on my app, to be honest I didn’t even know my supervisors name for the one job. Is this something you recommend I include from now on? The intent wasn’t to be misleading, rather felt these were a waste of time and not really info to be gathered. Thanks.

    1. Jay,

      If it was one of your five most recent employers, I strongly recommend you put it on the application. Most applications have an area for additional response to any of the questions on the form and it could also be included in that section. This way you are disclosing it and explaining why it was not included in the main employment section and reduce the appearance of potential deception.

      Dr. Russo

  121. Hello Dr. Russo,

    How many failed backgrounds will prevent you from being considered in the future? I have failed 5 backgrounds. The last 3 were all for the same reason that I believe was a misunderstanding. A larger agency compared their questionaire with another departments questionaire I filled out. For the larger agency the question was how many times have you been drunk and the previous questionaire was worded different. My answer was off by 100. The other question asked how many times I was intoxicated and I misunderstood that as under the influence of alcohol and not drunk and that is why my answers were so different and off. How could I explain this? If an agency already sent out the thanks but no thanks is there anyway to explain it and get it cleared?

    Thank you

    1. Mary,

      Most applications have an area for additional response to any of the questions on the form and it could also be included in that section. Chances are once you have been removed from that cycle, it may prove difficult at best to be reactivated. Your best option may be to reapply and provide the explain in the next application cycle. There is not a minimum number of failed backgrounds the eliminate you from future consideration that I am aware of.

      Dr. Russo

  122. I am in the process of applying to local PDs. On my first application I listed an incident where I consumed alcohol and drove a short time later. I listed that my driving abilities were no compromised and I did NOT believe myself to have been drunk. I even explained that I was listing it only because I didn’t want to risk the small possibility of not doing potentially hurting me later on in the process. I ended up not passing the oral board (they asked for background info before the interview). I don’t want to list this because I’ve decided I don’t want to potentially lose a job for listing something that I didn’t have to. Would future departments see that one application and penalize me for it if I did so?

  123. Hi Dr Russo,

    The last department I applied to gave me a conditional offer and began a background investigation. When I went in for the background interview, the detective informed me that she had fun my cars plates and my registration had expired several months ago (my car is registered under my parents’ names for insurance purposes so I did not have the expiration notice mailed to me). I told her I was unaware and would immediately have it taken care of (which I did). About a week later she called me and informed me that I would not be moving forwards in the application process. When I asked if she could give me a reason she told me that the registration was a “big reason”. My question is will this affect my future applications? I know that failing the background is not good and I’m very worried that I’m now going to have to wait a year or so before I’ll be considered a viable candidate again. Thanks.

    1. Thomas,

      In some states, expired registration plates over a certain amount of time is a criminal offense. Due to this that agency’s policy may have prohibited you from being hired at that time. As the issue has been resolved, a criminal offense no longer exists and you may be cleared to be processed by that agency for a position.

      Dr. Russo

  124. Hello Dr. Russo,

    I forgot to ask if that issue would be something that can make it difficult to see passed? I realize I may have been disqualified because it seemed as deceitful; however I really just misunderstood the question.

  125. Dr. Russo:

    The police department that I am applying for is asking me for some documents that I do not have… namely my Certificate of Citizenship and my foreign birth certificate. They are asking for these two documents even though I have presented all the documents needed to satisfy Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification requirements in its entirety:

    – U.S. Passport (List A document / proof of citizenship)
    – Driver License (List B document)
    – U.S. Armed Services ID card (List B document)
    – Social Security card (List C document)

    I derived U.S. citizenship when I was 12 when my mother was naturalized. Because I was not born on U.S. soil or U.S. territory, nor were either one of my parents U.S. citizens at the time of my birth, no government agency in the U.S. maintains a “birth certificate” for me. For individuals like myself who are not natural-born, whether U.S. citizen or not, legal birth certificates simply do not exist in the U.S. to be procured. I am currently going through the arduous task of applying for a replacement certificate with USCIS after ponying up $365 to the federal government). And due to the inefficient nature of federal agencies, the procedure can take up to 6 months. And the academy start date is about 7 months away.

    The background investigators themselves seem confused as to why I would need to present these documents but just told me to procure them anyway. I also contacted the municipal human resources office, and they just referred to back to the police personnel unit. No one at the department is able to give me a straight answer.

    I know that this would constitute as document abuse and discrimination of national origin. Per federal law, employers cannot specify which documents applicants present and that it is up to the applicant to choose any available documents from the lists provided on the form. List A documents (such as a U.S. passport) provide evidence of both identity and authorization to work. List B documents (such as a driver’s license) prove identity, and List C documents (such as a social security card) prove work authorization. But I am unsure if law enforcement agencies are exempt from this employment law requirement. I requested the background investigator to look into the policy a bit further and have not heard anything back from them so far. I do not want to refer them

    Please advise on what I should do? I biggest concern is that the issues of not having these two documents they are asking for would prevent my application process from moving forward or have any negative impact for me on the selection process for the position.

    1. Pirate,

      You may want to contact a labor attorney for the correct answers to your questions. Chances are the background investigators are will make sure the “required documents” are there and may not know the background as to why these documents are required. If they are not there, the application does not move forward. If they are, it meets that criteria and it moves forward.

      Dr. Russo

  126. I turned in my personal history statement packet for parking enforcement I’m concerned that the trouble my spouse has been in & also he’s in jail will effect me moving forward? Even though we are not together ? Can it effect me ?

  127. Hello,

    I’m currently in the military with a TS/SCI clearance. I plan on applying for a state police position once I get out. The state police program requires a background investigation and polygraph. Will the police program be able to obtain the results/information from my previous investigation I did for my current TS clearance?

    1. Sierra,

      Good question and I’m really not sure. Agencies are typically required to do their own backgrounds and not just rely on the information discovered by earlier background investigations. As you achieved the clearance, the information shouldn’t hurt unless you provided something that contradicts info from the earlier background/clearance. Typically the DD214 is all agencies want/receive.

      Dr. Russo

  128. Dr. Russo, I’m concerned about being screened out by my employment history. The reason why is that I have been basically self-employed for the last 10 years. However, nothing can be verified with W2 statements as I worked for cash only.

    I was primarily doing party entertainment at Malls, Churches, State Fairs etc.

    Would my previous 10 years of carefree employment history disqualify me from becoming a corrections officer? I’m age 53 & the hiring manager said my age would not be an issue as long as I can the tests etc.

    Any suggestions? I don’t want to be automatically screened out.

  129. Dr. Russo, I wanted to ask a question. I have successfully passed my polygraph and my department issue, but something worries me and I would like your opinion: I have yet to go to my medical examination. Three questions ask me about back injury (in the past). I had to file a Workers Comp claim at work (this was after my submitting my application). On the medical, they ask if I have ever been seen for a back injury. If the injury at work (I am an EMT) was cleared, and it was only a muscle sprain, should I be honest, or just not mention it on the medical questionnaire? If I just say that “yes” I had back sprain but nothing more than that — I am 26 y/o — will they disqualify me for a “risk factor?” Is it better just to say, “no” to those questions since nothing permanent is wrong with my back? Need your help on this as this is the only thing that would disqualify me. Thanks, Dr. Russo

    1. Anthony,

      Being seen for a back injury and having a back injury that prohibits one from the duties of a law enforcement officer are two different things. If a question is asked it should be answered honestly…especially if Worker Comp paperwork exists documenting the correct answer.

      Dr. Russo

  130. Dear Mr. Russo
    I applied with Orange County Sheriffs Office for 911 Operator in December 2015. I have gone through the application package, I passed the Critical test, the background check, the credit check, I went through the required job shadowing with the agency, then I took the oral board panel interview and I passed that too. Last week, I took the voice stress test and the examiner said that I did good, but apparently there was 2 questions in which I was showing “deceptiveness” the questions were, if I was ever arrested and if I had ever sexually harassed someone, to both of this questions my answer was no, since it was the truth, but he re did the test 3 times and it seemed as if he was having a hard time with the program because he kept also repeating a control question over and over since it was showing that I was being deceiving to that as well. At the end he told me that he just provides the exam and the final say would be done by human resources. He was real nice about everything, the experience was not bad at all, in other words he was very helpful, but my question are, I haven’t received any news of being disqualified yet, how long does that usually take if I were to be disqualified and two, once my background with the FBI comes through and shows that I have no arrest record or criminal charges, will that make a difference when compared to the test answers that were showing as deceiving? Thank you for your help!

    1. Juelky,

      It depends on the agency. You may also not be disqualified based on that voice stress result however may not be the most desirable candidate and not receive the position.

      Dr. Russo

  131. Dr. Russo,
    If my husband was DQ’d from the Sherrifs Office, how long do they keep his packet on file? Is there a way to have that removed from agency? It has been about 7 years now but still seems to be an issue when applying for a new agency. He has since graduated from the Police Academy but seems to run into the same problem, for whatever was written in that packet. Thank you for your time!

    1. Linda,

      The minimum time an agency is required to keep a record on file is usually established in state records laws. It varies from each state so you will have to research your particular state’s requirements. An agency may keep the record on file longer if it so desires.

      Dr. Russo

    1. Israel,

      If they were done digitally I would imagine there is a database somewhere of who was fingerprinted, when and where. I am not sure who would be able to access that information or how to access that information. If they were “rolled” with ink on paper, the actual card may fall under state records laws for maintenance and/or disposal. Each agency with the “need” to fingerprint will go ahead and fingerprint an individual for its purposes.

      Dr. Russo

  132. Does the investigation stop once they have found something that disqualifies you? Or does it continue until all the information is gathered

  133. Dr. Russo

    It has come to my attention that I forgot to list a place where I lived in the application process. I rented an apartment for a friend who did not qualify themselves. My name was on the lease but I have never actually lived there. This is why I forgot to put it in the application. I have nothing to hide and I’m a completely honest person, this is why it’s bugging me. Will they see this as an issue going forward? Also, what would you recommend I put for future applications? Should I list this as a place that I have lived?

    Thank you,


    1. Samuel,

      You may want to contact the agency and let them know that you realized you accidentally omitted an apartment on the application. They will instruct you how to proceed and it may include writing it up so they can include it with your file. Moving forward you should include it on future applications.

      Dr. Russo

  134. Hello Dr.Russo,
    I have a bit of a unique question. When I was 16 I VOLUNTARILY committed myself to a mental health facility, with a guardian present. My record of this states that I was well behaved, logical thinking, and i was released within 5 days. Will this disqualify me from a future law enforcement career? If so, may this record be expunged to relieve me of the disqualification? Finally, what can I do to insure a better chance at a law enforcement career considering this factor?

    1. Jane,

      I am aware of some agencies that consider that a disqualifying factor as well as some agencies that do not. You will have to seek legal advice regarding an expungement…I’m not a lawyer. You may want to do your homework on the agency prior to completing the application to see if this will be a disqualifying factor.

      Dr. Russo

  135. Dr Russo,

    I have applied to several police departments but recently decided that I no longer wish to pursue a career in this area. My question is, does information I shared with departments throughout the process (background interview, polygraph, etc) such as criminal history (like things I’ve done that I never got arrested for) show up on background checks that future prospective employers run? I worry that I’ll apply somewhere and potentially get disqualified because of information I shared while applying to police departments. Thanks.

    1. Scott,

      If a potential future employer reviews your application for a specific department, such information may come to light. That’s probably the only way that information would be discovered unless you volunteered it.

      Dr. Russo

  136. Great article, and awesome to see so many responses to the questions asked over such a long period of time.

    I too have a couple questions.

    I do not have as many references as they request. I simply do not know that many people intimately. I’m wondering if this will hinder my application?

    And second, I’m curious if I divulge something that I have done illegally in the past, but was essentially not caught doing, if they would report me? Fraud, more specifically?


    1. Jacob,

      It may very well hinder your application. While a background investigator may not get every letter sent out back, there is a target number he/she is waiting on before moving to the next stage. By not having the maximum number of references on the list, you reduce the chance/opportunity of hitting that minimum number. Your second question depends on the agency and their specific policy/practice regarding this. I can say that in my years as a background investigator I never had the need to initiate a criminal investigation based on a discovery in the process.

      Dr. Russo

  137. Dr Russo,

    I applied for 2 agencies. One i was disqualified for conduct/judgment and didn’t make it to the polygraph examination. I disclosed things from when I was a teenager (crews/affiliation) because the questionnaire had questions regarding that. I didn’t want to be dishonest so I said the truth even though there is no chance in hell that anyone would’ve found out. My bf and family members are former gang members, but they haven’t associated with them for many many years.Could this have been my disqualification for judgment?

    The other I was disqualified for judgement after I took 3 polygraphs. I didn’t disclose my affiliations with crews as a teen because the BI didn’t ask it nor wasn’t on any forms. There were never any questions about it during the process.The only info I did provide was what they asked on their papers and my family and bf former gang affiliations.My question is, after taking 3 polys why would they choose judgment as a disqualification? When the other agency didn’t bother with the poly to disqualify me for the same thing.

    So after my experience, I have a few questions that the BI’s can’s answer for me:

    Would these dq’s affect me when applying to other agencies in the future? Do the polygraph examiners retain all the exams forever? What does the BI/agency do with the files of people that have been disqualified?

    1. Melanie,

      Different agencies have different policies and procedures to follow. While the process is similar across the board, there are differences that exist. Prior disqualifications may make a background investigator look a bit harder at your application to make sure he/she doesn’t miss anything. Employment applications to government agencies are subject to public records law and must be kept on file for a minimum period of time that varies from state to state (due to specific state records laws).

      Dr. Russo

  138. Hello Dr.,

    I am applying for my first law enforcement job and have a question regarding medical records.

    I have no criminal history whatsoever, but have seen several therapists over the years for depression/anxiety/marijuana/alcohol use. I have been prescribed Antabuse in recent years upon MY request after my father died and I was in business school and found myself drinking too much due to stress.

    My question is how exactly do investigators typically research medical history? Insurance databases that could show I was once prescribed Antabuse and anti depressants for a very short period of time? Somehow have access to a database of anytime you’ve seen a doctor? I have never had a long term, primary care doctor, and only admitted to urgent care doctors/therapists, that I ever had a “problem” with marijuana/alcohol. The business school counselor/nurse is the only one whose name I can remember who I admitted to marijuana/alcohol use to that I know for sure would be on my medical record.

    I know the right answer is to be honest about everything, but just from a technical standpoint, in a typical BI for law enforcement, is there anyway these admissions to people I only saw once, or a few times, years ago can be found? I assume it’s standard that they will ask if I give permission to all medical history (not just ask that I state it in the application) and there is some standardized way they check past visits, even to therapists or one time urgent care visits?

    Thank you,


    1. Larry,

      The application should/will contain a section on medical history. Depending on what is specifically asked will determine the information you must provide. You will be required to sign release forms allowing the agency/background investigator to request/access all types of records (military, financial, medical, etc.). Also if/when you do the medical for the agency, the nurse/doctor may ask specific questions about antidepressants and/or Antabuse usage.

      Dr. Russo

  139. Therese,

    I would recommend you keep waiting. This may be sitting on someone’s desk who has been retasked at the moment. No need to panic just yet.

    Dr. Russo

  140. Dr Russo,

    Thank you for the reply. I guess I’m still in the dark on exactly HOW the medical records are checked. I supply names of doctors and they call for the records? Some medical database that investigators have access to that relies not at all on the information I give? What was the process for you when you would set about checking an applicants medical history when you worked at the sheriffs office?

    And, for the record, I am clean and sober and know in my heart I would be a great officer. That is why I am weighing exactly what to divulge because I would hate to have past mistakes disqualify me when in fact they have made me the man I am today and given me the perspective to want to help others who may be struggling with substance. I truly do not think it’s fair for a blanket policy of applicants with any substance abuse history to be rejected. I understand the concern about one’s decision making process, but there a lot of good, solid adults who would make exceptional officers who deserve a chance to serve and give back and help others. That is the only reason I am considering being less than totally forthcoming on my medical history, and here asking you about the process.

    Thanks again,


    1. Larry,

      You provide the names of the doctors and the background investigator can retrieve the medical files using the release form.

      Dr. Russo

  141. Hello Dr Russo

    I am divorcing my ex, who is applying for a police job. They have required him to ask me for a background check, even though we are no long together and I live in another country. I do not want to sign this at all , due to his sex addiction, which he has clearly not disclosed to the police. What happens if I do not sign?

    1. Maria,

      If the form is not returned, the background investigator will forward his/her findings based on the information available.

      Dr. Russo

  142. Good afternoon Dr. Russo,

    I have never been arrested, but have had encounters with my local police. These encounters are because of arguments that i have had with my parents. My mom falsely told the police that i hit her. I have also had my father file a police report about a physical altercation that he and i had. Again, i have never been arrested, and the only thing on my record is a traffic ticket that was expunged. My question is, do i have a realistic shot in becoming involved with law enforcement? I know that this will hurt my integrity and character, which may or may not disqualify me from a sworn position. I have a great relationship with my parents, and still reside with them. These conflicts were a “heat of the moment” type of thing. Thanks in advance for your help, doctor.

    1. Bob,

      The recommendation of the background investigator is based on the totality of the investigation. The investigator will frequently retrieve the call information and/or reports written of the incident when determining the weight this would carry on the overall application packet. As there was no arrest, I would venture to say the impact, if any, will be minimal.

      Dr. Russo

  143. Hello Dr. Russo.

    I am in an weird situation. I am currently a leo but a few years back I went through the process with another agency. It was basically a week before the polygraph (never did one before) when I remembered that shortly after my father died years earlier i had tried marijuana at a party. It was something that I had honestly completely forgot about. This scared me to death as this was something I had not disclosed on the background with my current LEO position. Out of extreme fear and anxiety I went through the polygraph without disclosing this and sure enough I failed. Furthermore, after the failure I decided to admit to my omission to the examiner. Thus I was DQ’d. My question is, how will this effect me when pursuing future positions? I plan to be completely honest about it going forward, obviously the lesson was learned. More so, if this comes back to my current employment could this cost me my job? Should I be proactive and tell my current agency of the DQ and the reasons why? There is literally zero other concerns in my background but i realize how much honesty is valued. I’m completely distraught about this entire situation and any advice you may offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God Bless

    1. Bryan,

      With later receiving a conditional offer from that same agency, it sounds to me as your explanation resolved the issue and all is well moving forward. Regarding your current agency, you may want to construct a memo to clarify your initial application due to a memory lapse on your part. It’s often better if you bring something like this forward and “control the message” compared to being forced in a reactionary position if someone else discovers the inconsistency.

      Dr. Russo

  144. I just wanted to add that this agency that DQ’d me allowed me to reapply and even sent me another offer of conditional employment but i was forced to drop out before the BI due to a medical issue. Not sure how this info changed anything but wanted to let you know. Thank you

  145. Dr. Russo,

    I am currently going through the background process for a police department. So far I’ve been intimidated by my B.I. and don’t feel very comfortable with them. I had an interview with them and disclosed everything that I’ve done in the past. After the interview my mind has been going all over the place making sure that I didn’t leave anything out. Then after the interview I remember a few things that I have done that I said no on the background packet. It’s nothing serious but at the same time I feel like the investigator is going not trust me by releasing information now. I have my polygraph next. What should I do?

    1. Joe,

      If the background investigator discovers the information without you being forthcoming about it, it will be perceived as deception.

      Dr. Russo

  146. Why is 7 the magic number in background investigation? It’s arbitrary and really serves no purpose in my opinion. The feds made this choice as a “standard” but reality is that 7, 4, 24 years is ludicrous and serves no purpose. Honesty in admitting to past mistakes, improvement in life and trying to be productive makes more sense. Saying you can’t do a job because it’s only been “x years” is bullshit

  147. Dr. Russo,
    my spouse is currently going through the hiring process for detroit od. He has completed his background investigation,oral board,and recently completed his psych evaluation. All that is left is a medical exam and then he would theoretically start the academy. It has been about a week since his psych eval,he called to follow up with his background investigator to find out wether he passed or failed his psych eval. He was told he would receive a letter in the mail but would not disclose if it was good or bad news coming our way… i am just curious if letters always mean youre being disqualified. Thank you.

    1. Breeze,

      The follow up letter could be for him to set up his appointment for the medical exam. A letter is not always bad news.

      Dr. Russo

  148. Dr. Russo,
    I am currently in the process of applying for a local police academy/leo position. I served an enlistment in the military and other than submitting a DD-214 to the department myself, I am curious as to exactly what records the investigator will request and receive from the military. Will they simply request another copy of the DD-214 from the military to confirm its validity? What avenues are taken to request such information from the military?

    Also, 3 years ago I was arrested for violation of a protection order, assigned a court date, and the charges were dismissed. The protection order was never meant to harm and was a mutual agreement between my ex and I to keep the peace during our divorce, however we reconciled for a brief period during the order’s standing and were caught. The order was vacated prior to my court date and as I said, the charges were dropped. Obviously I can explain this situation but if detected, court records of an arrest and protection order (which may in fact have been expunged) are cut and dry and may speak for themselves, yes? Also, all of this took place in a state separate from the state in which I am applying. Curious if and how this will be detected and the consequence I may face toward my application.
    Thank you very much for your consideration and knowledge in this forum by the way. You are helping a lot of people!

    1. MB,

      Background investigators frequently use the form SF 180 to request military records (DD 214 or equivalent). SF 180 along with a copy of your records release form is sent and the records are returned to the requesting agency. Regarding the protection order, the application may require you to respond to the question “Have you ever been arrested? If so, explain the circumstances.” or something similar that would require you to disclose any and all times one has been arrested regardless of the outcome of the case. You may want to obtain a copy of all proceedings in that case and provide those with the application. If the records do not indicate that what you say about reconciling during the period and you are still in contact with your ex, a notarized letter from your ex stating such may help “explain away” the arrest as well.

      Dr. Russo

  149. Dr. Russo at age 16 a guy gave me a joint which I took home. As I was walking into my room my parents came in right behind me. The next day being scared I gave a guy the joint in exchange for less than 10$. For two fed agencies they said it was minor and was ok. I’m in the process with another agency and I’m wondering should I tell them about it since there is really no way they would find out about it unless I told them.

  150. James,

    The polygraph and/or voice stress test that may be administered to you during the background investigation may indicate possible deception when you are asked questions concerning this incident if you failed to disclose the information on your application. It is far better to disclose minor incidents than to be accused of potential deception during the process.

    Dr. Russo

  151. Dr. Russo,
    I am currently in background for a Public Safety Dispatcher position with the DPS.. It has been 3 weeks since my interview with my B.I. and did receive a couple requests with help in contacting my personal references and character references. That was a couple weeks ago and I have not heard back since…. How long does a background check take? I was informed the academy starts Oct 1st and those selected will be in the academy. Also if they come across something that would disqualify me, would they inform me right away that I was DQ’d or wait until the background is complete and passed to the hiring authority? Thank you for you assistance and response!

    1. Background checks can take as quick as just a few weeks to a year. It often depends on the agency’s needs, amount of resources that can be put towards background investigation and other pressing issues that can redirect resources to anything else. Also there may be a greater number of candidates who successfully passed the background investigation compared to the number of open positions. The agency must then rank the candidates and work down the list until they have the number of candidates needed. If one did not get a slot in the next academy, that person may not be notified until the start of that academy (in case on of those who accepted an academy slot later backs out).

  152. Dr. Russo,
    I have a question. Someone had only filed a complaint against me with their local PD, will that be found and harm my chance? No further action was taken with it and it has been over a year. Thank you for time!

    1. Kim,

      Chances are yes it should be uncovered. As far as impact, it would depend on the nature of the complaint. As no action was taken, I doubt the complaint would be harmful to your pursuits.

  153. Dr. Russo,
    (Note: Not pertaining to LEO employment.) I am curious as to how exactly a criminal background check is conducted by a “Third Party Vendor” or what I assume to be a corporate background investigation company. How exactly is it conducted? Meaning, how and where do they search for arrest/court records? Scenario: An individual is applying for employment with local county government (DSS) in the state of North Carolina. The individual has recently moved to the area after living 10 years in the state of Delaware. While on vacation 3 years ago, the individual was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor in the state of Maryland. At pre-trial, the prosecution dropped the charges and the case was deemed “nolle prosequi”. I was able to find the record by specifically searching the state of Maryland court records based on my specific knowledge of the situation (Individual’s name, DOB, location of arrest/trial). My question is, when listing City/County/State of previous residence on a background release form, will this arrest/charge be detected based on the location of the occurrence? Basically, based on the typical practices of a “Third Party Vendor’s” criminal background investigation, will this be to obscure to detect or will they find this information?

  154. Is a background investigation typically conducted using county court records? When listing the county’s of previous residence, is that where a “Third Party Vendor” will conduct the records search specifically?

    1. When I conducted my background investigations, I would utilize court records from places of employment, school and/or residence.

  155. Dr. Russo

    I am in a similar situation to Brian. I am a peace officer for an agency that does not do polygraphs. I recently went for a polygraph at an out-of-state agency and admitted to using marijuana (in a country where it is legal!) which I did not disclose in my pre-poly booklet. This is something I did not tell my current law enforcement (I really didnt even remember doing it at the time I filed it out) agency either and perhaps because they never did a poly it never surfaced. My background is spotless otherwise.

    My concern is that because of this I will never be able to move into new positions within my own agency or other agencies if they require another background. I am, quite frankly, terrified at what can possibly happen if I even try as the BI packets always say that omitting information can result in termination and possible persecution. So what do I do? Do I just not tell anyone and hope this never surfaces or do I tell them what happened and hope it doesn’t end up costing me my job and my future? Last question, how likely is it that an agency would even know you went for a poly at another agency outside the state (the poly is before the background for this agency).

  156. Steven,

    Background investigators talk to each other and sometimes information is exchanged. Could this information make it back to your agency? It is always a possibility.

    Agencies have different views on marijuana usage. Some have zero tolerance while others tolerate experimentation (as defined by that agency). If/when this comes to light at your agency, would it be viewed differently if you brought the information to them compared to if someone else brought the information forward? It sounds like you need to weigh the probably reaction of your agency in these two circumstances and proceed accordingly.

    Dr. Russo

    1. Dan,

      Often yes a background investigator will review your academy application to ensure consistencies with the information you reported to that agency.

      Dr. Russo

  157. Hello Dr. Russo. When an agency pulls your financial records, what exactly does that mean? Do they just look at your credit report or is there more to it? I know I read somewhere here that sometimes they get a more detailed report than what is available on a normal credit report, but I’m curioud as to exactly what is on said reports. For instance, can they see all your hard credit inquires even though they’re supposed to fall off the report after two years? Thank you!

  158. Georgie,

    It’s been a while since I had to pull one of those and can’t exactly remember all that is returned. It can show all accounts accompanied by detailed history, credit scores, assets/property and a few other things. What an investigator is looking for is a history of “proper” handling of finances, living within one’s means, lack of delinquent/outstanding accounts, and similar items that demonstrate proper decision making/judgment.

    Dr. Russo

  159. I have applied to a local police department. When I first went in they asked me to sign on to my facebook and any other social media sites that I have. After they sent me home with a packet and on the background questionairre they asked me for my internet provider (Verizon) and to list all of my email addresses. I was curious what will they be looking up with this information and what could they find, seems like they want to get a print out of every website or text message ive vistited or sent. Any information would be appreciated, thanks.

    1. Joseph,

      They will be looking at patterns of behavior that may indicate/predict future behavior. Social media accounts can provide glimpses into decision making and choices one makes.

      Dr. Russo

  160. Hello Dr. Russo,

    I am being back grounded at the moment with a police department. I am currently living with my sister and her boyfriend for a few years now. I don’t talk to him much. We have a hi and bye type of relationship. He’s had a criminal record involving the likes of theft and possession of narcotics (marijuana). I don’t have sufficient funds to move out on my own yet. Other than my sister’s boyfriend living with us, my background is good. With that being said, my question is, will this possibly disqualify me in the background process?

    1. Brian,

      While I doubt it would automatically disqualify you from the process, it may require an explanation to the background investigator at some point. The less that has to be explained away, the better however something like this should not result in immediate disqualification.

      Dr. Russo

  161. Hello Dr Russo,

    I have just been placed on an eligibility list for the department of corrections in my state. I was told I am ranked at 12th in the state. Do you think there is a decent chance of me getting hired on?

  162. Hi,

    Will I be disqualified if an RA at my college wrote a bad report about me, stating that I was drinking underage and that I was hard to “deal with”. The report was taken to a college board hearing, and they dropped the accusation about me, since the on campus police on the scene did not charge me with anything. Besides this I have a 3.3 gpa, and the only thing I have ever received that was bad was a parking ticket. I have very great references and I am currently enrolled in special police academy for a town in NJ. That report about that exaggerated incident is on my school record. It was very unfortunate, even the campus police could vouch for me. Will this be a problem?

    1. Nelly,

      I doubt that something such as that would be the sole reason to disqualify someone for a law enforcement position.

      Dr. Russo

  163. Dr. Russo
    I currently work at a State Prison.
    I have tested, interviewed and made the hiring list at my local police department, they are now conducting my background check.
    I noticed on a previous thread that the background checks for prisons and police departments are very similar. However, when the investigator called me the other day, I got a little worried: he asked me about a job that I had quit over a year ago. It was a factory job through a temp-agency. The hours and job demands were not clearly communicated to me, and I told the manager that I could no longer work there after a couple of days.
    The problem is I forgot to put this on my application.
    I was forthcoming on all of my other past employment and activities (to include the couple times I used weed in college 10 years ago). The investigator is still calling my references and has yet to call me back.
    Should I be this nervous about the background check? I feel I’ve hidden nothing, I passed the Department of Corrections background check before. My wife tells me I’m just anxious because I’ve been really wanting this police job for a while now. Is she right?

    1. Andrew,

      Whenever an investigator turns up something that wasn’t provided in the packet, it can throw up flags. There are times when this happens and it was just due to an honest mistake. There are other times when items are left off on purpose due to the negative nature of those items. If the investigator determines it was an honest mistake, there should be nothing to worry about. If the investigator believes the omission was due to deception, it very well could be an issue. With other sections of the packet being proper and not being fired or have other negativity related to that employment, chances are it will fall in the honest mistake category.

      Dr. Russo

  164. Dr. Russo,

    I was just wondering if a run in with a County Sheriff’s Office will turn up in the background. Essentially I was on vacation for a friend’s Bachelor Party. I ended up drinking too much and did something really stupid. The police were called but I did not receive any type of ticket or anything but was instructed to go back to where we were staying. Essentially, I am wondering if the BI will find out about this instance even if there was not any kind of paper trail linking me there.


    1. Matt,

      While there may not be any “paper” documenting the incident, names, dates of birth, and other information may be in the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and link you to the call. If a background investigator was to contact that agency and ask for any reports and/or contacts related to your name, it could match up with the original call in the CAD system.

      Dr. Russo

  165. Dr. Russo,

    I just applied to one of the Corrections Department and had passed the written test on the first try and should be able to pass the agility test. My credit score is on the rise as I have worked very hard to improve it due to student loans, my score is now a 630 and improving, would this be a negative against me? I have no domestic violence, or felonies on my record but misdeamnor dui from 2011 that is more than the 3 years that has passed that the department is looking for. In 2002, I explored the drug Speed, one time use and regretted it. Other than that the last time I used marijuana was over a year ago (which the department is fine with as long as its 12 months or longer since last use) and I’m not a recreational user, I was in Colorado and it was legal out there. Would you think I’m in good shape for the polygraph when I tell them all this? By the way, I have never been fired from a job. I have a friend who has been a city police officer for over 10 years and said I can use him for reference. What do you think my chances are if I disclose all this on the polygraph? Thank you.

    1. Marty,

      With some agencies, the information you have provided may prohibit you from obtaining a sworn position. With other agencies, what you provided would not be an issue and you would be able to obtain a sworn position. It all depends on the agency. With regards to the polygraph, that is used to confirm information provided and discovered in the background investigation as well as to determine the “truth” regarding that information. Be truthful in your responses and based on what you have here it looks like you will be fine.

  166. Dr. Russo,
    First off, thank you so much for all of your insight and the information on this page. I am a Navy Veteran with a TS//SCI clearance interested in applying to state and local police departments. I did not pass the FBI polygraph and was wondering if this would negatively impact my chances at the state/local level. Will my background investigator have access to this file? Thank you for your time and insight. It is greatly appreciated!!

    1. John,

      Often on an application, you will be asked other criminal justice positions applied for (or something along those lines). If that is the case you would have to list the FBI. You may be asked if you are still in process and then asked why not. I know many individuals who have failed one polygraph but passed another. It does happen as the polygraph is part art and part science. I doubt this will be an issue with local/state agencies.

  167. Hello,

    I was curious if a background investigator has the ability to access text messages that were sent and if so would they need to ask for the phone or does the cell phone company provide them with text message logs. Thank you.

    1. Jed,

      If the background investigator asks to see your text messages and you provide it to him/her then they would see your messages. If you decline to provide him/her with your text messages, then the investigator will need to obtain a warrant to obtain those from the company.

  168. Hello Dr. RUSSO, I applied for a department back in 2006 and i was disqulified for my background, and employment history.. Then i submitted an appeal letter to get reinstated all in 2006. Now 2017 11 years later. Wl 1.would i have any issue reapplying? 2. How long does the police department keep your jacket for?

    1. Donald,

      The minimum amount of time your records are kept on file vary according to state law. An agency can hold on to them for a longer period of time if they wish. Without knowing exactly why you were disqualified and seeing the notes in your file, I am unable to say if there will be an issue or not when you reapply.

  169. Hello Dr Russo.

    I applied to my local police department for a cadet position, it’s a hourly employment that the department offers. During that process I did not disclosed that I used marijuana in the past and failed the polygraph exam. If I apply to other agencies for a police officer position and I disclose my marijuana usage, in your opinion what is your option of getting hired by a police deparmtent?

    1. Edwin,

      It depends on your marijuana usage. Some require a certain amount of time before last usage and application submission. Other agencies it may depend on how many times you used – some will allow for “experimental usage” and have their own determination of what that actually means. It really depends on the specific agency.

  170. Edwin,

    It depends on your marijuana usage. Some require a certain amount of time before last usage and application submission. Other agencies it may depend on how many times you used – some will allow for “experimental usage” and have their own determination of what that actually means. It really depends on the specific agency.

  171. Dr. Russo,
    I tested for a police agency back in 2008. During my pre-polygraph interview the question “Is there anything you have ever done that you feel guilty about that has not previously been mentioned?” came up. I brought up an event that occurred when I was 12 years old. When I was 12 I kissed a female friend. (we were at a sleep over) The problem is I kissed her when she was asleep, so she was unaware of the kiss. She was 10 years old. It was one kiss and it was on the lips. I had never kissed a girl and I was curious. Even at that age I knew it was wrong and I immediately regretted it. I never did anything like that ever again. Shortly after disclosing that information I was disqualified. Fast forward to now, I am 36 years old and I am a Firefighter/EMT. However, I have decided that I would still like to pursue a career in Law Enforcement. So I applied to a different agency, I mentioned my previous application and disqualification on my app. The current agency called me and asked me about the kissing incident. I answered their questions and kept waiting to here back. I have since received a disqualification letter from this new agency. However, it did say I could re apply in 3 years. Both disqualification letters sited “character issues” as the reason for the DQ. My question is this, is that incident that happened when I was 12 yrs old a death sentence? In your opinion is it something that can be worked with or do you think it is just going to keep getting me disqualified?

  172. Doctor,

    One of my former employers has been given a cease and desist letter, as they were giving negative feedback about me. When the background investigator calls this employer, is he able to know about the cease and desist letter? Is he legally able to get more information other then date of hire, earnings, and date of separation?

  173. Granted, I didn’t read through all of these comments (there are 347 of them), so this may have been addressed at some point, but articles such as this seem to always ignore one very important question: how important is WHEN something happened?

    I’ll admit, I have an extensive criminal record, but it’s all very low level offenses, like not paying traffic tickets which eventually turned into warrants. Nothing involving violence, drugs, alcohol, sex, or purposeful theft. And all of these things happened between 11 and 20 years ago. It’s VERY safe to say that that’s not who I am any more. I also USE TO have bad credit (my credit score is a 745 now). I USED TO make bad grades (I’m currently about halfway through a Master’s Degree with a 3.6 GPA). I USED TO bounce around from job to job (I’ve been in my current position for a year and a half, plus I’ve been a full-time student for the past 4 years straight).

    Suffice it to say, I’m squared away and I have been for quite some time. But are the ghosts from my distant past going to haunt me forever? How’s that fair? What can I do about it? Should I just give up?

  174. Question , I have recently applied for Corrections Officer Dietary Trainee position in Maryland. My application was accepted and I have a testing date. I also applied to Baltimore Police Department five years ago and they rejected my application. I wasn’t given a reason . I spoke with a friend of mine in the department and he asked me what kind of answers I put down on the question form. I told him that I had written down that I had tried marijuana twice in my early teens and tried coke once in my early twenties. He seemed to think that was the reason for me being DQed. BPD has a zero tolerance for that. Will that cause problems with my current app. For the CO position? I was heartbroken that BPD would not take me for some stupid mistakes I made while I was young. Mistakes I’ll never make again. Thanks

  175. Dr. Russo,

    I’ve applied abd interview for a 911 dispatch position, is the background check the same for this position as for a sworn officer position? Also I have an expunged record for a minor misdemeanor is that an immediate disqualification and do I mention it prior to background check?

  176. How far does a background investigator look into a candidate’s high school and elementary records? I’ve been denied by a few agencies and the only thing I can think of is when I got in trouble because my girlfriend at the time set off a stink bomb and I refused to snitch, so she never got caught lol.

    They suspended me for like two days. I didn’t mention that because I was 16. Could that be the reason I was disqualified?

  177. Hi I’m currently in the hiring process for a department , for a dispatcher position do they do the same type of investigation? , they invited me to come to a information session for background investigation, what does that consist of? do they go in depth with credit ?

  178. Definitely consider that which you stated. Your favourite reason appeared to be at the internet the easiest thing to keep in mind
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  179. Any reasons why they don’t call back? I got pulled over and issued a warning, changed my address, bought a new car. I was told to always inform my investigator of these things. I informed him 2 months ago haven’t heard since. I get “ghosted.”

    My biggest problem and why I’m done applying is they want professionalism. Ghosting someone, or not giving them a dear john letter of hey, thanks for applying but you’re not what we are looking for is a damn professional courtesy. But i know it’s a trick to get you to “trip up” and “lie” on the next one when they ask what other agencies you applied to. Despite no criminal record, minor traffic violations, 1 firing and maybe 1 or 2 suspensions from high school and all of a sudden you’re a dishonest person for forgetting to write something down from the 10+ years ago. After 8 years of trying and being ghosted every time I had enough. They want qualified people but don’t hire anyone qualified, dedicated, and honest and then ask “why did we hire him?” When they mess up.

    You can’t desire to have professional, qualified candidates and not even reciprocate the professionalism to candidates. Good luck to those applying. It’s fun if you can get on a Department.

  180. I recently was in background for the state of California. My background investigator completed my my background, and literally weeks later I receive a letter stating that “due to a agency needs, we are closing and not moving forward with your pre-employment background investigation”. It seemed very vague to me. Do you think this is considered a DQ letter or simply funding was pulled? It really was dissapointing to receive. Any thoughts or opinions are welcome. Thanks in advance.

  181. If you were disqualified at one agency and do not not disclose it to the new agency you are applying to, will the investigator find out that you had background check done previously elsewhere. In other words, when an investigator goes to work, do they already see who may have done checks on you in the past, whether you disclose about it to them or not.

  182. I am applying for the volunteer position at the sheriffs department I did the polygraph. My boyfriend was arrested two years ago will that affect me on getting hired?

  183. Dr Russo,
    Checking to see if this forum is still active.
    I have been applying for a while for police officer, but received a few DQ, employment history and character issues.
    Back in 2004-2007 i had lost my job several times, all for my immaturity.
    Since then I have a clean driving history, great credit, and 8+ years of steady employment.
    I wonder how much of my past will out weigh all of the positive since then?

  184. I am going through clearance for [non-sworn] position. I am having concerns in what source will be used by investigator to verify my prior work history. I have checked my following records, some have issues, and I need to make corrections as I found serious discrepancies in some:

    1. My Credit Reports (from credit bureaus) have terrible discrepancies. *Corrections take less time*
    2. My WorkNumber report (provided by Equifax, through http://www.theWorkNumber.com) has accurate records
    3. My itemized Earnings Statement (provided by Social Security Administeration) contains discrepancies. *Corrections need much more time *

    Which source will be used for the Clearance Investigations? Do you suggest I make corrections prior to the interview?

    Your suggestions will be much appreciated.

  185. Hello, I recently got a letter for DQ for conscientiousness and employment. I was wondering if it would be pointless to try to appeal this or just go with what is being told to everyone else and just apply to other agencies. Thanks.


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