police“The new generation of officers only cares about themselves” was the exclamation that came from a police supervisor in a recent 3-day Leader Skills program that I was teaching. The collection of supervisors and managers in attendance ranged in age from their late 20’s to mid-50’s and almost all were in agreement with the statement presented by their colleague.

Although I had heard similar statements before, I was still perplexed. I believe that often this type of negative statement is due to an observation as to how newer officers behave differently than how these supervisors behaved (or how they believed they behaved) when they were new officers. Our newest officers grew up in the most recent 21 year period (1993 – 2014). The supervisors in the room were born in the 80’s, 70’s or 60’s. Almost every influential development factor was different for the current generation, so of course they think and act differently.

The statement does however, raise a concern. I personally know excellent candidates who are getting shut out by police departments because of hiring hurdles. I am not referring to disqualifying experiences that come to light during a polygraph or background investigation; as long as standards are fairly applied those decisions are defensible. I am referring to candidates that I have interviewed as a retired assistant chief and concluded I would want them on my team if I was still in policing. I am left to wonder if the chief of the hiring agency is aware that first-blush quality candidates are not progressing in the hiring process? I strongly suspect the answer is no.

So, what does all of this have to do with gatekeepers? Quite a bit, actually.

In many police departments there is more than one gatekeeper; each of whom is critical in the effectiveness of the hiring procedure and outcome. It may be the application/resume reviewer, the written exam developer, the oral exam panel members, the contracted psychologist, or the background investigators. For many of these gatekeepers the exclusion/inclusion rules are well defined. A weak spot that chiefs may wish to examine more closely is the entry-level police officer oral board exam. If a chief is too removed from this process – for example, not knowing what questions the panel is asking candidates as well as the rubric defining excellent, good, fair, or poor responses – the gatekeepers (oral exam panel) may be opening and closing the gates inappropriately.

To increase the likelihood that oral panel member are operating the gate as the chief desires and within agency hiring protocols, chiefs may consider the following:

  • Meet with the potential entry-level panel members individually prior to the oral panel exams to assure that they see their role similar to how the chief sees their role.
  • Review the questions that will be asked of entry level candidates, to include what constitutes an excellent response as well as a poor response.
  • Provide for panel training, to include practice runs, so that the panel can hit the ground running with the first candidate. Otherwise, it may take a few candidates before the panel starts to gel, allowing those first candidates to be less-effectively evaluated.
  • Observe (while resisting the temptation to speak) random candidates going through the process and then evaluate whether you agree with the scores those candidates received.

Police chiefs often have a good picture of the traits they are seeking in their future officers. It would be unfortunate if opinions, generational differences, and a lack of certainty as to what the chief is seeking prevented the chief from ever seeing otherwise excellent candidates. Because a police chief will be held responsible for the officers hired to work in their agency, they should feel assured that the hiring gate is being opened and closed appropriately.

Arguably, law enforcement has never been a more challenging profession. The mere fact that agencies turn away more candidates than they hire reflects that the current generation is called to serve just like previous generations. We owe it to them, our officers, and our community to assure that the hiring process is selecting the best of the best….which is the gatekeepers role.

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