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Background Investigations Help Secure Strong Police Candidates

Selecting the right person to be a police officer for a department is more than just checking a few boxes. A thorough background investigation may help identify any potential concerns that could cause trouble for the department or the municipality later on.

New officers may fall into the category of certified, non-certified, or reserve officer. Having a strong hiring process is just as important for reserve officers as it is for certified or non-certified officers, especially if the department uses the reserve officer program as a recruiting tool.

Most departments conduct routine background investigations. This process involves

  • a criminal history through the National Crime Information Center database, 
  • an in-depth background check by contacting references, prior employers, neighbors, schools, professional organizations, and reviewing prior residences, 
  • a credit check and 
  • a review of the candidate’s 10-year driving history. 

For most departments, staff capacity, time and cost will drive how much effort they can invest into a background investigation. Any personnel conducting the background check investigations, whether it be a department staff member or a third-party agency, should be trained in collecting the required information. The background investigation of each candidate should be conducted prior to the appointment to a probationary status in accordance with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy standards. 

Attorney Kevin Sturm with Sturm & Cont, P.A. noted that “it is critically important that those chosen to enforce our laws have the requisite knowledge, skills and temperament to perform the often challenging tasks that are required of a law enforcement officer.  Not everyone who applies for such jobs will have such abilities and attributes. The importance to our society of the job that law enforcement officers perform on a daily basis makes choosing the right person imperative. The consequences of choosing the wrong person can be severe for any municipality.  Accordingly, complete and thorough background checks along with good interview techniques are two necessary tools that municipalities should utilize to make good hiring decisions for their police departments.”

Members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund can access this reference on best practices to use in the law enforcement hiring process. 

For questions or additional information, contact Chris Radcliff, public safety loss control consultant, at 803.354.4764 or