Today's Paper Latest After 9/11 Coronavirus iPad Core Values Weather The Article Story ideas Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

In law enforcement, person's past can sink chances for job

by Eplunus Colvin | February 5, 2021 at 3:21 a.m.
A stack of blank Police Department applications sits ready for applicants. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

We've all been young and dumb.

Some of us have made unwise decisions and were fortunate enough not to get caught while others -- not so much.

Mistakes in our pasts sometimes affect our futures, especially if the result of one's mistake is a criminal record.

In Arkansas, people may be able to have their criminal records sealed, erased or expunged, as though the crimes never happened if they meet certain requirements, but even then, the records may not be invisible.

Having a criminal record makes it difficult to successfully get through the hiring process in some professions.

With 28 patrol officer jobs open in the Pine Bluff Police Department, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said there has been constant testing and application submissions, but many applicants are disqualified because of past Class A misdemeanors or marijuana usage.

David Warren, an ex-Marine in his 40s, knows the feeling all too well. A mistake he made in his early 20s kept him from obtaining a job in law enforcement with a different police agency in southeast Arkansas.

After his tenure as an E3 in the United States Marines, which Warren joined right out of high school, he began working at J.C. Penny and sent a red flag up to store security officers after placing a large order with the intent to steal merchandise.

Warren said he was charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which was a nonviolent charge.

He had never gotten in trouble before and went through all of the steps to get his charges removed after paying less than $500 in restitution for a year.

"My record was expunged and sealed in 2007," Warren said. But "when I applied to be a police officer in 2015, my offense came back, and I was also told by this police agency ALETA would decline my acceptance." ALETA is the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.

Since then Warren has worked for the Arkansas Department of Correction, but his heart was still in becoming a patrol officer.

Right before the coronavirus pandemic, Warren said he applied with the Little Rock Police Department and passed the background check.

"I was invited to continue the next step in the hiring process," Warren said. "I declined because that was during the time when the pandemic first hit, and there was a lot of uncertainty."

Warren said he feels that the entire hiring system needs to be changed when it comes to background checks.

Though each law enforcement agency's disqualifiers may vary, a list of common ones in the police background check include:

Felony convictions

Serious misdemeanors

Current drug use or past drug abuse

Dishonorable discharge from military service

Bad credit history

History of domestic violence

Unclean driving license

Unreported past crimes

Past or current gang affiliations

Poor employment record

Incorrect, false or incomplete information given on the application form

"What we may need to do is relook some of those disqualifications as it relates to certain Class A misdemeanors," said Sergeant, who added that the Pine Bluff Police Department adopted the standards laid out in the civil service rules.

A domestic battery charge, Sergeant said, would disqualify a candidate. But for other misdemeanors that may have happened 10 to 15 years ago, if a person has shown not to have revisited those kinds of problems, they should be given an option to go further in the hiring process, he said.

The Pine Bluff Police Department application states that if a person has a conviction for or is currently charged with a Class A, B, C or any unclassified misdemeanor, eligibility for hiring will be decided by a majority of the interviewing board, which will call into question the moral character or judgment of the applicant.

As far as drug use, Sergeant said, the department is losing several candidates to marijuana use but has talked with officials in other agencies around the state that are doing a variety of things to qualify potential officers.

The Pine Bluff department has a rule that an applicant must not have used marijuana within three years of the date of the person's application. Use of any other illegal drug, such as cocaine or LSD, would disqualify a candidate.

Sergeant said he is looking to potentially cut the time disallowed for past drug use to two years. He also said the question is not only whether someone has ever used drugs, but how extensive that drug use was.

"Are we talking about once or twice within that time period or are we talking about daily usage?" he said. "My concern would be putting someone in a position that may have a drug problem giving them a gun."

On the flip side of that, Sergeant said he would consider having such individuals subject to more random drug tests but said he would talk to the city attorney to see what his options were.

Warren said his past doesn't reflect who he is now, and he hopes law enforcement agencies will look more into the character of an applicant.

He's unsure he will pursue a law enforcement job once the pandemic is under control, but he said good people are being turned away for a mistake made years ago.

"If they ask for personal and business references on the application then they should go into the community," Warren said. "Ask around and get a sense that the applicant is more than what's in black and white."

For more information or to apply to become a police officer with the Pine Bluff Police Department call 870-850-2414.

Applications can also be picked up at 3039 W. 28th Ave., Pine Bluff.

The Pine Bluff Police Department has several openings, but many applicants are being disqualified because of past legal problems, some of which may have happened many years ago. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)
The Pine Bluff Police Department has several openings, but many applicants are being disqualified because of past legal problems, some of which may have happened many years ago. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

Sponsor Content