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Should I be worried about this background investigation?
July 13, 2006 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice from people who have undergone or conducted a police background investigation, relating to references, credit history, and legal intoxicants.

I'm currently applying for a job as a police dispatcher, and the background check has me a little spooked. I don't feel like I have much to hide, but there are some factors that could weigh negatively against me:
  1. My contract at my most recent employer was not renewed. The reasons were primarily budgetary, but there were some personality conflicts and misunderstandings that may have led to my being chosen for the chopping block. All but one person there would likely give me a positive recommendation, but I don't know what that one person would say -- probably a mixed review. And although he wasn't my direct supervisor, he is the boss.
  2. I'm not on good terms with my mother, for various reasons, and haven't spoken to her in a while. I don't know what she'd say about me if they contacted her; she can be a bit vindictive.
  3. My credit isn't great. I made some mistakes a while back, and have two fairly serious delinquencies on my record. It's been clean for the past couple of years, however, and over the past year I've taken out an auto loan and some low-limit credit cards and have paid them on time consistently.
  4. My only illegal drug use was a couple puffs of hash in college, in 1996. It's my understanding that that alone isn't enough to disqualify me. However, last year I experimented once with Salvia Divinorum, which is a hallucinogen. Salvia isn't illegal, and can be purchased over the counter at head shops or over the internet. I got mild closed-eye visuals and a slight feeling of motion from it, but nothing else, and haven't done it since (though I still have some left). I don't know whether or not I should mention that I tried it -- there is a question on the personal history form about "any other dangerous drugs," which seems a bit vague and subjective. I'm inclined to mention it just to be safe -- after all, I didn't break the law by doing this, and I will likely have to take a polygraph during the application process. But I don't know how that will be seen by investigators.
Are any of those factors likely to raise a red flag in investigators' eyes? Should I try to spin any of these, or explain them in the "additional information" section of the personal history form? Just how nervous should I be right now?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total)
 
AFAIK, a background check for a dispatcher position would not be that thorough. Probably about the same for any civilian government job. If you were applying for a job with the FBI I could see where some of this may come into play. Definitely 1,2, & 4 would never be checked. 3 is a distant maybe. A police background check is just a search of all criminal convictions against you. If you don't have a record, then you are good.
posted by JJ86 at 9:14 AM on July 13, 2006


I do not in fact have personal experience in this, though I did once pick up a similar app for a similar dispatch job, and was amused that they wanted to know everything about me since I was an egg for a non-sworn position.

But my speculation is that they would be more annoyed, like parents, to find out later that you'd concealed it. Presenting it as something inconsequential, that you're only mentioning to be complete, without a guilty mien, will likely be the best approach, though it won't necessarily be easy...
posted by baylink at 9:16 AM on July 13, 2006


If you put any sort of illegal drug use on any police job questionnaire, you will not get the job, full stop. I know at least two people who, like you, had minimal illegal drug use, like you, were told that listing it wouldn't disqualify them from the job, listed it and were rejected (otherwise excellent candidates). Consider it from a "newspaper headline" point of view: "Philadelphia Police Department Hires Admitted Druggies to Catch Druggies". The easy way for the police chief to avoid that embarassment is to avoid hiring admitted criminals.

Yes, that means that many of the officers patrolling the streets are liars.

The background check will just be criminal history, maybe credit history (as a general sort of "financial responsibility" check), maybe they'll call the references you list. It will not be any sort of deep-diving investigation.
posted by jellicle at 9:27 AM on July 13, 2006


Huh? Why would you tell any employer about drug use, illegal or otherwise? That doesn't make any sense, and doesn't seem to be relevant in the slightest. It would be a really bad move.
posted by xmutex at 9:31 AM on July 13, 2006


Do not mention the other drug use. Your choice on the drug use. Jellicle is wrong. Some departments won't care depending on the past.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:34 AM on July 13, 2006


My wife is a 911 dispatcher for a major Illinois municipality. During the hiring process, they told her to inform our neighbors that they may get a visit from said municipality for background checks on her. She did so, but no one ever came around. Obviously things will be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

...there were some personality conflicts...
Again, things will be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in my wife's environment, personality conflicts are the norm. 911 dispatchers, apparently, are generally a very headstrong breed of people.

Contact me with any other specific questions I can ask her (e-mail is in my profile).
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:35 AM on July 13, 2006


If you put any sort of illegal drug use on any police job questionnaire, you will not get the job, full stop. - jellicle

Bullshit.

This depends on the force, and on the extent and type of drug history. Example: in my City, you must have not engaged in criminal activity in the past three years including drug use. But if you've been clean for those three years they will still consider you. At that point it will depend on how much you used (tried it a couple of times vs daily for three years) and what the drug was (marijuana vs heroin).

Someone I know applied for a civilian job with the local police service and had very minimal marijuana use (about 8 times total in her life) but at least one of those instances was in the last three years. She was honest about it, and this disqualified her for this particular selection process, and any others that fell within the 3 year timeframe of the last use. When they told her this, they also encouraged her to apply again for positions there once three years of non-use had elapsed. So while jellicle's declaration may be true in some instances, it does not apply in all instances. This will depend on the policies of the department you are applying for.
posted by raedyn at 9:50 AM on July 13, 2006


The best advice I've ever found about this kind of thing is over in the Cop Talk forum at GlockTalk.com ... there's a lot of trolls there, but also a lot of people who will be willing to give you good advice both on how to get the job and how not to be THAT dispatcher once you're in it.
posted by SpecialK at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2006


don't mention the salvia or your mother. the rest of it is minor and forgiveable.
posted by casconed at 10:16 AM on July 13, 2006


I don't understand why you would admit to using drugs to any job. It's not even a question: don't do it. Unless you use the day before they give you a drug test (if they do) how would they ever find out? They wouldn't.

As for your mother: is having a good relationship with your mother a prereq for this job? Probably not. Just don't list her as a reference.

If they call your previous job, your previous job is only required to verify employment dates. If the boss answers the phone and really hated you, he might spout off. So let them know ahead of time if you think it's relevant, or list someone else at that job as your reference.

As for the credit? I've asked at interviews about this and they always say they don't care about credit and rarely check it. It doesn't sound like you have horrible horrible credit, and have taken steps to make it better. That shows you're responsible which is basically what they're looking for.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:39 AM on July 13, 2006


It seems the drug thing varies wildly with departments. Last year, I was considering becoming a cop and went through several applications with several different departments. One disqualified for just having tried drugs, while others had time frames and drug types that affected it. If you can convince yourself that salvia doesn't meet the criteria they mention, I wouldn't mention it.
posted by drezdn at 10:44 AM on July 13, 2006


anonymous, the questions you're describing sound the same as those asked of a friend of mine who applied to be a 911 dispatcher.

She was repeatedly advised (from other emergency personnel, including police) to tell the truth. None of the situations you described sound like they would automatically disqualify you, but it depends on the department. However, if they discover that you lied (or clearly avoided answering a clear question), that would be a problem.

One thing to consider, if you have to explain yourself for a perceived wrongdoing, would you rather be saying "Yes, that was a silly/illegal/reckless thing that I did, but I was honest" or "I'm sorry I made false statements and repeatedly signed my name stating that they were the truth?"

Good luck!
posted by annaramma at 1:18 PM on July 13, 2006


Salvia is in no way relevant to this at all. It's legal. It's technically an herb, related to sage Therefore, it is not at all a "drug" in the way they mean. If you got screwed up on some extra strong cough syrup, would you tell them that? No. It's not relevant.

At the same time, however, if you told them what you told us--that you view it as a drug and did it anyway--I could see that going badly.
posted by starbaby at 2:25 PM on July 13, 2006


I did this once for a job running an evidence locker. I told them all about smoking pot in the '80s and whatever and was still the second runner up for the job.

If you really think your going to be polygraphed, definately spill the beans. If you conceal now you will later (in their eyes).

I would learn as much as possible about what the position entails and study for the interview(s). Forget about the background check.
posted by snsranch at 5:13 PM on July 13, 2006


With security clearances and most background checks, it's not about the drug use (or other illegal activity) - it's whether you're LYING about the drug use (...) and are therefore subject to blackmail or other extortion pressure. If they catch you in a lie, you're toast.
posted by aberrant at 1:09 AM on July 15, 2006


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