Should Law Enforcement Be Exempt from Volunteer Background Checks?

volunteer background checksOver the past few weeks I have been asked several times if law enforcement officers should be exempt from volunteer background checks.  The quick and easy answer is nobody should be exempt from a criminal background check policy. Let me start by saying that I love police officers.  Literally.  My wife is a retired police officer.  My grandpa and my dad are retired police officers.  I have a brother and an older cousin who are police officers.   I was also a detective with the Metro Nashville, TN Police Department.  So you can see why I love police officers.

I have also spent 20 years dealing with the special treatment of law enforcement officers both as an investigator and as a consultant.  Back in 1994, I helped develop and implement the largest law enforcement-based domestic violence unit in the U.S.  And I learned very quickly that law enforcement was not immune from this crime but actually had higher perpetration rates than the general public.

I was blown away by the volume of domestic violence perpetrated by police officers.  Studies in the 1990’s listed police officer as one of the most sought after positions for an abuser.  Really?  Yes, it shouldn’t be a surprise since domestic violence is a crime of power and control and the position of police officer affords tremendous power and control.

When we launched the domestic violence program in 1994, the department had an informal policy of sweeping these incidents under the rug.   There was a lot of resistance to investigating police officers and holding them criminally accountable for their actions.  Shh.  Keep it quiet.

Morally, there was no way I could do this.  I had taken an oath to protect and serve.  How could I let officers who committed the crime of domestic violence have a free pass?

I couldn’t.  The law applies to everyone.  If you commit a crime, you are a criminal regardless of whether you wear a badge or not.

Legally, the federal courts have made it clear that police officers are required to provide equal protection under the law.  The 14th Amendment clearly requires equal protection of the laws.  No exceptions.

Just reading through newspapers over the weekend I came across three articles where police officers had gotten arrested:

  • Two Marion County, Indiana Sheriff’s Deputies fired for separate incidents.  One was arrested for public intoxication and another for creating unsafe living conditions for his children.
  • Sheriff in Louisiana fired for protecting mistress and her drug dealing business.
  • Officer in Tennessee was fired after assaulting his girlfriend.

So the answer is no way should law enforcement officers be exempt from your volunteer background checks.   Our background screening polices should be applied equally.

The Safe Hiring Solutions ongoing background screening policy does not exempt me as the founder and owner.  I submit to the same background check.  I am not above the process.

And let’s be honest.  The request to bypass your background screening policy is generally rooted in a sense of entitlement.  Why should I have to do that?

I would caution organizations who break with their policy and create exceptions.  You might be creating a legal problem down the road when other professionals ask for a free pass because they have had a background check.  We don’t want to create unequal applications of our policy.

I would suggest you draw a line in the sand and require everyone to submit to your volunteer background checks policy.