Public servants are often said to be following a calling. Nowhere is that more true than those who actively put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the safety of people around them. Police officers do just that on a daily basis. From breaking up bar fights to intervening in domestic violence situations, officers are on call to face the toughest of situations. Sergeant Dave Ehrlich, member of San Mateo’s finest, discusses how to become a police officer.
Describe the application process to becoming a police officer.
We have expedited the hiring process so applicants can now apply online. Upon initial application, we request that they take a Police Officers Standards and Training test (POST). If they receive a passing score, we place the applicant on our eligibility list. Afterward, we conduct an initial interview with qualified candidates. This is where we really take the time to get to know the applicant and make a determination if it is going to be a good fit.
What are the other steps an applicant has to complete?
The next step is a polygraph test followed by the background investigation, an in depth query into a person’s past. We check with local agencies where the applicant was employed, educated or resided. We contact previous employers, supervisors, references and complete a financial check. We want to look at all areas of a person’s life. Another part of the process is the medical examination to ensure the applicant meets the essential requirements of a police officer. Finally, there is a mandated psychological evaluation.
Can people become police officers if they do not have a perfect background?
Yes, we are looking at the whole package. You are not disqualified for making insignificant mistakes. If you have made a mistake in the past, we want to see that you are honest about it and have matured and grown beyond that point.
What else can someone expect during the application process?
Throughout the application process and beyond, we interact with the applicant to make the process a positive experience. We provide a supportive environment for recruits to learn and become a solo police officer. A big part of our philosophy is to develop our personnel to strive for excellence.
Describe the actual transition from being hired to being issued a badge?
At this point, the person has usually been offered a conditional job offer and the last step is the chief’s interview. If they pass that, then they are hired and placed on an 18-month probationary period. The first twenty-two weeks will be at the Police Academy where they learn everything from law, enforcement, emergency vehicle driving, firearms training, defensive tactics, officer safety and report writing. After academy graduation, they will spend approximately 18 week in a Field Training program before release as a solo police officer.
Can you describe the right type of person for this job?
We are seeking well-rounded candidates who are committed, creative and responsive to the needs of the community. Qualifications include integrity, interpersonal skills, compassion, education and the ability to work as a proactive team member.
It is a special person who becomes a police officer. I have a lot of respect for the people in our organization. We do everything we can to be a good servant of the community. San Mateo PD has high standards and a reputation for being an exemplary agency. We plan to keep it that way.
What are some aspects to this job that most people would not necessarily think of?
At San Mateo PD, we place a high emphasis on ethics and working with integrity. We want people who are sharp, a cut above, and capable of making the right choice even when it is the hard thing to do. We find moral courage extremely important.
What are some of the less well-known challenges to this job?
This is a 24/7 operation so I would say the shift work in and of itself is a challenge. For example, working the midnight shift and doubling back for court obligations can be a challenge. In addition, we see the best and worst of society. There are many memories I am sure many of us would rather not have. At times, we have to remind ourselves why we do what we do.
What do you like most about your job?
How many of us can say, when it is all said and done, that we made a difference? A police officer gets the opportunity everyday to make a difference in people’s lives. Many times, you do not get thanks, but ten years down the line, you might get a letter from someone who says they are a different person because of how you intervened in their life. That has happened to me and while you do not get that everyday, it makes a difference when you do.