OKLA. CITY —
That’s why it’s important for law-enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate a potential officer’s background before hiring the person, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. George Brown.
“We’ll take nothing less than perfect,” Brown said of the agency’s screening and recruiting process, which includes intensive background checks, a polygraph examination and psychological evaluations. “These troopers are scrutinized.”
The screening is designed to alert the agency to potential red flags for sex offenses and other behaviors that could be problematic in law enforcement, Brown said.
State law requires police agencies to complete criminal background checks on potential officers. Any felony conviction, and some misdemeanors, will automatically disqualify someone for police employment in Oklahoma. Agencies are also required to perform a psychological evaluation on applicants.
Smaller agencies, though, face resource obstacles, said Steve Emmons, director of the officer-certification council. While the Highway Patrol can perform lie detector tests and background searches, smaller departments often perform just the basic psychological exam and criminal background check.
“They can barely afford uniforms,” Emmons said.
Instituting a statewide system that would help agencies perform more thorough checks would be welcome, Emmons said, but he doesn’t envision that happening in the current tight budgetary times.
Even the most rigorous background-check policies can’t prevent all instances of sexual misconduct, Brown said. Since 2010, two OHP troopers have been convicted of sex crimes and lost their state certifications.
“It’s not a perfect science,” Brown said. “We can’t control human nature.”
OKLAHOMA WATCH is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues.