This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

What's In a Cop?

Law enforcement officers are constantly faced with temptations as well as the means to abuse their authority. That is an unfortunate reality that is simply inherent in our line of work. To help prevent misconduct, we go to great lengths on the front end to make sure we’re picking the best people for the job. In 2013, the Gulfport Police Department processed 52 applications to fill just three police officer positions.

Minimum Qualifications
Applicants must be at least 21 years old and have completed the state law enforcement certification process, which includes a 770-hour basic recruit academy and passing a standardized test. In addition, applicants must have completed at least 60 college credits or a three-year active duty military enlistment. We only accept applications from individuals who meet these minimum standards. From there, the process only gets tougher.

Physical Abilities Test
To make sure our new recruits are up to the physical demands of the job, we run them through a timed test, which consists of a 440 yard run, an obstacle course, and dragging a 150-pound dummy for 100 feet. Applicants who cannot pass the PAT do not continue with the screening process.

Oral Board
Police work requires the ability to demonstrate exceptional communication skills under high stress conditions. So we put our applicants to the test. We assemble a group of three experienced, sworn supervisors who sit as a panel to interview each applicant. They ask scenario-based questions and evaluate applicants on their ability to present their answers effectively. The oral board rating scores are then considered later in the process when comparing multiple, qualified applicants.

Background Investigation
We ask each applicant to complete a ten-page personal history questionnaire. This document covers residency, work history, undetected criminal activity, drug use, military service, etc.  We then verify everything in the document via a lengthy investigation conducted by a sworn, experienced detective. The investigation will include interviews with the applicant’s neighbors, review of employment and military records, review of education records, database inquiries to confirm residential and employment history, police record checks, and a fingerprint criminal history check.

If a background investigation reveals no disqualifying conduct, the next step is a polygraph test. The examiner will review all facets of the applicant’s background in an effort to uncover anything that may have been missed to this point. In addition, the examiner will note any discrepancies which could indicate an effort to be misleading. Dishonesty is always a disqualifier.

Chief’s Interview
Nobody wears a Gulfport police badge without meeting with me first. I want the opportunity to ensure that each recruit understands our policing philosophy and is somebody I want to represent me, personally. A list of standardized questions is asked of each applicant in this interview. If they do well, I’ll extend an offer of employment, conditional upon passing the next two steps.

Psychological Evaluation
We employ the services of a clinical psychologist with over fifteen years’ experience. The doctor uses a standardized assessment instrument, and then he personally interviews each candidate. We receive a detailed, confidential report, along with a rating indicating the candidate’s psychological fitness for duty. If the rating is unacceptable, the job offer is rescinded.

Medical Evaluation
This final step is completed by a physician experienced in occupational health. The candidate is evaluated to ensure he or she has no medical issues that would interfere with the ability to perform essential functions of the job. A drug screen is included in this evaluation.

Field Training Program
If they get through all of the above steps, the candidate gets to put on a badge and is now a Gulfport police officer. However, there is still a long way to go. As a part of the one-year probationary period, new recruits must complete a vigorous, 16-week, on-the-job training program. During this time, an experienced officer observes and evaluates the recruit every moment of every day. Those who perform well in this program will achieve their goal of becoming “solo” officers, but close evaluation continues for another eight months until the probation period ends and the new officer is no longer a rookie.

As you can see, it takes a lot to become a police officer in Gulfport, but we are proud of that fact. This is a lengthy and expensive process, for sure, but I think the people of Gulfport deserve the best for their money. I will continue to do my best to ensure they get it.