There is a simple answer to the question “can a felon become a police officer?” – No. Quite simply, it is almost impossible for someone who has committed a felony to become a Cop in any capacity for a number of reasons. It is not, however, impossible. We will examine the reasons why people who have been convicted of felonies cannot generally become police officers and what they can do instead.
Can a Felon Become A Cop? (Police Officer)
As the members of society that are intended to protect and serve normal citizens, there are a few factors that people may imagine when they are thinking about what would make a good police officer – above all, a willingness to stop crime and resilience in the face of tempting challenges such as bribery.
This is why it is very difficult to become a police officer if you have committed a serious crime in your past – although misdemeanors and crimes committed when a minor, even if they would count as felonies if they were committed by an adult, maybe ignored when applying for a position with the police, a serious misdemeanor or anything that would indicate that an individual is not of “good moral character” would be disqualifying.
Although this is a vague requirement (who is the judge of what is a good moral character?), this is important as it will result in denial of employment as a police officer. This could be continued illegal drug use, for example, or, in almost all cases, felony crimes. We will examine reasons why some consider felons to lack the qualities, or at least “appear” to lack the qualities, that would make a successful police officer.
Read Also: Can a Felon Become a Correctional Officer?
The 5 I’s
There are a number of factors which many consider key qualities in becoming a police officer, including the “Five I’s”:
These are characteristics that are considered central to becoming a police officer and, rightly or wrongly, these are qualities that people do not attribute to felons. Whether you agree with this or not is another matter, but especially at this difficult time for the reputation of police officers in America, hiring individuals who the wider population do not believe uphold these standards would cause difficulties with public trust in the police. As such, a felon would fail to be of the appropriate good moral character.
Additionally, if a police officer has been convicted of a felony in the past, it can lead to a lack of public trust in an individual which would weaken their authority as police officers in the community. Yet again, the public at large do not see felons as trustworthy and in this political climate, the police need to be as trustworthy, restrained, and able to uphold the law in the fairest and effective way; these are not qualities which the general public would describe felons as having.
All police officers in America are required to carry a gun, which is prohibited for felons. Felons as a group are not allowed to possess, use, or own firearms due to the 1968 Gun Control Act – the right to bear arms is forfeited by the individual when they are convicted of a felony, although this can be won back depending on state laws.
Although it is still a difficult road ahead, it is possible to move past the issue of the legality of possessing a gun. As such, even though in some cases felons are allowed to retain or win back their rights to bear arms, it is a difficult issue for someone to become a police officer to be legally disallowed from carrying firearms.
A felony being used against an officer
Another reason that a felon would not be able to become a police officer is that their legal records (including expunged crimes, potentially) could be used against them – these could be used as a part of a defense hearing which could be brought before a court, possibly to imply that there is a conflict of interest or that you were not a good judge of character in the event of the arrest, which could weaken a potential case.
This may be the clearest example of a felon failing the good moral character requirement, as their past transgressions are being used against them – this is possibly unfair in a world where the guilty are meant to be offered chances of rehabilitation, however, it is the truth of reality that an officer’s past may be used against them by the defense in a courtroom.
Risk of reoffending
Another factor that is limiting in allowing someone to become a police officer is the chance that they will be able to uphold the law and act a role model for the community in which they serve – this stands against the 67% of felons who re-offend (or “return to a life of crime”) once they have left prison.
This is not the type of character that the wider public would want to see as law enforcement for two reasons – the individual is not a role model for the community and has failed to uphold the duty to protect and serve; if individuals see that there are repeat offenders who are serving in the police, it will cause a loss of trust in the system and lead to a perception of bribery or gang involvement in the police, whether that is true or not.
Additionally, there is a risk of crime that would cause damage to not only the reputation of the police department but also the department itself (especially if that reoffending were to present itself as bribery and corruption).
Felony arrests and disqualification
On the other hand, it is acceptable to become a police officer if they have only experienced a felony arrest. As long as there was no conviction brought against the individual, they are not barred from becoming a police officer. However, this would still show in a background check and, as such, would possibly need to be addressed during the process of applying and informing the potential employers of your past if you find yourself in this situation.
This may be the ideal situation to search for a felony arrest to be expunged from your record, allowing it not to show up on a background check – some states now are even making exceptions for those who have spent and expunged felony convictions.
There are many services available to those who would wish to attempt to expunge their felony convictions, but it is best to search the aid of a lawyer or other legal representative to best represent your case – when a crime has been expunged from a legal record, it can no longer be accessed by the public record and an individual does not need to admit their offenses in, for example, an interview situation.
However, this is not true in all states (for example, California will not make an exception for an expunged record) and can depend on a number of factors such as where the felony was committed, how long ago, and how the individual has been reformed since the event, so it would be a good idea to investigate further.
Felonies and jobs in law enforcement
Although finding employment in law enforcement may not be possible for those with felony charges against them, there are jobs that may be appropriate and attractive to those who would have pursued a career in law enforcement – these include traffic enforcement, animal control, and wildlife conservation. These jobs offer fantastic opportunities for those leaving prison.
Robert Gomez was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He currently lives in Northern California with “the wifey,” “the kids,” “the dog,” and “that cat,” 🙁 He is also a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row. Felonyfriendlyjobs.org was born to help ex-felons get a second chance in life.