Police nationwide are critical in upholding law and order and providing many often-overlooked community service roles. For example, community and cultural events, from festivals to concerts, often use local police to bolster security and maintain a safe atmosphere. However, these may not always be traditional officers—they could be reserves. A new bill advancing quickly through the Indiana legislature would update the requirements for departmental background check compliance related to such officers.
A reserve police officer is an individual who is not necessarily a fully-qualified, full-time officer. Instead, former law enforcement officers (LEOs) in retirement or academy candidates may be working on adopting a full-time law enforcement career. These part-time workers shore up existing personnel and ensure enough full-duty officers remain for other vital tasks.
In Indiana, existing background check legislation has allowed reserve officers to bypass the traditional vetting process. Currently, there are no mandatory checks, though some counties engage in screening nonetheless. The new bill would close this loophole, mandating that all Indiana counties conduct thorough background screening on reserve candidates.
Law enforcement vetting is different from the typical employment background screening experience, and for good reason. LEOs wield enormous authority and sometimes deadly force. These vetting programs seek to identify many more potential red flags in light of these responsibilities. Additionally, good screening can help to keep bad actors from moving from agency to agency.
An officer who resigns from a position due to potential misconduct might simply move to another county and apply for a job with a different agency. Without good screening, problematic officers can continue to cause issues in multiple departments. Good screening prevents this problem.
As Indiana legislators have noted during committee debates, screening matters for reserve officers, too. Though these individuals wield less force and spend less time on the job, they still regularly interact with the community. Many other states, including neighboring Ohio, require such checks already.
Whether agencies work with background check companies or carry out their own checks, extending screening to reserves is a positive move. For counties, it lessens the risk of hiring officers with troublesome track records and facing a lawsuit because of their actions. The added consistency reduces the likelihood that officers could abuse the reserve program. Screening and ongoing monitoring also provide reserve officers with a good reason to remain on the straight and narrow: break the rules, and you could quickly lose your job.
For communities, this change should inspire some peace of mind. Knowing that an officer with a severe disciplinary could not simply move counties and get a job as a reserve elsewhere should offer some peace of mind.
Barring a sudden reversal of fortune or the threat of the governor's veto, this regulation will soon be headed into the law books. While the bill continues advancing, it has had unanimous support. Law enforcement agencies throughout Indiana should consider exploring updates to their background check compliance policies. Planning to begin screening—or re-screening existing officers—could also be a good move.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments