Greensboro Police Department Checks Are an Example of What Law Enforcement Background Screenings Should Be

By Michael Klazema on 2/25/2015

Last fall, when a police officer in Cleveland shot and killed a 12-year-old boy for waving around a plastic gun, people in the area began wondering what kind of policies the department had for screening officers. When it came out that the officer had transferred from a different police department and that the Cleveland Police had never looked at his personnel file, the revelation caused uproar. Not only did Cleveland change its policies for screening officers, but the incident inspired news outlets across the country to wonder about the policies in place at their own local police departments.

That was the case with WFMY News in Greensboro, North Carolina, a local news outlet that recently did some digging to determine precisely how police and sheriff's departments in the area screen their officers. As it turns out, Greensboro's police forces are incredibly good about covering all bases when it comes to checking their employees. In fact, Greensboro's police background screenings might just be the prototype of what law enforcement checks of this ilk should be.

WFMY profiled two law enforcement offices in the Greensboro area. The first one, the Winston-Salem Police Department, claims that each rookie on the force has a personnel file that is "a few inches thick." These files contain criminal records collected from every county in which an applicant has lived, worked, served in the military, or even visited repeatedly or for long periods of time. That's right: if someone spends their summers in Florida each year, the department orders a check in Florida.

This kind of thoroughness alone is admirable. By using address histories and ordering checks in the areas where a person has lived or worked, employers are likely to catch most criminal infractions. If someone was convicted with a crime while on an out-of-state vacation, though, employers can sometimes miss that's simply because they don't think to run checks in those areas. The Winston-Salem police force is an exception that rule.

Winston-Salem is also an exception in that the department routinely goes above and beyond North Carolina's minimum standards for law enforcement background checks. For instance, if an officer comes to Winston-Salem from another law enforcement office, the department will demand to see his or her personnel file from the old agency. That way, they can see if the individual had any issues with abusing their power or otherwise being insubordinate while at an old post.

The Winston-Salem Police isn't the only Greensboro-area law enforcement department that takes the screening of new recruits very similarly. On the contrary, the Guilford County Sheriff's Department has its own unique means of assessing how trustworthy a person is: voice reading. While interviewing potential recruits, the department records their voices with a complex piece of software. The software tracks the different AM and FM tones in a person's voice, and can use the readings to determine when someone is lying. Naturally, someone flagged by the system as dishonest is not high on the list to be issued a badge and gun.

These above-and-beyond measures for screening applicants go a long way toward keeping the police force in Greensboro honest and dependable. Since North Carolina only requires a few standard steps, a basic criminal check, a psychological assessment, a drug test, a medical check-up, and a reference check, it's definitely comforting to know that individual departments are filling in the gaps with their own policies. Other law enforcement departments in the United States would do well to adopt similar policies.


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    Replacing an inconsistent array of procedures, Ontario's government has passed into law a reform act intended to clarify how police departments should handle requests for information to be used in background checks. 

  • November 14 The federal government has vowed to cut its backlog of security clearance background checks in half by spring. Currently, the backlog is approximately 600,000 names strong.
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