How Long Do Law Enforcement Background Checks Take?

Law enforcement can be a challenging but rewarding career for the right individuals. However, becoming a law enforcement officer or LEO is not simple. It has many steps and stages, including extensive training, to ensure that hired individuals can handle the pressures and rigors of the job. As part of this process, law enforcement agencies conduct extensive background checks on their candidates.

How long does one of these checks take? Unlike a typical office or retail job, there are many more steps involved, meaning this process can take much longer. The actual answer will vary from department to department.

The Typical Elements of an LEO Background Check

Why does a background check to become an LEO take so long? To understand the answer to that question, we only need to consider how many elements there are to this process. A typical agency will conduct investigations into the following:

  • Previous employment, especially non-law enforcement employment.

  • Criminal history. Law enforcement agencies have the authority to review sealed records, although not expunged records, except with a court order.

  • Credit history, conducted per FCRA guidelines.

  • Educational background to verify that claimed credentials are accurate.

  • Military service to verify service history and review disciplinary actions.

  • Drug screening.

  • Personal references, including in-person or phone interviews with the references you supply. Some agencies will also ask neighbors near your prior addresses for a reference.

Most law enforcement agencies will also consult a database called the NDI, or National Decertification Index. This database contains any revocation of a law enforcement license in previous jurisdictions recorded by participating states. While it may not be an automatic disqualifier, agencies do want to know whether an applicant has such serious disciplinary concerns in their background.

The Turnaround Time for Law Enforcement Background Checks Varies

So how long does this process typically take? The answer will depend on many factors, and there is no definitive way to establish a clear time frame for completing a law enforcement background check. For example, a young individual applying to become an officer will not have as much personal history to check as a multi-department veteran looking to join a new jurisdiction in a different state.

The process of gathering and consulting criminal records and credit histories to review is fast—instant results are often available for most such searches. However, verifying an educational history usually requires direct contact with the relevant learning institution. Drug screening takes time for sample collection and then testing and reporting.

Most time-consuming of all, checking personal references can sometimes take days or even weeks. When a hiring department chooses to contact an applicant's prior neighbors, you must factor in even more time. A law enforcement background check might take just two weeks to complete on the low end. For complex applications or applicants to critical positions, vetting could take four to six weeks—or even a few months to complete the entire process. The total time will depend on the personnel available to conduct the investigation, the number of applicants in the process, and other factors.

For applicants, it is essential to plan for this potentially lengthy period. Finding ways to speed up the process for law enforcement agencies is critical to reducing time-to-hire. Learn more about the different background checks in our Resource Center today.

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