How to Do a Background Check on Active Police Officers

by Mardi Link

Although all police officers undergo some form of background check by administrative staff of the department hiring them, the thoroughness of that check varies greatly from one police department to another.

Smaller departments where the applying officer is well-known, or is a family member may run only a standard criminal background check. Other larger and more anonymous departments run criminal, military, credit and even traffic checks.

Plus, some police officers may have a clean record when they were first hired, but face legal, financial, or other challenges during their career that show up only after that initial background check.

You may have your own personal reasons for wanting to learn more about a particular officer and plan to do that by running your own background check. Here's how to get started.

Where to Find Out More

Start at your local courthouse. Check with the Court Clerk to see whether there is pending or settled litigation with the police officer listed as either defendant or plaintiff. The Clerk should be able to search both civil and criminal cases and unless sealed by a judge, this information is available to the public.

Consider checking at courthouses in neighboring communities as well, in the event that the officer was involved in litigation outside the district where he works. These subsequent searches can be as close by or far afield as you are willing to travel.

Pay a visit to the research or adult services section of your local public library. Explain to the librarian that you are looking for more information about a police officer and ask whether the library maintains a clip file on him from area newspapers. Many libraries maintain such clip files on prominent citizens and sometimes this includes police officers.

Active police officers are required to attend refresher courses and training every year to keep their knowledge of the law up to date, fitness levels high and skills current.

Officers assigned to specialized units such as K-9, SWAT, motorcycle or undercover may be required to complete additional training beyond that of the general patrol officer.

Check with the police department to see what the training requirements are in your state or community, and whether the officer in question has completed those requirements satisfactorily. This may require the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request and the police department should have the forms available.

Tip

  • Most police departments large and small have an internal code of ethics that officers agree to abide by. These include such statements as: "I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all"; "I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department"; and "I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions." This Code of Ethics is almost always available to the public and provides another standard by which to judge the behavior of specific police officers.

Items you will need

  • A computer with Internet access
  • Legal name and rank of officer
  • Department the officer is employed by
  • Years employed
  • Military service dates and branch

About the Author

Mardi Link is a former police reporter, covering crime and law for five years. She has two true crime books, When Evil Came to Good Hart and Isadore's Secret (University of Michigan Press). Her articles appear in The Detroit Free Press, ForeWord, and TC Business News. She lives in northern Michigan.