Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Background checks have become an integral part of work culture. When you want a professional job, there’s a good chance that they’ll run a background check on you. Background checks verify your identity, criminal records, credit history, and much more. While standard background checks are comprehensive, police background investigations are even more in-depth.

Police background check investigations are more thorough than your standard background check. Police officers enforce the law, so it’s important to find responsible candidates that don’t break the law. While it’s hard to know exactly what to expect, we’re here to help. We’ll cover how long a police background investigation takes to complete and what to expect during the process.

What Is a Police Background Check? 

Police background investigations are criminal background checks that are more in-depth. Most police agencies will also require you to pass a test and show personality traits that make a good police officer. Examples include being open-minded, smart, and not leading with emotion. Police background checks also view your personal records (social media accounts) and contact friends and family.

Police background investigations are designed to reveal a few things. The police force is looking for criminal history, driving records, credit history, and sex offender status. Problems in any of these areas may disqualify you from becoming a police officer.

How Long Does a Police Background Investigation Take? 

Police background checks vary in length. Most police background checks take between a few days and a few weeks to complete. However, other police agencies may have more extensive background check processes that take up to 6 months. Your state and county regulations also influence how long police background checks take.

How Long Do Federal Law Enforcement Background Checks Take?

Federal law enforcement agencies also require background checks. When it comes to federal law enforcement agencies, the background check investigation process is more intense. Additionally, there might be additional elements to the process, like a polygraph test (lie detector). 

The process is more thorough than police background checks because most federal agents have clearance to access classified information. Most federal background checks take up to 12 months to complete.

What Are Police Background Check Disqualifiers? 

Police background check disqualifiers vary based on your state and even the police department. Still, many police departments will have similar disqualifiers, and this is also true for many federal agencies.

The most common disqualifiers for police officer background checks are the following:

  • Criminal record
  • Bad driving history 
  • DUI
  • Violent crimes
  • Drug abuse/selling
  • Psychological issues
  • Some mental health issues 

These are some of the most common disqualifiers, but some police agencies may give you a chance regardless of your past. Ultimately, it depends on your situation and your local agency. On the other hand, federal background checks for law enforcement are less forgiving.

How To Know if You Have Disqualifiers for a Police Background Check?

Knowing what will come up on a police background check will help you prepare. Having answers to questions that interviewers ask you goes a long way in succeeding. That said, finding the information that’s available about you takes more than a Google search.

The best way to check to see if you have disqualifiers for a police background investigation is to search for yourself using a people search tool, like Information.com. 

Information.com’s criminal records check will provide you with the following information about yourself:

  • Sex offender status
  • Social media accounts
  • Traffic records
  • Court records
  • Driving records
  • Pending court cases
  • Social media accounts
  • Emails 
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers

When you search for yourself with Information.com you’ll find everything you need to know.

What Information Do the Police Look For?

The police look for a lot of information when conducting a background check. Depending on the police department, they’ll look into your friends and family, education, employment history, and much more. When trying to figure out how long a police background investigation takes, it depends on how quickly they can get through the following points in your background check. We’ll take you through the most common things the police look for.

Friends and Family 

The major difference between a police officer’s background check and one for civilians is if they contact your friends and family. For police background investigations, friends and family will be contacted, and they’ll be asked about your character. Family members or friends who fail to speak about you in high regard will cause you to fail the background check. Police officers may also examine who you associate with to determine if you’re a good fit. 


Education is also a factor when going through a police background check. A background in criminal justice will help you during the background check, and having no education will hurt your chances. Most police departments require you to have a high school diploma or GED equivalent and some college.

Employment History 

Police agencies and federal law enforcement agencies will consider your employment history. However, employment history doesn’t heavily weigh on your chances unless you were in the military. Military veterans have a higher chance of becoming police officers in most cases. Furthermore, having a history of law enforcement may help when applying to federal law enforcement agencies.

Criminal Record 

A criminal record is important when becoming a police officer. People with criminal backgrounds aren’t usually fit to enforce the law. Police background checks will view your entire criminal record, driving record, and even sex offender status. Always check your criminal record before applying to be a police officer with a background check tool like Information.com to be prepared.

Drug Abuse 

Drug abuse is another thing police agencies will consider. When it comes to drug abuse, police agencies will look into rehab centers you’ve been to and ask you about using drugs in the past. Admitting to doing drugs like marijuana won’t typically hurt your chances of failing a background check, but heroin or cocaine use might impact your chances. Overall, hard drugs will be flagged on background checks, especially if you lie and fail a polygraph exam.

Credit History 

Credit history is another thing that police background checks look for. While credit history is important to some departments, it’s not important to others. Credit history is more commonly referenced for federal law enforcement agencies. Otherwise, credit history (unless criminal) usually isn’t a deal breaker when becoming a police officer.

Always Be Prepared

Police background check investigations may be intimidating, but there’s no need to panic. Making it through a police background check requires honesty, a lack of disqualifiers, and patience. When it comes to patience, expect to wait for up to 6 months for local police agencies and more than 12 months for federal agencies.

When entering a police background check investigation, always answer all questions truthfully, even if you think it will disqualify you. In many cases, explaining how you’ve grown from your past is better than pretending it doesn’t exist.

By Richard Maxwell

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