Why do states make it difficult for felons to become a cop?
There’s a variety of logical reasons why a person with a criminal background may not be able to be a cop. One of the biggest reasons is that all of the felon’s legal records would be releasable in the event that they, as an officer of the law, were called to court. The defense team for the accused could easily—and in all likelihood would—bring up the prior felon’s record in order to discredit him or her, to raise the question about their legitimacy and honesty.
It all boils down to a matter of perception. Officers are required to possess the following character attributes:
- Integrity (strong ethical foundation)
- Intellect (self-explanatory)
- Industry (diligent and hard-working)
- Initiative (taking charge versus waiting for someone to tell them what to do)
- Impact (the ability to affect real change and leave a good impression after an encounter/engagement with civilians)
The cold fact is, most jury members are not willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to a prior felon. Once their background is revealed, it will be hard to alter the perception regarding whether or not the former felon—now an officer of the law—can truly possess all of the above attributes.
“A tiger,” they say, “cannot change its stripes.” Whether this aphorism holds true or not, the perception will be that it’s true. “A felon,” the defense will work hard to prove, “cannot be a valid enforcer of the law” because they’ve already revealed their true nature as having no integrity and of making a negative impact instead of a positive one. The jury will be too distracted by the “case” against the officer’s own reputation that they’ll lose focus on the real matter at hand.
The state legal systems realize this potential Achilles’ Heel in allowing felons to become officers, and thus are reasonably reluctant to jeopardize the reputation of their own law enforcement agencies. They are unwilling to inadvertently give away any minor advantage to the defense teams of accused criminals, when they have more than enough qualified, non-felon applicants applying to be police officers.
If that were not the case—if the states were struggling to fill their quota numbers for new recruits, then perhaps things would be different and the laws would change. But as it stands, it is nearly impossible for a felon to be an officer.
It goes without saying, another major factor in the prohibition of convicted felons to be police officers comes from the fact that felons can’t possess firearms. It’s a hard caveat to overcome, and whether the federal government ever decides to overturn this particular ruling, again the various individual states are unlikely to repeal their own restrictions.