Aced the PQE

December 20, 2005

I received a fairly thick stack of papers from the City of Los Angeles. On the top of this stack of paperwork was a letter, which said:

Law Enforcement Employment – Personal Qualifications Essay

You have passed the Personal Qualifications Essay (PQE) portion of the examination and were placed on the hiring list according to your score of 90 (this score includes military credit if you submitted proof of Honorable Discharge).

We schedule people from this list for further processing according to score and hiring needs. If you have not already been scheduled for further processing, you will be notified should your score qualify you in the future.

The next sheet of paper had appointment dates and times for my next two steps in the application process: an initial background interview, and the Physical Abilities Test (PAT).

There were several forms to be filled out, including one 22-page monster called the Personal History Form for Public Safety Officer Applicants (PHF). They want to know where you’ve lived, where you’ve worked, how much money you make, how much money you owe, who your friends are, what kind of drugs you’ve used and so on.

It would seem that I will be in sunny Los Angeles again soon. Until then, I have my hands full with forms.

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The Personal Qualifications Essay (PQE) was basically three essay questions, which needed to be completed within 90 minutes. I was one of about 15 or so people who showed up to the testing center to take the PQE only. Most of the applicants in attendance were there to take both the multiple-choice written test, as well as the PQE.

Back when I first went to Los Angeles to take the written test, the application process was slightly different. After the written test, there used to be some sort of interview, to be conducted (I believe) by an off-duty LAPD detective. Since the mayor is intent on hiring over a thousand new officers by the end of fiscal year 2007, the city felt that it could not afford to pay those detectives overtime for conducting those interviews. At least that’s what I’ve heard through the grape vine.

I was one of the first ones to arrive at the testing site. A burly LA police officer walked by and spoke to a few of us briefly. He recalled the time when he, too, was an applicant. He told us, “The only advice I can give you is to use common sense.

Judging from the reactions of many of my fellow test takers, the officer’s advice seemed to go right over their heads. I took his advice to mean, “Use common sense when answering any and all questions they (those affiliated with the LAPD testing procedures) throw your way.”

When it was time to sit down and take the PQE, I did just that. The last essay question was something along the lines of, “Describe something that you have done that you regret. What did you learn from your experience? How have you changed since then?”

While I will not discuss my answer here, suffice it to say that I didn’t discuss the time, as a 19-year-old punk kid, where I consumed a fifth of vodka, beat the crap out of some guy whom I felt “disrespected” me at a nightclub and proceeded to drive into the horizon drunk and a skunk.

It seemed like the common sense thing to do was to not write about such a thing. In any case, we’ll see in about two or three weeks whether my prose was good enough for the City of Los Angeles.

Police Recruitment

November 15, 2005

By ART MARROQUIN, City News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles Police Department has relaxed its stringent guidelines on hiring recruits in hopes of bolstering the force, a city official confirmed today.

In August, Chief William Bratton said he wanted to ease restrictions on hiring recruits with bad credit and those who openly admitted to past drug use.

During his report to the Police Commission on the LAPD’s recruitment efforts, Raul Lemus of the city’s Personnel Department confirmed that authorities are now following Bratton’s instructions.

Lemus, who oversees background investigations in the Personnel Department, also told the commission that the department continues to have trouble recruiting women and blacks.

The Personnel Department is spending $2 million in advertising this year in an effort to recruit a diverse pool of LAPD candidates, according to William Scott DeYoung of the city’s Personnel Department. The department shelled out $1.5 million for LAPD recruitment advertising last year.

The LAPD will spend the money on billboards, the Internet, the radio and even niche markets to lure black, Latino, Asian and gay and lesbian recruits.

The LAPD’s force is 12.9 percent black, 36.4 percent Latino, 7.5 percent Asian and 43.2 percent white.

Nearly 19 percent of the LAPD’s staffers are female, but the LAPD does not keep statistics on the number of gay and lesbian workers.

Police Commission President John Mack told DeYoung that recruitment ads aimed at racial minorities should be revised.

“I listened to one of those ads, and it didn’t do anything to get my attention,” said Mack, former president of the Los Angeles Urban League.

DeYoung told Mack that he would discuss the matter with the advertising agency that handles the LAPD recruiting account.

Written Test Results

October 15, 2005

I have just received a letter from the City of Los Angeles’ Public Safety Bureau, informing me that I have passed the written test:

We are pleased to inform you that you have passed the Multiple-choice [sic] portion of the examination for entry-level law enforcement employment.

Los Angeles Police Officer candidates are usually scheduled for a Police Officer [sic] interview at the time of the written test. If you need to reschedule your interview or have any questions, please contact us at the number below.

I called “the number below,” to see when I can go in for my police officer interview. After all, I have to plan another trip to Los Angeles to do this. I learned that these interviews are no longer being conducted. (It would seem that the application process is ever-evolving in the light of the fact that LA is trying to hire 1,400 new cops by the end of fiscal year 2007.) In lieu of an interview, the next phase to my application process is to take the Personal Qualifications Essay (PQE). No appointment is required. I simply show up and write a few essays.

Out of town applicants used to be lured by LAPD recruitment with expedited testing, which means that several portions of the application process can be knocked out in a week. Recently, this expedited testing option has been extended to everyone. Unfortunately, I am not eligible for this option.

The reason I am no eligible for expedited testing is that on my Preliminary Background Application (or PBA, which I filled out when I took the written test), I admitted to marijuana use. That was almost 20 years ago. Moreover, I had a little skirmish with the law as a young adult. Nothing serious, as I have never been convicted of a crime. Nevertheless, these things are weighing against me at the moment. It looks like passing each phase of the application process will mean another trip to LA.

For now, my next mission is to get to LA and take the PQE.

First Step

October 5, 2005

After looking over the Los Angeles Police Department recruitment website several times, and thinking about the direction of my future, I decided to give it a shot. At the time of this writing, the Los Angeles Police Department offers its written test six times a week, Monday through Saturday. I went to see my travel agent, booked my flight and flew out to sunny Los Angeles.

I took the written test at the Personnel Building, at 700 E. Temple St., near the downtown area. There must have been roughly 30 other applicants with me. There were a handful of women among us, and a few minorities. There seemed to be representation from all walks of life.

All in all, the written test was not all that difficult. It was comprised of two parts: multiple-choice, grammar-related questions, followed by an essay question. We were given 60 minutes to complete the first part of the exam, and another 30 minutes to complete our essays. Although I don’t want to say as an absolute fact that I did well on the test, I will say that it seemed rather easy.

One memorable thing about the test was the number of applicants who seemed thoroughly confused by the test questions. There were a few people, it appeared, who could not finish the test in the time allotted. I wonder how many people will be weeded out of the application process simply by failing this test?

Struggling to lure more officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is joining a growing number of law enforcement agencies across the nation in considering less stringent recruitment rules.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said he was drawing up the proposed changes, which would end the LAPD’s zero-tolerance rule toward past marijuana use and make it easier for the department to hire people with bad credit histories.

Bratton’s idea has ignited a debate within the department, with some fearing that lower standards would bring problem officers to the force and create the potential for more misconduct and corruption. Others question whether people who admit to breaking the law in the past can be trusted not to commit crimes in the future.

But outside law enforcement experts said it would not be a radical departure from what many other agencies already are doing. Some said the rules would end up making the LAPD look more like the population it serves.

“It’s definitely not your father’s Los Angeles of 1955,” said Eugene O’Donnell, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “It’s one of those ironies that LAPD, in a city that’s pretty hip and sophisticated, is still somewhat trapped in a time capsule.”

O’Donnell said that a police department should have police officers with “real-life experience,” which can involve marijuana use and even some minor criminal problems, so that the department can better deal with “real-world problems.”

Bratton said some of the LAPD’s standards regarding drug use and a candidate’s financial history may be “artificially high.” He is considering reducing the department’s zero-tolerance drug requirement so it is in line with federal law enforcement standards. The FBI requires its candidates to have no more than 15 uses of marijuana and not within the three years before the application date. The FBI also requires that other drugs, including steroids, not be used more than five times and not within 10 years of the application date.

“The reality is, kids today … may in fact have sampled drugs some time in their life,” Bratton said this month. “Does that mean we should automatically disqualify them? I don’t believe so.”

The move comes as the department is pushing to meet its goal of a 10,000-officer force by next summer. To enter the LAPD, candidates must undergo a series of tests and evaluations, including a background check, a psychological evaluation, a physical abilities test and a polygraph. Only one in 12 candidates makes it through the process, said Scott DeYoung, the department’s chief personnel analyst.

Bratton has long pushed to expand the LAPD, pointing out that the police force is far smaller per capita than those in other major cities, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Until now, city officials have been unable to fund Bratton’s goal of boosting the force to at least 12,000 officers.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said hiring new officers is a top priority. So if more money is found for additional hiring, Bratton’s proposed recruitment rules — if approved by the City Council and the Police Commission — could bring new officers on more quickly.

But some are skeptical.

“Anything that would reduce standards, we would have a serious concern about,” said Los Angeles police union President Bob Baker. “We certainly don’t want to reduce the qualifications it takes to become a police officer.”

Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri, said he was dubious about recruits who have broken the law by possessing marijuana, a misdemeanor.

“I think what this is doing is inviting trouble, because you are bringing a known rotten apple into the barrel,” he said. “If he/she has been willing to break the law prior to becoming a police officer, what’s to say if they are going to be any different behind the badge?”

Relaxing recruitment policies — though in a much more extreme way than Bratton is proposing — has brought problems to some police departments. In 1993, there were 79 arrests of officers in Washington, D.C. Police attributed the problems with the classes hired in 1989 and 1990, when investigators, in an effort to quickly build up the force, did not spend as much time doing background checks and interviewing candidates’ former employers.

Last year, the D.C. police force significantly toughened its recruitment rules, requiring candidates to have some college credits. The change came after studies suggested that officers who attended college may have better comprehension skills in court, write better reports and are apt to resolve situations with less use of force, said Capt. Kevin Anderson, director of recruiting for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington.

“It does make recruiting harder,” Anderson said, adding that it has cut the number of applicants in half. “In the long run, it’s supposed to make for a better officer and a better department.”

Still, Bratton’s proposal is generally in line with what other departments are trying.

In recent years, the Chicago and New York police departments have dropped their minimum age for applicants to 21 from, respectively, 23 and 22.

Several metropolitan police departments such as New York, New Orleans, Detroit, Miami-Dade and Boston have less stringent policies on drug use.

In Boston, candidates are not automatically disqualified if they admit to using drugs in the past. Candidates are disqualified, however, if they are convicted of a felony. In Detroit, a candidate who hasn’t smoked marijuana in the last five years may still be considered for a job.

Miami-Dade’s police force also allows past marijuana use but requires that applicants have not used the drug within the last two years. But for many police departments, any past use of felony drugs, such as cocaine or opium, disqualifies the candidate.

Sgt. Ronnie Cato, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, an organization of black LAPD officers, said Bratton’s announcement will open the doors to minority recruits who often fail the department’s background check because of bad credit history arising from divorce or low-paying jobs.

Cato said some minority officers rejected from the LAPD get hired at other local law enforcement agencies such as the school and airport police.

In addition, Cato said, there are a lot of young people who have experimented with marijuana in college.

“If your president can smoke a joint, if your Congress people can smoke a joint, you mean to tell me a police officer can’t smoke the joint when they were in college?”

Wendy Lee. “LAPD May Relax Its Hiring Rules” Los Angeles Times Monday August 29, 2005
pg. B.1