The current police-community confidence crisis stems, in part, from lacking and disparate professional policing standards. To bridge this gap, criteria should be aligned with the needs and desires of the communities that police serve. To properly address this issue, consensus is needed on the role of police in American society and the traits and characteristics that comprise a model police officer. As our country continues to evolve into a majority-minority nation, it is critically important that we rededicate policing as a public service based on trust between law enforcement and the diverse communities they serve and protect.

Throughout the U.S., police officers are recruited through advertising campaigns in which officers are portrayed engaging in high speed pursuits with lights and sirens, drawing and shooting firearms, wrestling, climbing walls, and jumping out of helicopters. These scenes are played out with the backdrop of an action film’s soundtrack. This recruitment approach results in a process that is incongruent with the typical activities of police work. In fact, such recruitment methods are in direct conflict with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report which specifically recommends that departments move away from a culture of police as “warriors” toward one of police as “guardians.” Further, some standards for entry as a police officer recruit may, in fact, screen out some of the very applicants that could contribute to far better police-community relations. Such barriers may include educational requirements, credit scores, physical attributes, and minor transgressions that may have no correlation to success as a police officer.

We don’t know what makes a model police officer, as hiring standards for officers are often unclear, inconsistent, and not evidence-based. Currently, national standards are quite limited and generally do not include characteristics or personality traits that make for a model officer. The criteria that do exist vary by state and agency and typically represent administrative requirements such as citizenship, minimum/maximum age, educational prerequisites, valid driver’s licenses, and minimum fitness standards. Beyond these criteria, few universal standards exist. More importantly, these standards and others imposed disparately across specific states and jurisdictions do not help define the personal attributes of a model police officer.

This project will advance Vera’s commitment to ensuring equal justice and strengthening communities by identifying the characteristics of an officer that communities desire and determining areas for improvement in the recruitment and hiring practices of police departments across the U.S.