For this episode of Community Conversations we spoke with Officer Hillary Szalach from the Prince William County Police Department about their hiring efforts.
Q: What kind of qualifications do you look for in police officers?
A: So the minimum qualifications to become a police officer – you have to be a U.S. citizen, first of all, have a valid driver’s license, be at least 21-years old when you graduate the Academy. So you can begin the Academy when you’re 20, as long as you turn 21 before you graduate. You have to have a relatively clean background – so no felonies or serious misdemeanors. There’s also a hearing and vision check.\
Q: One of the things people are talking about, especially even the Chief was talking about it in one of his Community Conversations was diversity in the police force. Are there certain places that you’re going or is it just part of the community? How do you try to address that?
A: As you said, one of the Chief’s big initiatives is we want to make the department reflective of the community that we live in. And we are a minority majority community, so one of the biggest places we look to get our minority applications is going to be in our own community. We do a lot of local recruiting – we’ve had our own job fair, our own career fair at the police station – we go around to, we reach out to churches, to gyms in the area, we set up at Potomac Mills once a month. So, we do a lot of local recruiting. There’s also some other things we do, targeting like minority colleges or historically black colleges and universities – places like that. As well as the military. We get a lot of minorities from the military as well.
So there are places that we specifically look for, as well as we’re always open to suggestions. So if there’s any, you know, anywhere you think of that we could be finding qualified candidates that we’re not looking, we’re always open.
Q: Especially around here, hiring candidates, there’s a challenge in that. So what are some challenges, you know, this police force has maybe compared to some other places in the country?
A: Well, I don’t know how much I can speak for other departments, but for us, really, just finding qualified applicants, and by that I mean, you know, there’s some things that – minimum qualifications that you have to have. Like, a lot of people in our area aren’t U.S. citizens, and obviously that’s one of the minimum qualifications you have to have. Once you get into the hiring process, there’s some other things – you have to be relatively physically fit, you do have to be honest – integrity is huge in the hiring process for our police department. So if there’s at any time you have an integrity violation, you lie about something on the application, that’s one of the biggest things that takes people out of the hiring process.
Q: And with all of the other government agencies around, how does that effect you have officers actually in your department?
A: Absolutely. Being in the Northern Virginia area, there’s a lot of high quality police departments in this area, there’s a lot of federal agencies that are good, law enforcement agencies in this area. So we’re all competing for the same pool of applicants. But you know, it’s all about the way we market the department. In Prince William, we have high standards for the officers we hire – it’s a very professional department – so I think we do very well.
Q: And for the people that you take in as police officers, they don’t have to necessarily be a person right out of college. Is there anything like where it’s their second career or anything?
A: We do get a lot of people that are retired, coming out of a second career – especially with the military, for example. When you retire out of the military – we don’t have an age limit for our recruits – so, you can be coming out of another career. With the Virginia Retirement System you can draw out of that retirement, you’re vested after five years, so you can draw a small retirement after only working for five years, so it’s not your only source of income, you know, that is absolutely an option for people that are retired from doing something else.
The great thing is, like with police work, we’re going to give you all the training you need, so you don’t have to have any background, you don’t have to be prior law enforcement or anything. You don’t even have to be military. I myself, I came out of college, so you don’t need any kind of experience – we’re going to give you all of that training.
Q: A lot of people may think that police officers just ride around in the car, but there’s some specialized things in the police department also.
A: Yeah, obviously everybody just starts out on patrol. You get to learn the job – that’s our basic job function – so you’re out there, you’re going on calls to service, you’re writing tickets, that sort of thing. And kind of like the stuff you think of on ‘Cops’. But then once you’ve done that for a little while, we have pretty much any specialty you’d be interested in. You know, we have your criminal investigations – so if you want to be a detective. Motors – if you want to ride a motorcycle, you can do that full time. Canine, all of those big things. SWAT TEAM. And we also have a lot of part-time units as well, so you can be on patrol and be involved in a specialty. Like our marine unit, our boat. That goes out on the weekends during the summer. So you can be assigned to patrol and then do that as well. So we have a lot of units like that also.
Q: How can people apply to the police department?
A: So you go online, that’s how you get the whole process started – it’s www.joinpwcpd.org. You fill out the application online. Normally within about two business days we’ll send you back an email with a link to the personal history statement, which is the big long packet that gets turned over to a background investigator. Once you get that filed out and turned in, the first thing we do is the physical fitness test. A cool thing we do to kind of speed up the hiring process for Prince William is that we do not do any kind of written exam. So there’s no testing or anything like that. The physical fitness test will be the first thing that you do, and after that the polygraph, and we try to get you rolling from there. The entire hiring process generally takes between three to six months to complete.
Q: So that’s definitely thorough.
A: Oh absolutely, yes.
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