We hate turning down your kids. No one enjoys crushing the hopes of a young person who proudly says he always wanted to be a police officer.
When he or she comes from a law enforcement family, I long to believe the applicant will grow into a good officer under the influence of the Academy staff. But when testing, interview behavior and someone’s history all point to a poor outcome, we have to say “No.”
Other than that unhappy chore, I love testing recruits. For the most part, the parade of sincere, motivated, clean-living young people can restore your faith in human nature.
Of course, some candidates don’t quite meet our standards. I asked one how recently he’d driven when he probably wasn’t legally sober. His answer, “Lord, my wife says I’ve got to stop doing that.”
A vet who handled nuclear missiles complained to me that his supervisors nitpicked about every little detail – I couldn’t feel his pain. I wasn’t interested in the guy who always drank a Coke while shopping but never paid for it. And grooming tip: a Johnnie Walker tee shirt is not business casual.
Another applicant referred to relatives as, er, female dogs. I turned him down, but a local sheriff’s office picked him up. Tragically, he went on to murder an ex. I earned my paycheck that day—well, both days it happened.
About Your Kid . . .
Most rejected applicants won’t commit horrifying crimes; they’re just not ready for a badge.
Let me take this opportunity to explain to the disappointed HPD parents out there what it means when your kid is not selected. As we tell the applicants, a psychological rejection only means that the individual is not suitable for THIS job at THIS time. The bar is set high, and we think it should be. A rejection most emphatically does NOT mean that the person has a mental health problem or emotional disorder.
Although years ago negative results were reported to Austin, that’s no longer true. Our decisions won’t block employment elsewhere.
Many of the people we turn down shouldn’t give up on a law enforcement career. I like to let the younger candidates know that they can reapply in a year and probably should—quite often, folks who don’t measure up at first can get in if they come back with a clean record and consistent achievement at work or school. Maturity matters.
Parents, listen up. We offer feedback after someone takes our tests, whether the person is accepted or rejected by HPD. If we turned down your child, encourage him or her to call and learn what he can about the reasons. You have colleagues who will testify that the feedback sometimes kick starts personal growth.
I recently told a rejected recruit that his pattern of drinking did not match that of successful cadets or officers. Truly, I hope it changed his life.
We consider it a privilege to hear veterans of the armed forces tell their stories of enormous courage and loss. I feel like I’ve been behind the scenes everywhere U.S. troops have been deployed and some places where officially they never went. I even interviewed an airman about putting gum on Air Force One—and turned him down.
For the record, our staff gets nonstop diversity training. I get to hear what it’s like to make an arranged marriage or move to the U.S. after growing up cooking over an open fire. Some of you attended America’s most exclusive and expensive schools and some spent summers picking crops beside migrant worker parents.
Many officers have in common that they were inspired by a family tradition of public service, whether it was in DPS or a foreign army. Those stories are moving—but I love it when the inspiration comes from a stranger, when an unexpected act of kindness is cherished for a lifetime.
The Best Part
Not long ago a recruit described an HPD officer coming to his door when he was about four. The little boy thought he must be in trouble, but the nameless officer just wanted permission to bring over Christmas toys. From that holiday on, the needy kid was determined to join HPD. Whoever you were, you were a star recruiter that day.
Another cadet told me of witnessing a woman being abused on the street. He ran home and told his mom, who called HPD, who arrested the perpetrator. An HPD officer took him to lunch to reward him for being such a good citizen. That boy and his passion for righting wrongs are in the Department today.
We can’t make huge changes in people’s lives every day. Sometimes our efforts seem pointless. The revolving door keeps spinning. To quote a Yiddish proverb, you can’t empty the ocean with a teaspoon.
Still, you try. You constantly fight an ocean of injustice and evil. HPD can’t “fix” Houston or get gifts and guidance to all the young people in need. But sometimes you deliver your tiny spoonful of safety or encouragement or make what seems to be a routine decision, and it turns out to be exactly the right move at the right time.
Together, we make a difference.