» police oral boards and the use of force continuum
by: George Godoy
There are actually two parts to the police oral board. The first part examines your personality and why you would make a good police officer. The second part of the oral board involves scenario type questions that test your judgment and problem solving capabilities. Here is an typical example question that might be asked on an oral board: "A fellow officer calls for assistance on a family dispute that is getting out of control. Upon your arrival to the house you see the requesting officer struggling with a male subject on the floor. The male subject is on top of the officer attempting to punch him in the face. What are you going to do, and why?"
Knowing the force continuum is imperative if you are going to answer this question correctly. Every situational question of this type will involve your knowledge of the force continuum. Your chances of leaving an oral board with a passing score depends on it. Oral board members want to know what course of action you will take in a given situation - how your mind works - that you won't over react.
Or, that you won't under react and get someone killed. Because of this one of the most important tools you can bring to any oral board is a comprehensive knowledge of the force continuum. It can open or shut the door to your career in law enforcement.
With that said let's review the force continuum.
Always remember the level of force in your response is dictated by the situation. Police officers use the force continuum, a scale of force alternatives, to mediate the level of response used in a given situation.
The force continuum is broken down into six broad levels. Each level is designed to be flexible as the need for force changes as the situation develops. It is common for the level of force to go from level two, to level three, and back again in a matter of seconds.
|The Force Continuum|
Officer Presence. The mere presence of a police officer in uniform or in a marked police unit is often enough to stop a crime in progress or prevent most situations from escalating. Without saying a word, the mere presence of a police officer can deter crime by the simple use of body language and gestures. At this level gestures should be non-threatening and professional. This "zero" level of force is always the best way to resolve any situation if possible.
Verbal Commands. Used in combination with a visible presence, the use of the voice can usually achieve the desired results. Whether you instruct a person to, "Stop.", "Don't Move.", "Be quiet.", "Listen to me.", "Let me see your ID.", or, "You're under arrest."-- voice commands in conjunction with your mere presence will almost always resolve the situation. The content of the message is as important as your demeanor. It’s always best to start out calm but firm and non-threatening. Your choice of words and intensity can be increased as necessary, or used in short commands in more serious situations. The right combination of words in combination with officer presence can de-escalate a tense situation and prevent the need for a physical altercation. Training and experience improves the ability of a police officer to communicate effectively with everyone he/she comes in contact with.
Empty Hand Control. Certain situations will arise where words alone will not reduce the aggression. This is the time police officers will need to get involved physically. This is a level of control employed by police officers minus the aid of equipment or weapons. There are two subcategories called, “soft empty hand techniques” and “hard empty hand techniques. ”Soft Empty Hand Techniques: At this level minimal force would involve the use of bare hands to guide, hold, and restrain -- applying pressure points, and take down techniques that have a minimal chance of injury. Hard Empty Hand Techniques: At this level the use of force includes kicks, punches or other striking techniques such as the brachial stun or other strikes to key motor points that have a moderate chance of injury.
Pepper Spray, Baton, Taser. When the suspect is violent or threatening, more extreme, but non-deadly measures must be used to bring the suspect under control, or affect an arrest. Before moving to this level of force, it is assumed that less physical measures have been tried and deemed inappropriate. Pepper spray results in considerable tearing of the eyes, as well as temporary paralysis of the larynx, which causes subjects to lose their breath. Contact with the face causes a strong burning sensation. Pepper spray, once thought an effective street tool for police officers has lost popularity over the years because of its ineffectiveness, especially on intoxicated persons. The typical baton is a round stick of various lengths, and is made of hardwood, aluminum or plastic composite materials. A blow with a baton can immobilize a combative person, allowing officers to affect an arrest. Common impact weapon used by police today include the PR-24 and collapsible baton. Of all the options available at this level the Taser, in my opinion, is the most effective. The Taser discharges a high voltage spark (50,000 volts) at very low amperage. The Taser fires two small darts, connected to wires, which drops a suspect at non-contact distance. These devices are easily carried. They are lightweight and affordable. Extensive training is not required, and they may be more effective on persons under the influence of PCP and other drugs who do not respond to chemical irritants. They can be especially useful for controlling non-criminal violent behavior, such as persons who are mentally impaired, or under the influence of mind-altering substances.
Less Lethal. This is a newer, acceptable and effective level of force that numerous police agencies have added to their use of force continuum policy and procedure. Less-lethal weapons were developed to provide law enforcement, military and corrections personnel with an alternative to lethal force. They were designed to temporarily incapacitate, confuse, delay, or restrain an adversary in a variety of situations. They have been used in riots, prison disturbances, and hostage rescues. Less-lethal weapons are valuable when: Lethal force is not appropriate. Lethal force is justified and available for backup but lesser force may subdue the aggressor. Lethal force is justified but its use could cause collateral effects, such as injury to bystanders or life-threatening damage to property and environment.
Deadly Force. If a police peace officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others then the use of deadly force is justified. (see Tennessee v. Garner) By the very nature of the profession, peace officers may at times be confronted with a potentially lethal threat. In most of these instances, peace officers will have no other option but to discharge their firearm in order to protect their life or, the life of others.
The use of force is an integral part of a law enforcement officer's job, particularly when arresting criminal suspects. No one disputes that police should be permitted to protect themselves and others from threats to safety, but what is often disputed is an officer's assessment of a threat and the level of force selected to counter it. As a general principle, the level of force used should be tailored to the nature of the threat that prompted its use.
Sgt. George Godoy (Ret.) recently retired after 22 years of police service in the Denver, CO area. He has created Police Exam 911 to help police officer candidates get top scores on their written and oral board exams.
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» police oral board
preparation - step one
Most oral boards sit three to five poker
faced individuals comprising of police personnel (police officers,
sergeants, detectives), city management and possibly human resources
professionals. What occurs next is a dramatic exchange that will change your
life. You want that change to be shooting you to the top of the eligibility
list and hitting the fast track towards your law enforcement career.
Step one in your preparation is to learn as much as possible about the department and city. Start with the city website. Get a feel for the community, news and events, happenings, and city departments. Get a copy of the city annual report. The annual report is chock full of information to include the police budget, crime statistics, calls for service, arrests made etc. By reading a few pages you can learn more about the police department than most of its officers.
Next go to the police website. The easiest way to find the police website is to do a Google or Yahoo! search by entering the city name followed by "police department". Scour the website. Go into every nook and cranny to unfold the department's mission statement, the police chief's vision, community policing policy, crime analysis, criminal investigations, patrol bureau, traffic enforcement, dispatch center and traffic safety program, to name a few.
Talk to department members. Pick their brain. What's a typical day, swing, and graveyard shift like? What types of calls for service do they encounter most frequently? Is the city mostly residential? Are there many businesses, or a combination of both? How many 'hot spots' such as 7-11's, banks and schools are there? What is the diversity of the department? Knowing these things, even some, will give you points of reference when answering oral board questions.
Do a ride along. Many police departments allow civilian riders. Make sure you tell the person who approves ride alongs that you are a police candidate. Though I personally never relished the thought of taking a civilian rider on patrol (they're a pain) I did enjoy police candidate riders. You will often get an FTO, who is a teacher, so ask lots of relevant questions. Departments often limit the time a civilian can ride, so take advantage... ride as long as possible. While I just stated ask questions, be mindful that the officer is on the job observing, listening to the radio, and responding to calls. Be respectful of his duties, which takes priority over your questions.
There will be lulls when the officer is just driving -- that's when your questions will break the silence, and often be welcomed. Learn everything you can. If this is your first ride along it can be a real eye opener, depending on the call load. At the end of your watch thank the officer for his or her time, and for answering your questions. If you formed a rapport with the officer you now have a friend on the department. He or she may even put in a good word for you. Not only that, but now you can use the ride along in the oral board. For instance, if asked a question such as, "What have you done to prepare yourself for this position?", you can state (along with other examples) something like, "I did a ride along with Officer Evans for five hours on a Friday night. We responded to several calls including a burglary in progress, a vehicle break in, a prior sex assault, and a bar fight."
Not only will the board members know you care enough about the department to complete a ride along, but I guarantee you'll score extra points with them. Points that could make a difference :-)
» police oral board questions
There's no crystal ball to tell you what questions you'll be
fielding in your interview, but many are classics that you'll have a 95% chance
of facing—and with solid preparation you can ace every one.
One quick thought: Remember the ride along with the officer? If you connected with him or her, did you think to ask them about their own interview? The officer will most likely give you some unique insights about the interview and what the department expects from good candidates. Nothing beats this kind of personal information.
So, what kind of questions are 'classics'? I'm glad you asked:
>>So, Tell us about yourself.
This isn't a question at all—this is your second 'first impression'.
If you did well with the initial meet at the opening of the interview, this is your chance to nail that great start firmly into place. And if you haven't prepared a rock-solid answer, you'll be in for a long, uphill battle for the rest of the interview.
To set things straight, the interviewer does not want to know your favorite color, music or food groups. The interviewer wants to know about the "you" that wants to be on their police department. The professional you.
Your answer must showcase the attributes you possess that relate to police work: your education and intelligence, your confident enthusiasm and dedication to goals, your perseverance and reliability.
Keep your answer brief (90-120 seconds), well-defined (make your point and move on) and easy to follow (say it so they hear it, and remember it).
Identify your strengths and create encapsulated descriptions of them.
Identify two things you do well and define how they directly relate to police work.
Identify your broadest knowledge base that applies to police work.
Identify 2-3 achievements that exemplify dedication to duty, determination in the face of adversity and flexibility of attitude.
Work your target preps into modules of information that will come naturally to you, and from you, as a relaxed, thoughtful response.
In this case, and with all the interview questions, try to give your answers in essentially the same way—state your strengths first, follow up with specs that support your strength statements, show how your strengths relate to the position and department. Do not offer any negative, or unrelated, information in your answers.
>>How would you see your future, say, 5 years from now?
(Or: Where do you see your career going in the next 5 years?)
In order to show that you have a life plan that extends beyond your interview, you need to have an answer to this question that leaves no shadow of doubt as to your commitment to your new, hoped-for profession and the department that would give you your start as an officer.
Your answer needs to be succinct and address your anticipation of professional growth through your continued pursuit of escalated responsibilities and your successful achievements within those expanded duties. You foresee your future as a solid rise to more responsibility by accepting responsibilities and performing beyond expectations.
Identify anticipated department needs and tailor your response on your future to realistically mirror promotional opportunities. Keep in mind that 'lateral' moves within a department can also be viewed as taking initiative to learn diversity of skill sets.
Be sincere, show respect for the profession and don't make light of your potential or your desire to be a well-rounded, highly skilled police officer.
>>What do you feel are your greatest strengths?
This question, or one very close to it, will undoubtedly be asked in your interview and is your second opportunity to drive home the impression you made in the first question—if it was positive. If you thought you didn't do so well, then this question is your chance for a reprieve.
If your answer will cement the great first and second impression you made, then take this opportunity to drive home your best attribute wrapped securely in the one thing you do that's the core of your confidence.
Draw a direct line between your best, and the position, and department by focusing on the benefits your best will bring to both. This is not a time to brag or grandstand, but rather a time to make the most of an opportunity to show exemplary character and re-state your relative qualifications.
Choose 2 assets that best showcase your inherent abilities for police work.
Choose the one thing you do best and create statements that tie what you do to your best assets and then tie both to reasons the combination will benefit the department and prove your natural aptitude for the position.
Again, use the formula of information presentation: state your strength clearly, give solid support data that ties your strength to police work. Do well on this one and you'll be on third base, heading for home and a great score.
>>What do feel are your greatest weaknesses?
This is usually the toughest question for any candidate to do well on. Handle this one poorly and the interviewers will fill in negative blanks you never knew existed.
First of all, this isn't about whether you bite your nails or 'must have' one of the hundreds of food treats that are bad for you. This isn't about weakness either. To handle this question strongly, treat it as you would your assets. What trait or attribute do you possess that you feel hasn't realized full positive potential? What behaviors of yours might, or have in the past, clashed with smooth performance?
These will be simple things. Don't look for complex 'problems'. Look for personality quirks that are translated into actions that might affect you in police work.
An example could be that you tend to be impatient. This
could mean that sometimes you rush things, don't give situations and people
time to fully develop, or cause you to make judgments quickly that later
require adjustments when added information is available.
Impatience is a simple negative and a minor weakness, but in this case is a valid, honest weakness that can be presented in your answer and not hurt you. This can be accomplished by stating simply that you feel you are impatient sometimes, with people who may not seem to have strong commitments and values backing their actions, and with the situations that can result. You do not dwell on this, but immediately move to strong statements of how your awareness of this 'weakness' has led you to make changes in how you approach other people and events. Examples of changes could be that you've learned to not be directly critical, but to give constructive criticism that allows others the chance to see your idea and not your emotion. You could note that you're harder on yourself than anyone else, and have worked towards using tolerance as a balance in your life.
Your answer should show that you're aware of your 'weakness' and that you've made specific efforts to improve it and make yourself a more balanced, productive individual.
Do not apologize for your stated weakness. Do not over-explain or dwell on it. State it, show your improvement efforts, add a qualifying statement if possible (i.e. impatient/demanding = high standards) and close the answer with confident body language.
Sometimes the easiest way to figure out a weakness you can use is to think about comments from your family when you were a kid. Were you the 'bull-headed' (stubborn) one? Were you unable to 'find your head if it wasn't screwed on" (disorganized)? Or were you the one with your "head in the clouds" (highly imaginative)? These are all inherent personality traits and are how you view the world, and they can all be presented just like impatience in the example above.
Identify a 'weakness' trait you believe in and can present with conviction.
Write out the first sentence of your answer that states your weakness and makes the transition to your improvement efforts. Practice this sentence until it pops out naturally, as though you and the weakness are old pals and 'controlling' it is a tried and true process—second nature to you.
Identify positive extensions of your weakness that relate directly to police work.
This question, as with all the rest, should be taken by the throat and put squarely in perspective of the circumstances. Do not hesitate in your answer. Do not avoid the question. Do not make a self-deprecating remark, or state you have no weaknesses, for 'humor'—it will only be seen as evasiveness. And most of all, Do Not make a pat declaration of a weakness that will knock you out of the selection process.
Show the interviewer that you know yourself, good and 'bad', and that you strive continually to improve, grow and bring your best to everything you do.
>>What makes you the best person for this job?
This is the 'why do you want to be a police officer' question—and your chance to make your case for you, the best candidate they'll meet.
Your preparation for this question should begin by identifying when you decided police work was your dream, and what created that desire. Your opening sentence should define that dream, when it happened and why.
"I always wanted to be a police officer, my dad and his dad were officers and I've always wanted to follow in their footsteps."
No matter what your reasons, make them rock solid in your mind and heart, so when you begin your answer your passion for the choice is clear.
From there show the interviewer what you've done to prepare yourself for becoming an officer. This can be done by noting specific job-related events—schooling, security jobs, volunteer work with a police department—or by noting elements of certain jobs that relate to police work and how your interest in these elements reaffirmed your decision to pursue a career in law enforcement. This last part can take some thought, but is worth it. You want to convince the interviewer that a career as a police officer is a goal you are committed to at every level of your beliefs.
Identify your 'moment of decision' for becoming an officer.
Identify the things that concretely affirm this decision-job and life experiences, mentors, etc.
Track your affirmations and create that journey in 2-3 sentences.
Identify skills that enhance you as a candidate: computer literacy, CPR and first aid training, fluency in a second language.
Roll everything into a concisely presented, brief paragraph.
Believe everything you say. The honest conviction behind your answer will come through and make a tremendous impression with the interviewer.
>>What can you tell us about this position?
This is where your research of the position and the department will make the difference. The answer seems obvious, rattle off the stated qualifications of the posted position. But if you do that, you'll miss a huge opportunity to impress the interviewer with your determination to know the entire picture.
Present your research trail on discovering information on the position and the department. Stress that you wanted to know about the community this position would serve, so you extended your search to include the city website, a visit to city hall, etc. If you're already a resident of the area, use that fact to show that your personal history is tied to the community and serving it as an officer would be your honor.
Research the position, the department, the community.
Relate the position to interaction with the community and create a phrase you believe in that describes that interaction.
Understand the departments' policing philosophy and include that in your answer.
Show the interviewer that you were motivated enough to research the position and department—and that will show your appreciation of both.
You will be asked many more questions, but you should be able to give confident, intelligent answers if you research, investigate and prepare.
» police oral board 'what if' questions
Police judgment questions, or situational questions, are a
necessary evil you must face in the selection process of the oral board
review. Once again, preparation is the key to success, but you also need to
pack a healthy dose of common sense into every answer you give.
Interviewers, and the departments they represent, are looking for candidates that can think on their feet, have well-developed decision-making formulas and genuine enthusiasm for police work. Situational questions allow a candidate to showcase all these elements in a way that reveals them as someone primed for a police career.
>>To ticket, or not to ticket?
Discretion is available to police officers to ticket traffic offenders, or to issue a warning only. Give me some examples where a warning would be appropriate, and explain why.
A person suffering a health problem that makes it difficult for them to maintain control of their vehicle, or to lose control of their vehicle. The person is reacting to the immediate pain or confusion resulting from the health problem and is unable to respond appropriately to traffic rules, signals or signs.
A person from another state fails to observe a no left turn sign, due to being unfamiliar with the area, or even turns onto a one-way street against traffic (but there is none to show the obvious fact of traveling in the wrong direction). The person may be lost, traveling under stress/tired or trying to follow directions instead of watching signs closely enough.
A person is speeding within department policy tolerance, has no prior violations and admits being distracted by something that has just occurred—like finding a water leak upon coming home for lunch, or receiving tragic news, etc. The person is operating below their usual at that time, for a specific reason.
In lieu of issuing a summons, a verbal warning is more
likely to gain future voluntary compliance of the law.
The guiding factor is common sense and the option to forgive the offense under the circumstances. Your answer can show that you are aware of special circumstances, of the need for humanity in decision-making and of opportunities for community service with compassion.
You are responding with another officer to a report of loud noises and the sounds of arguing coming from a house. Both officers arrive, check in with dispatch and approach the house. What are the next actions to take?
Look, listen and evaluate the scene.
Approach the door to the house, listen for further signs of a disturbance.
Step to the side of the door (officers have been shot through closed doors).
Knock firmly, identify yourself as a police officer and state that the door needs to be opened.
If sounds of a struggle—screaming, glass breaking, shouting—are heard a forced entry may be necessary to prevent injuries from occurring.
If the door is answered, establish whether anyone is injured and call for medical backup if needed.
Separate the involved parties, establish the mental state of each and check for weapons.
Start working the call to determine the nature of the dispute, the level of threat, etc. and if the situation can be resolved, or if an arrest needs to be made to keep the peace.
Domestic disputes are extremely unpredictable, often dangerous, calls. Weapons are often involved and either, or both, parties may be mentally disturbed, intoxicated or high—and always highly charged emotionally. Neighbors can also throw another dicey element into the mix.
Again, in this response, common sense dictates actions. Avoid a train wreck: stop, look and listen, then take your safety and the safety of all involved parties into account before you act.
>>Lights, Siren, Faster than a speeding bullet
There is a need for an officer to respond as an emergency vehicle, lights and siren, and exceeding the speed limit. What type of situation would warrant this emergency response?
Officer needs assistance radio call
Armed robbery in progress/pursuit
Multiple vehicle accident with fatalities, or serious injuries
Attempting to stop a speeder or drunk driver
Emergency response means a life-threatening situation—and common sense dictates that this means lights, siren and exceeding speed limits.
Resisting arrest, a wanted traffic offender lunges at the arresting officer with a knife. Is the use of deadly force warranted?
Yes, the suspect is using deadly force against the officer.
Common sense dictates that the threat to an officers' life takes precedence over the original offense that initiated police response. Police common sense will further dictate that the threat of deadly force by an officer will be enough to gain control over a situation and secure officer safety.
All 'What If' questions are designed not to test you on proper police procedure, since a candidate cannot possibly possess such knowledge. Instead, they are designed to show the interviewer your ability to place events in common sense perspective in order to act with reason and to not allow panic or emotion to pull your decision trigger.
Use your ride along experience to good advantage here. Remember how the officer reacted to various situations and what precautions were taken to insure the safety of all concerned.
Take a moment to consider the question, be sure you understand all the elements involved and be certain of what the interviewer is asking of you. Listen carefully. Do not assume you know what will be asked and tune out before the question is completed.
You may want to re-state the question as part of your answer: "I believe an officer faced with deadly force from a resisting suspect would be warranted in responding with deadly force.", or, "I believe situations that would warrant an officer responding as an emergency vehicle, lights and siren and exceeding the speed limit would be…"
This simple tactic cements the question in your mind and shows the interviewer that you were listening.
Prepare for the What If segment of the oral board by:
Doing a ride along with an officer, making notes, asking questions and keenly observing.
Studying departmental policy, where possible, so your responses are more closely aligned with actual policy.
Develop a formula, process, strategy—whatever you want to call it—to use as a way to consistently prioritize actions.
Learn to identify the first common sense action in every situation.
Practice your prioritizing formula with day to day situations until it becomes your second nature approach to evaluating events.
You'll be nervous. You'll make mistakes. But if you show consistent common sense, concern for safety, a formula for decisions and a genuine enthusiasm for police work—you'll come out ahead of the pack.
Police Exam Breakthrough
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