What do you view as the most important day-to-day responsibilities of the police—and what role in the community do you feel you serve?
This question is great for evaluating how well a candidate truly understands the duties and sacrifices of working for the police. The interviewee should be able to list the core duties of the role, which might include patrolling, responding to calls, handling traffic stops, making arrests, issuing citations, acting as first-responders in emergencies, and testifying in court. But you should also look for candidates who speak more broadly about the call to serve and protect. Whatever police role they’re interviewing for, protecting the public and keeping the peace are top priorities. A great candidate will demonstrate a strong awareness of how these responsibilities tie into the job’s day-to-day tasks.
When is deadly force justified?
The use of deadly force on the job should be rare, but it is sometimes necessary. While police in some countries don’t carry firearms, it’s important for those that do to be acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with them. The candidate’s answer should make clear that deadly force is only justified in highly specific circumstances—when there is an immediate, unavoidable threat to themselves or others—and that they would only use it when all other options have been exhausted.
How would you ensure a good relationship between the police and the citizens in your precinct?
Creating and maintaining strong community bonds makes police work easier. Candidates should recognize this and show a real dedication to the people they serve, as well as the community at large. Listen for answers that talk about concepts like honesty, accountability, and trust. They may also mention specific strategies, like creating an open dialogue with citizens and building community engagement through local groups and events.
Imagine that you and one other senior officer are the first to respond to a robbery. When you arrive, you notice a small pile of cash by the door that another officer picks up. Later, you notice that the inventory sheet doesn’t include the extra bills. What do you do?
It’s important for police officers to follow proper procedure, including knowing what to do when a coworker violates that procedure, mistakenly or otherwise. The candidate’s answer may indicate that they would report the incident to their superiors as soon as possible. Or they may ask whether the bills were logged into evidence and only missed on the inventory sheet, suggesting the incident was a genuine mistake and not outright theft. Listen for evidence that the candidate considers the nuances of a situation while still being able to follow department policy. They should be aware of the high moral standards the job requires and must be capable of overcoming peer pressure, even from superiors.
Say you and your partner have just arrested a violent offender and are transporting them to the jail. If you spotted a serious road accident while en route, what would you do?
Being able to make tough judgment calls is an essential part of police work. Ideally, the candidate will talk you through their thought process while answering this question, showing that they’ve taken key factors into account. Do they display an awareness that this could be a ruse to free the prisoner? Are they hesitant to leave their partner alone in the car with the offender while providing assistance to the other vehicles? A strong answer will show that they acknowledge this risk and would continue to the jail as planned, reporting the accident over the radio first.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a person who was acting hostile but not yet violent. How did you handle the situation to avoid it escalating?
A crucial aspect of policing is de-escalating situations before they can become dangerous or even life-threatening. If the candidate has previous police or military experience, they will almost certainly have an on-the-job example to draw from. But if they’re just starting their police career, their example may come from their personal life or previous work experience—like breaking up an argument in a bar before it ended in blows. Whatever the situation, a strong answer will demonstrate competencies like conflict resolution, problem-solving, teamwork, and integrity—as well as a cool-headed approach to crises.
Tell me about a time you were asked to fill in for a fellow officer at the last minute when you had prior commitments? How did you respond?
Unlike many other jobs, police work is a round-the-clock commitment. As such, candidates need to demonstrate a clear understanding that long hours and unpredictable emergencies are all part of the job. Great answers will show a strong work ethic and a willingness to be flexible when necessary, but also an acknowledgment that a good work-life balance is important.
Imagine two of your coworkers don’t get along and they’ve each come to you separately to complain. How would you maintain a positive work environment in this situation?
This question screens for communication and conflict resolution skills—which are essential for effective police work. A candidate who can comfortably navigate a disagreement between coworkers may be better equipped to deal with other conflicts on the job, like breaking up a domestic dispute. Listen for answers that show they listen to both sides of the argument and guide each party toward a more productive and collaborative conversation, with an eye to minimizing conflict.
What would you do if a member of your team seemed distracted in their work and was failing to follow orders because of it?
By asking this question, you can get a feel for a candidate’s leadership capabilities, but also for their empathy. Following the chain of command is vital in police work, but so is recognizing when something is wrong. Would the candidate try to talk one-on-one with the person about what was going on in their personal life to cause the distraction? If they felt the distraction was putting the person or the entire team at risk, would they step in and alert a supervisor? The worst thing they could do is ignore the issue and hope things will improve on their own, so an answer along these lines may be a serious red flag.
Why did you choose a career with the police?
Police work can be challenging and unglamorous, so finding candidates with a genuine passion for policing and a commitment to helping others is essential. Answers could touch on many things, like an early interest in law enforcement, other family members in the force, or a higher calling to serve their community. But the thing that all strong answers will share is passion, so pay attention to both the words they use and non-verbal cues, like energetic body language and hand gestures.