If you feel under the microscope when applying for a new job, consider this: hopeful police officers become the focus of an intense investigation before they ever get on the payroll.

Imagine your neighbor being quizzed about you by your possible future bosses. If that neighbor mentions an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, they might get a call, too.

This is the typical hiring process to be a police officer in Johnson County. Passing a written test and being able to do the required physical tasks is just the start of getting a badge, gun and full police powers.

When the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Greenwood and Franklin police departments accept applications, each will receive more than 50 candidates. First, the pool is cut to 20 candidates who will go through a rigorous background check.

Aspiring police officers are treated like the subject of an intense police investigation. What seems like detective work is a routine part of hiring police officers that goes far beyond written and physical fitness tests. Before candidates are ever reviewed by the police merit board, police chiefs want to make sure they’ll do the right thing when faced with difficult decisions or situations.

Detectives, or investigators, go beyond criminal background checks on candidates and talk to their family, knocking on their neighbor’s door and finding out about their personal life. They aren’t just digging for past mistakes or red flags.

Making sure a candidate is not only physically capable, but also level headed, disciplined and treats all groups of people the same is more important than ever before due to the scrutiny police officers have faced in recent years. After a background check and physical agility testing, police chiefs and merit boards will have a chance to pick a candidates brain and delve into their character.

“I like to see the candidate well groomed, well spoken and that he or she displays respect and integrity. All of those are attributes of a good officer,” Franklin police chief Tim O’Sullivan said. “I want to know they’re getting into it for the right reason. If people come in and they don’t carry and present themselves that way, I recommend they’re dropped from the process.”

At Greenwood, Johnson County and Franklin, police are looking for characteristics that can’t be taught and that the person who has them works with a servant’s heart, Greenwood Police Chief John Laut said.

Social network accounts are examined and candidates are also given a lie detector test. At Franklin Police Department, detectives will check the applicant’s finances and credit history, O’Sullivan said.

After all of the extensive background research, physical fitness and agility tests are given to candidates. At Franklin, candidates have to run a mile and a half in less than 16 minutes and 28 seconds, which are the state law enforcement academy standards, O’Sullivan said. And if a candidate misses the cut off time by one second, they’re eliminated from the hiring process, O’Sullivan said.

“If someone is not well suited to be an officer, the process usually weeds them out,” O’Sullivan said.

Candidates may go through the entire process, be selected as one of 10 to 20 finalists for a future position, but never be called back or offered a job, police said. The window to hire candidates selected as finalists is about one year. After a year, the process starts all over again, police said.

If you want to be a Johnson County Sheriff’s deputy, pay special attention to your writing skills. The hiring process places emphasis on report writing, Sheriff Doug Cox said. That includes spelling tests, Cox said.

“People laugh sometimes when we make them take a spelling test, but we have actually had people who don’t know how to spell sheriff,” Cox said.

Spoken word is just as important. When the merit board is interviewing a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office candidate, how the applicant appears during questioning is paid close attention to — just like interrogations or questioning.

The board will focus on body language, their composure and even their grammar, Cox said.

And if you’re hired, be prepared to have pepper spray and a taser used on you. At the sheriff’s office, whatever you use in the line of work aside from your gun, has to be used on you so you know the pain and effects it has on your body, Cox said.

Three new Greenwood police officers will be hired this year, but it will probably be several months before they’re patrolling the streets on their on. At each department, several months of training is the standard. After a rigorous hiring process, officers typically won’t be a ride along trainee until they complete about four months at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, police said.

Greenwood, Franklin and Johnson County all send their new officers to the academy, then each newcomer rides with a veteran officer, writing police reports and carrying out their duties under supervision.

Constant review during the first year when an officer is learning is important to ensure he or she will make the best choices and use their training when they are patrolling. Body, in-car and cellphone cameras leave little room for error.

“You should be willing to go and treat people with respect,” O’Sullivan said. “Be confident. Be fair. It’s a total package.”

At a glance


Applicants must clear a standard criminal background check.

Departments will also administer their own background checks.

Candidates have to take a lie detector, or polygraph, test.

Candidates are required to pass a standard and written test.

Candidates are required to pass a physical agility and physical fitness test to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy standards.

Once hired, officers must complete four months (16 weeks) at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and as many as three months of field training patrolling with another officer.

Officers can also be placed on a one-year probationary period during the first year patrolling on their own where incidents and progress are reviewed.

Author photo
Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.