Officer Darryl Willis is a recruiter for the San Diego Police Department. He has been with the department for nearly thirteen years.
Give me an idea of what kinds of candidates the San Diego Police Department is looking for.
The minimum requirement is someone with a high school diploma or a GED. You also have to be at least a permanent resident alien who has applied for citizenship. That’s the minimum. If you don’t have that, you can’t even take the written test. But people with military backgrounds or college degrees are going to have the advantage.
Anything you’re specifically not looking for?
People with felony convictions. People with domestic violence convictions, whether misdemeanors or felonies. Or anyone with bad credit.
The San Diego Police Department website lists monthly job fairs and recruitment seminars. What happens at these events?
Usually people come up and ask us questions because they want to tell things about themselves and ask if they’d be a good fit for the police department. More importantly, they want to know what our disqualifications are. The big ones are convictions, drug usage, and credit.
Tell me about the steps in the application process?
You don’t have to turn in a résumé or anything. There’s a written test, which has 75 questions. And then there’s the physical abilities test. Then on the same day as the physical abilities test, you’ll take what’s called a PIQ, a pre-investigative questionnaire. From there, you’ll take a polygraph based on your answers on that PIQ. You’ll also have to take a psychological examination, both oral and written. And you’ll have to successfully pass a physical exam by a doctor. Then, you’ll be given an oral interview by our lieutenant, who’s also our acting captain. That will be with him and our sergeant.
How many people start the process each month?
We usually go through anywhere from two- to three-hundred applicants each month.
And how many people actually get to the academy?
If you’d have asked me that a year ago, back then we were hiring fifty applicants per academy. But based on the economy, we cut back our hiring, and right now we’re only really looking for ten to fifteen applicants per academy. Some months, out of two or three hundred, we might only pick one or two. So you can see right now, we only take the best of the best.
Where do most people fall off or give up or just fail?
It depends. A lot of people fall out at the physical abilities test, some at the polygraph. And for some people, it’s the psychological test. So different people fall out at different stages. But I’d say for the majority of them it happens at the pre-investigative questionnaire stage.
Let’s say you’re one of the few who make it. How often does a new academy class begin?
We have an academy approximately every four months.
What kinds of options do people have once they graduate from the academy?
Everyone that graduates goes to patrol assignment in different divisions. And that’s where they learn the meat and potatoes about the job. After working two years, you can maybe start looking at something like S.W.A.T. After about five years, you can look at something in investigations, meaning detectives. You can apply after about six years for sergeant.
What’s the starting salary for a San Diego police officer?
The starting salary for new officers is just under $4,000 a month while you’re in the academy, and it will get to about $6,000 a month after the fourth year. Everybody starts the same, for the most part, but there’s a little bit of a gray area. If you’re from out of state and you have experience as a police officer, even though you may have to go through the academy again just so we can be on the same page, we may start you out at a little bit higher pay because you do have more experience.
What are your recommendations for passing the tests and interviews?
As far as passing the written test, we have a sample test online. I’d recommend if you’re not a good test-taker, study the written test online. For the physical abilities test, every Thursday, from 1:00 to 3:30, unless there’s a holiday or bad weather, there’s a recruiter up at Miramar College taking you through a practice test. And for the pre-investigative questionnaire, keep in mind that you’ll be given a polygraph based on your answers. If you start deviating from your answers, it looks like you lied and you’ve got something to hide. The best way I can sum it up is: Come clean on everything. We’re not looking to hire perfect people. But some of the things that people lie about, had they told the truth there’s a likelihood that they might have gotten hired.