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Few job applications probe so deeply.

Have you ever called in sick when you were well?

Have you ever cheated on your taxes?

Have you ever sexted at work?

The application process for becoming a law enforcement officer – including a background check and psychological evaluation – is one of the most grueling, psyche-scrubbing examinations you’ll ever find.

At the Los Angeles Police Department, for example, recruiters can boot you if you’ve told jokes using a “derogatory stereotype” or used force to get your way.

So why do numerous recent studies, from the National Academy of Sciences and Texas A&M, among others, show rampant racial bias in police forces around the country?

Why do so many videos pop up showing police using violence against unarmed people like Eric Garner and Philando Castile and  George Floyd?

With the coast-to-coast demand for social justice and the increasing pressure on law enforcement to reform or get defunded, an age-old question is being asked anew:

Who should be a police officer?

Evolving qualifications

Police leaders in California say hiring standards are tougher than ever, despite a drop in applications. Critics say good recruits might be getting hired, but they are ruined by old school supervisors who oversee their training and early work on the streets.

Police recruiters insist education and empathy are now more important than old-school attributes, like being able to drag a 165-pound dummy.

“(Change) doesn’t happen overnight,” said Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, who stresses matching officers with the right jobs and not expecting them to do things like COVID testing. “It takes time in the training, in the negotiations with the union.”

Recruiters for Los Angeles and other departments are betting that seeking new qualities for recruits will trickle up, creating a different mindset in the force.

“When I got into it, 20 years ago, fitness was a big deal; military (experience) was a big deal. Now, it’s the totality of the person,” said San Jose Police Lt. Stephen Donohue, who is in charge of the department’s recruiting effort. “We don’t want the guy that’s going to get into a bar fight. We want the guy that walks away.”

But concerns about officers’ character continue to emerge, like the video shot in May shows San Jose Police Officer Jared Yuen profanely antagonizing Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and allegedly firing rubber bullets at them.

Even reformers note that law enforcement hires from the human race and that basic human problems are bound to slip through.

“You can’t polygraph for racism,” said Charlie Scheer, an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

But Scheer also said while police might be looking for compassionate candidates, their recruiting campaigns often emphasize something else.

“There’s a disconnect in how we’re selling the career to these applicants, we ‘Starsky & Hutch’ them,” Scheer said, referring to a television show that portrayed police as streetwise action heroes.

A 2018 recruiting video for the La Habra Police Department is typical. The one-minute spot features numerous scenes of cool police equipment and rifle-toting SWAT officers in camouflage, but nothing showing a civilian being helped by a compassionate officer.

It’s the kind of message that prompts distrust from some who are seeking broad police reform.

All the talk about hiring compassionate, empathetic people is “absolutely lip-service,” said Alesia Robinson, a member of Orange County Protest, a civil rights advocacy group.

“It’s like they’re training warriors instead of people who can protect and serve,” she said.

Emotional intelligence

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes says he’d like deputies who can be a guardian or a warrior, depending on the situation.

Under Barnes, who was elected in 2018, the department has looked for applicants from service industries.

“We want people who communicate well, who know how to solve problems, can effectively deal with difficult people and are customer service-oriented,” Barnes said.

Barnes’ department, with 1,873 sworn deputies, is far better educated than the community it serves. Nearly nine out of ten Orange County deputies have a bachelor’s degree or better, compared with about four in ten college graduates in the general population.

But that’s rare. Nationally, only about one in three police officers hold a four-year college degree and about half have a two-year degree, according to a study published in 2017 by the National Police Foundation, an independent group aimed at improving policing.

That said, pre-pandemic, many departments around the country were having a hard time filling vacancies with 63% of law enforcement agencies reporting a drop in applicants, according to the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, DC.

At the San Jose Police Department, yearly applications have fallen by more than 2,700 since 2016.

The reasons are diverse:

The advent of cellphone cameras has generated more criticism over police conduct. What was already a high-stress job has become one with little margin for error. And, in addition to traditional police work, officers in many departments often must act as social workers, dealing with the homeless and the mentally ill.

With public perception killing morale, good recruits are less eager to apply, said Spencer.

“You have less people who are empathetic joining the profession because why should I do that when I can do something else?” he said.

The non-profit Police Executive Research Forum, an education group for law enforcement, says in published reports that some departments are lowering standards, such as education requirements or bans on visible tattoos, to entice applicants.

Ideals vs. reality

For all the talk about hiring people with strong people skills, the current qualifications to get into police work look much as they have for a generation or more.

In California, the minimum requirements are set by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or POST, though individual departments are free to beef up those requirements.

Many specify physical attributes.

At the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, you have to be able to do 30 pushups in two minutes, 30 situps in two minutes and run 1 ½ miles in 14 minutes to even get in the door.

It gets rougher from there. In police academies, recruits who graduate must drag a 165-pound dummy 32 feet, scale a 6-foot chain-link fence and run a 99-yard obstacle course.

There’s also a lean toward military experience. Though many police departments require recruits to have 40 to 60 college credits, that requirement is often waived if a veteran arrives after four years of honorable service in the military.

Background checks poke into every relationship the recruit has had as well as their social media use. Investigators will find the ex-girlfriend you forgot to tell them about.

There is also a background application that gives the recruit a chance to self-report any misdeeds. Lying or omitting facts is an automatic rejection.

Other deal breakers are convictions for felonies, domestic violence and misdemeanor assault. However, there is a loophole: Offenders charged with a serious crime can plead down to a reduced charge that keeps them eligible for hire.

Officers suspected of misconduct in one department can agree to resign, ending any internal investigation and leaving them open to get hired elsewhere.

One issue that isn’t dealt with in police recruiting, directly, is race.

A 2018 analysis of criminal justice students by Scheer and Michael Rossler, a professor at Illinois State University, shows that many of the people interested in police work believe officers racially profile minorities.

Alexis Hoag, a lecturer at Columbia Law School, said racial profiling is ingrained in society and goes beyond policing.

“There’s a much larger issue at play,” Hoag said. “With slavery came a racial hierarchy which produces this assumption of criminality with brown and black skin.’’

Nationally, police departments are whiter than the communities they serve, according to published reports.

In Santa Ana, a city where just 9.4% of the population is white, the police department is 31% white.

In San Jose, the city is 26% white while the police force was 54% white, according to a 2017 review.

In Oakland, the city is 29% white while the police force is 35% white.

Hoag said a direct demographic match-up isn’t essential. She noted that Black officers sometimes commit violence against Black civilians.

What’s more important, she said, is how you teach criminal justice students and new police recruits.

“Teach what law enforcement’s role is in lynching and the reign of racial terrorism,” Hoag said. “I think that would go far in teaching why communities of color don’t trust police. (They) frame the issue as being a few bad apples when we know it’s a rotten apple tree.”

Added Spencer: “There are some bigots in law enforcement. . . we need to make it unacceptable for them to be in the profession.

“You have to separate the flashpoint from the gasoline.”

This is the first installment in a four-part series that will examine policing in California following George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests and calls for widespread reform.

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Bills Ed Oliver opens up about arrest, says George Floyd could have been me

Baltimore explosion: 1 dead and 3 hospitalized after homes explode Pandemic relief resources everyone should know about Bills Ed Oliver opens up about arrest, says George Floyd could have been me

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver was arrested in May, eight days before George Floyd was killed in Minnesota when Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, held his knee to Floyd’s neck.

Oliver was initially charged with driving while intoxicated, though two months later charges were dropped since blood results showed there was zero drugs in his system. On Monday, he opened up about the arrest and the perspective he has on it now during a video call with reporters.

“I feel like I was guilty and had to prove my innocence, not innocent until proven guilty,” Oliver said.

Oliver arrested in May, all charges dropped in July

Oliver was pulled over on a highway in Houston, Texas, after a concerned driver called 911 to report a white Ford Super Duty pickup truck was driving erratically through a construction zone, per the Montgomery County Police Reporter. There is video from the traffic stop showing Oliver completing field sobriety tests and being handcuffed.

He was also charged with unlawfully carrying a handgun. All charges were dismissed by the district attorney late last month.

“The blood results came back, and they were totally negative,” Houston attorney Gary Patterson told Mark Berman of FOX 26. “He had no drugs at all in his system. So everybody knows it’s not the attorney that’s getting him off.”

Oliver said he could’ve been George Floyd

Oliver, 22, told reporters Floyd’s death put his own situation in perspective.

Ed Oliver was arrested eight days before George Flloyd was murdered. As he watched the country react to what happened in Minneapolis, his perspective changed @WKBW

— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) August 10, 2020

Oliver, a former University of Houston star taken ninth overall in 2019, told reporters:

“That could have been me. If I ain’t just ‘yes sir, no sir’ and just comply, all it took was for me to move the wrong way or do something the wrong way and that could have been me. So it was tough.”

He said he’ll start to watch his surroundings closer, slow down and “try to keep yourself out of situations like that.”

“You could be doing anything, and then life could just hit you. So you’ve got to be careful,” Oliver said.

Oliver said he was en route to his house with an ATV on the trailer of his truck.

Why Oliver complied despite 0.0 breathalyzer test © Provided by Yahoo! Sports Ed Oliver addressed his arrest in May and how his perspective changed after George Floyd's death eight days later. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Oliver’s attorney said Oliver’s breathalyzer test at the time of the traffic stop was 0.0. The blood work from the night of his arrest came back clean as well. Officers said there was a can of opened beer between his legs, which Oliver disputed on social media after charges were dropped by asking how an officer can see inside a Ford Super Duty truck.

He told reporters he felt violated by being arrested and put into a jump suit at the station even though his breathalyzer was clean. The officer, he said, told him he still believed Oliver was intoxicated.

Ed Oliver described being put into a jump suit after his arrest. "I don't know how you get arrested with nothing in your system...I didn't walk my entire the straight and narrow to be in a jumpsuit like that for nothing. That's how I felt violated." Oliver blew 0.0 #Bills

— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) August 10, 2020

And he explained why he complied.

Ed Oliver blew a 0.00 breathalyzer where he was pulled over.

The officer told him he still believed Oliver was intoxicated.

The #Bills DT explains why despite frustrations, he complied.

"If you're right, you're right. The truth's going to set you free."#BillsCamp

— Jon Scott (@JonScottTV) August 10, 2020

“It’s just kind of like one of those things in your life you’ve just got to go through and get through it and hopefully I can tell my kids about it or I can inform people, hey, you don’t have to fight back,” Oliver said. “If you’re right, you’re right. The truth is going to set you free. Just go through it, go through with it, and you’ll be all right on the other side.”

As protests erupted following Floyd’s death, professional athletes and others began sharing their own stories of being stopped by police even if the transgression was small or nonexistent. As Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports wrote in June, “driving while Black” is real and the impact can have lasting effects. It is part of why leagues have promoted and support Black Lives Matter and fellow initiatives.

The NFL finally issued a statement saying “black lives matter” in June after players released a powerful video asking if it will take an NFL player to be “murdered by police brutality” for the league to care.

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