After the past few weeks of seeing the same old posts, I decided to make a post on the above titled subject and hope it gets stickied. This is meant to be a little more encompassing so people won't have to use google fu and go through a number of posts.
The below statements are opinion and opinions alone. Do not take them as gospel, legal advice, or doctrine. Take them at your own risk. Hell think twice after reading the below opinions and go form your own afterwards. I in fact encourage it.
1. BE HONEST - Can't stress this enough. Even the dumbest lies will usually get you axed faster than you can complete the application. Also that lie will follow you from department to department and is usually (in my experience, every single time) an automatic disqualifier.
2. Drunk Driving - It's not an automatic disqualifier but don't plan on getting hired anytime soon. Different Departments have different standards. The most common theme between all of them seems to be to put some time between the incident and the time of application. They also look for things that you have done to improve your life and your growth in maturity.
3. Physical Fitness - Get in shape. Make sure you can run about 3 miles on average.
4. Past Arrests - Depending on the offense and the length of time, it is not an automatic disqualifier either. Be up front with your background investigator and again, don't lie. You have to make sure the offense did not disqualify you from owning/possesing a firearm if you were convicted. Also (just my opinion), if you got convicted for a domestic type incident, don't bother. It doesn't matter if the offense was expunged or sealed, most background investigators will ask if you were ever arrested for it, adult or juvenile. If you want to take your chances and roll the dice (ie lie), that's up to you.
5. Traffic violations - Goes along with the past arrests line. Depends on how many, how long ago, and for what. You have to remember that the agency (assuming it's a Patrol Job) will be giving you an expensive *** car that they expect you to operate with reasonable judgement and skill under unreasonable situations at times. If they see you have a bunch of speeding and other violations, they may and more than likely will pass you up.
6. Credit - Generally you will have to have good Credit History. For a number of reasons, it's important. Although some investigators and departments will understand some things (divorces, military deployments, etc), for the most part they are unforgiving about this. Get your finances straightened out before you decide to apply. Pay off cards, other forms of unsecured debt, and what ever else is dragging your finances down.
7. For all the young people out there (Under 28), get some life experience. If you're 21 and all you have ever done is live with your parents and taken some college courses, it's a good bet you will not be considered and you are generally wasting everyone's time. Military experience is a good way to get it if your 18 to 20 and looking at LE as a possible future career. So is FINISHING a college degree.
8. For those of you that are thinking of switching careers. Do so at your own risk. Talk about it with your spouse, if married, and make sure you guys will be able to cope with the change in lifestyle. If you are a chemist and want to use that knowledge, agencies such as the FBI is something you may want to look at. LE has a wide range of opportunities available. Not all agencies may be able to utilize your skills in their department though. A little research may go a long way here.
9. Past drug use - This varies widely from department to department. Most common theme is some experimentation is ok. Some departments are strictly against it. Ask a background investigator what their policy is before you apply. It may save a lot of people a lot of time. For the most part experimentation comes down to marijuana. The harder the drug gets from there, the less likely departments are willing to look at you.
10 - How much time is enough time you ask? With all the above questions regarding how much time to put between you and the time you were a dumbass, MY PERSONAL general rule of thumb is 5 years. That is considering the offense wasn't soo stupid people want to charge you with criminal stupidity.