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Join The Police Force With A Criminal Record

Becoming a Police Officer in California with a Criminal Record

Becoming a police officer in California involves an intensive selection process that is even more challenging if you have a criminal record. In some cases, a criminal record may automatically disqualify you from employment as a police officer.[1] For instance, if you have ever been convicted of a felony, even if the conviction has been expunged, then you are not eligible to become a police officer. Further, having the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor under California Penal Code section 17(b) will remove the disqualification only if the conviction occurred before 2004.[2] Certain misdemeanor convictions, including those that cause a loss of firearm rights, may also result in automatic disqualification.[3]

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Crimes That May Be Overlooked by the California Police Department

In most cases, though, a record of arrest or misdemeanor conviction for prior misconduct, such as prior illegal drug use, DUI, or theft, is usually not automatically disqualifying.[4] Similarly, juvenile convictions, even those that would amount to a felony if committed by an adult, and adult diversion and deferred entry of judgment cases, are usually not automatically disqualifying.[5] However, among the minimum standards of being a police officer in California is possession of good moral character.[6] Any act from your past discovered during the background check that reflects poorly on your moral character may be grounds for a determination that you lack good moral character and may result in denial of employment as a police officer.[7]

Know Your California Criminal Record Before You Apply

It is important to know what is on your criminal record before you apply. The most common cause of rejection is the failure to disclose prior misconduct.[8] Expunged misdemeanor convictions and sealed records of diversion/deferred entry of judgment cases must still be disclosed in a police officer employment application.[9] It is best to disclose all of your arrests and convictions during the hiring process because the records will likely be discovered through the background check.

Expungement and other forms of relief from the court are based on rehabilitation; therefore your chances of being hired will increase if you have your misdemeanor convictions expunged prior to applying. Such things as completing an education or being honorably discharged from the armed services also can help offset the negative affects of a criminal record.

To learn more about clearing your record, you can go through our extensive expungement information and education library.

By Nolan Berggren is an attorney licensed to practice law in California. Attorney Mathew Higbee contributed to this article.


[1] Cal. Gov. Code § 1029; Adams v. County of Sacramento, 235 Cal. App. 3d 872 (1991)
[2] Cal. Gov. Code § 1029(a)(3)
[3] Cal. Pen. Code §§ 29805; 1203.4(a)(3); CA POST Reg. § 1953(e)(3)
[4] CA POST 2-251, Personal History Statement, pg. 1
[5] Cal. Gov. Code § 1029(b); Boyll v. State Personnel Board, 146 Cal.App.3d 1070, 1075 (1983); CA POST Background Investigation Manual: Guidelines for the Investigator, 3-1
[6] Cal. Govt. Code § 1031(d)
[7] CA POST Reg. § 1953, (a),(e)
[8] CA POST 2-251, Personal History Statement, pg. 1
[9] Cal. Pen. Code §§ 1000.4, 1210.1(e)(3)