Can I Become a Police Officer with a DWI or a DUI?

I’m wondering if I can become a Police Officer with a DWI? DUI? OVI? OUI? DUID?– 27 emails and comments later, time to write this post…

The answer to whether you can be a law enforcement officer with a DWI or DUI hinges on many factors. First, let’s quickly go over the meaning of each offense.

DWI vs. DUI vs. OVI vs. OUI vs. OWI vs. DUID

  • DWI — Driving While Intoxicated
  • DUI — Driving Under Influence
  • OVI — Operating Vehicle [while] Intoxicated
  • OUI — Operating Under Influence
  • OWI — Operating While Intoxicated
  • DUID — Driving Under Influence [of] Drugs

Don’t they all mean the same thing? Yes and no…

  1. There are those that say that, except for DUID, all other are often classified as one and the same, but vary because of regional differences / legislature
  2. Or some who state that many police departments qualify a DUI, DWI, and so on as either an alcohol or drug related offense (sometimes both, if you were drinking while high or high while drinking)
  3. And then, there are some that say that a DUI means driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, prescription pills, etc.; while a DWI means driving while intoxicated with alcohol
  4. Also, a more realistic explanation of the difference between DUI and DWI is the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) in your system:
    • if your BAC was 0.08 or below, it’s a DUI (in most cases resulting in a fine, jail for the day/night, and car being impounded)
    • if your BAC was 0.08 or more, it’s a DWI (in most cases resulting in a stiffer fine than of a DUI, possible prison time, and car being impounded)
    • this explanation varies from state to state; while some states and jurisdictions may not acknowledge the difference

Classification of whether it was an alcohol or drug related offense is one of the factors that may determine if you are eligible to become a police officer.

It Was Alcohol

If it was an alcohol related DWI / DUI stop, then you still may have a chance of becoming a law enforcement officer, like a Police Officer, Sheriff Deputy, or State Trooper.

How recent was the offense? Was this your first DUI? Did you cause bodily injury or death to others while intoxicated? Did you damage property other than your own? Did you have car insurance? Did you pay for the damages? Do you find yourself needing a drink often / once in a while?– These are only some of the questions you may have to answer during the interview; granted, the police agency will even invite you thus far.

Your chances of becoming a police officer with an alcohol related DUI or DWI, even when expunged, are statistically MUCH lower than of a person without such offenses or minor traffic violations. That’s still better than having to explain this…

It Was Drugs

On top of the questions in the alcohol section, you may be asked: What drug(s) were you on when committing the offense? Are you still using? – Of course, there may be way more questions.

Your chances of becoming a police officer with a drug related DUI — DWI — DUID, even when expunged, are way lower than of a person with an alcohol related offense and exponentially lower than compared with an individual without such offenses or minor traffic violations.

Your Life is NOT OVER

While in reality you may get drilled more about your DWI / DUI / OVI / OUI or DUID, than those without such offenses, you still have a shot. Yes, the chances are lower, but don’t write yourself off just yet.

  • Some police agencies are much more lenient than others – they will consider all the circumstances surrounding your offense
  • Others may be strict, but in dire need of police officers – usually they would deny your application, but this time they may give you a shot after diligent scrutiny
  • And, of course, there are the absolutist police departments – zero tolerance policy for all applicants

All this varies through foreseeable factors, like the State the police agency is located in or simply legislature, to the not-so-foreseeable ones, like: individual perspectives and decisions of the panel on the day of your review

No matter what department you apply to, even the one borderline-lenient, you will be asked questions and will be scrutinized. Remember that all law enforcement agencies want the best applicants, so other factors will come into play such as your prior experience, morals, character, social skills, physical fitness, health, academics, and more.

  • The more polished your resume is, the more of a chance you have obtaining a criminal justice career
  • The more improved you and your life circumstances are, the higher the chance you may be considered
  • The older the DUI / DWI is, the better
  • You may need to consider moving to a city, county, or state that has more lenient policies — You won’t need to move or commute until you get the final offer in writing, granted you pass everything else; including the panel Q&A.
  • Some agencies may take candidates with a DUI / DWI offense only on a case by case basis and consider further – more positive – attributes of the potential recruit (like some listed above). There are no guarantees.
  • Some agencies will never consider you if you had a DUI/DWI/OVI

Find Out About DUI / DWI Hiring Policies

  1. The best and probably the most anonymous place to start is the website of the law enforcement agency. Many medium-sized, or larger, police agencies provide tons of info to potential recruits. DUIs and DWIs criteria may be explained there.
  2. Request a recruiting brochure from the agency. Usually you can find one on the website or by calling the agency.
  3. You might be able to find out by going to a career fair where the police agency has presence. You can ask a representative on the policies and still remain fairly anonymous. These career fairs or open houses do not happen often (once a year, usually) and are very often located at colleges and universities, police departments, although they may be convening in larger convention centers, too.
  4. Call the agency in question and try asking over the phone — don’t dial 911, like one of my readers did — you may also try contacting the human resources department of the agency if the general info line doesn’t pay off
  5. Ask a police officer next time you see him or her at a local diner; or next time you try to explain yourself from a speeding ticket; also consider going to the police department itself and flat out asking.

If you work for a law enforcement agency and know how alcohol and drug related DUI / DWI offenses are handled in your city, county, or state, — and how they may affect potential police officers — please shed some light in the comments section below. Thanks.

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Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

22 comments… add one
  • HONESTDISAGREEMENT

    It does depend on a lot. There are some agencies that will allow one DUI but it had to have been over a particular amount of time(3-5 years). It is not an automatic but a discretionary disqualifier in most places-which means they may offer a chance to explain
    if alcohol and not drugs (DWI/DUI) there is a better chance
    -also depends on the actual statute that you were charged with as well as the blood alcohol level.
    Your chances after a DUI are less than someone without but that does not mean you can not qualify. but it also means you may have to relocate -get some experience then try to lateral back.
    good luck.
    § 4-244. Unlawful acts (Under 21 DUI)
    § 4-251. Spirituous liquor in motor vehicles; prohibitions; violation; classification; exceptions; definitions
    § 28-1381. Driving or actual physical control while under the influence; trial by jury; presumptions; admissible evidence; sentencing; classification
    § 28-1382. Driving or actual physical control while under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor; trial by jury; sentencing; classification
    § 28-1383. Aggravated driving or actual physical control while under the influence; violation; classification; definition
    § 28-1386. Operating a motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or water skis under the influence; emergency response costs; Definitions
    § 28-1387. Prior convictions; alcohol or other drug screening, education and treatment; license suspension; supervised probation; civil liability; procedures

  • fire

    Useful info, thanks !

  • Mark

    I have recently retired after 20 years in LE. I am pursuing my MS in CJ now and can tell you that DUI’s do not preclude you from a career in LE provided they have a little dust on them. If it were in college they will consider that most kids screw up once in while. My first partner in Narco got a DUI and wasn’t even suspended. I hate to say this but they are more common than not these days so give it a try!

  • Aaron

    what about if you drove drunk and didn’t get caught but admitted to it

  • anthony

    I got a dui at 17, im currently working towards my AA in criminal justice…i am 25 now do i even have a chance of becoming a police officer? i have nothing else on my record…thanks

  • lawrence

    What’s usual best amount of time to wait after your conviction to apply for the academy, and get the process started?

  • paulsakal

    I was just wondering if 42 years old is too old for a law enforcement position?

    • Radek Gadek

      For most LE agencies it is too late.

  • Jesse Gonzalez

    Hello, i had a question concerning my eligibility for becoming a police officer. Just recently i was arrested and cited for a misdemeanor drunk in public offense. I have no priors only small citations that were infractions, i was just wondering if this will impact the chances i have of one day becoming a police officer. If anyone could give me some information that would help answer this question i would greatly appreciate the help! Thank you!

  • David Ednie

    I received a DUI in another state 1 year and 1 month ago in D.C.
    I applied to be a police officer in Tampa online. Anyone know if I have a chance?

    • Larry

      Hello,
      I just recently applied for the Tampa PD. I disclosed a DUI on my application (6 years ago) and was invited to take the written test and the PAT. I passed both and received a call today from the background investigator. Currently they will not hire any person as a Tampa Police Officer with a DUI. I wish they told me earlier in the process. Sorry

      • James

        Yes they should have said something upfront. I ran into the same experience where I live. Its wrong and they need to be more upfront and disclose to people that if you have something on your record you cannot go into this field. I am not mad they have those rules just mad they refuse to be upfront about it. Its wasting tax dollars when they do that too, not only that its a waste of our money for taking a test or pursuing a degree in a field you would never get hired in. Its messed up but I share your frustration.

  • Mr.Portillo

    Does any one know if a DUI from Mexico can affect your status here on becoming a law enforcement? I had heard that they share and exchange people records, so i don’t want to lie on my interview and then get denied. Thanks

  • Bryan

    My dream job has always been to be a police officer. I came to that realization at 7 years old. I am now 28. Was wondering about my chances of obtaining my dream. I have an OWI that is just over 3 years old and just got my license back. Also I noticed OWI was not on the list above. So, what is the difference between mine and the rest?

    • Radek Gadek

      Same as OVI, but wording is a little different. I updated the list.

  • Tony Sajor

    Paul, I went to the academy with a person who was 50. Depending where you are there is no “too old”.

    I would agree with most on the DUI’s, they don’t necessarily preclude you. With many “poor decisions” time and repentance help out. If you catch a DUI, do something to prevent it and show how it made you grow positively. This article may help out with an answer to this. I would imagine though, if you wanted to be a Highway Patrol officer somewhere, that is probably not going to happen.

    • James

      DUIs prevent you from becoming any law enforcement in Massachusetts. You cannot get a license to own or operate a fire arm/pistol or rifle with a DUI/OUI on your record. The state passed a law in 1994 banning people with DUIs from owning or using any sort of fire arm. Nice state right? Anyway pretty much anything on your record, including on your juvenile record prevents you from owning a gun in Massachusetts. If you cannot legally own or have a gun you are ineligible from becoming a law enforcement officer in Massachusetts. The federal law enforcement jobs are even harder to get which is why I gave up with that field. I am just a bit upset I was not told it was a poor investment of money and time going for a degree in a field that I could never be hired in legally. I think that is wrong because it sets people back financially and prevents them from going into a field that is realistic [of course fields that wont bar you with some skeletons in the closet]. I even spoke 6 years ago to a ”career specialist” at my college who said while it looks bad on your record but wont exclude or disqualify you from the field which I later found out to be completely untrue LOL. I am still mad about that…I am not so mad as to not being able to get into the field but more mad I was never warned it would be a poor investment of time and resources which it was. I feel stupid not just for the record but for being dumb enough to think I could get into the field. I think there should be some process that weeds out people from wasting their time, resources and hopes. I use to want to get into customs and usually you need prior law enforcement experience but since that is impossible for me to achieve here I have decided a different career path at the age of 28. I plan to meet with someone at the college to discuss my issue and think they need to do something about it to not put other people in my boat through the same crap.

  • Betty

    Police departments should never hire someone with a DUI. The taxpayers pay your wages.

    • James

      Nor should they accept money from people who pay to take a civil service test only to turn around and say ”thanks for the 150 bucks but we cannot hire you because of your DUI”. They should be more upfront with those who seem interested. I also wish colleges prevent people with records from getting a degree in criminal justice. That’s wrong and setting people up for more failure. I agree police should be puritans and if a police officer gets a DUI his or her sentence should be even more severe than the average person since only people with spotless records can get those jobs. Sadly this is not the case.

  • jason

    I am 37 yrs old, I had 2 DWI’s when I was 21, I haven’t been arrested for anything else, or ever even had a speeding ticket for that matter, I’m just wondering if I’m too old and if the DWI’s will keep me from becoming a police officer, thanks!

    • Me

      I know a lot of cops with 1 and 2 prior DWI’s. I would say your fine, but again, depends on the agency. You probably won’t have a chance in becoming a trooper. I would apply for a city position.

  • James

    In MA you cannot become a police officer or any law enforcement with an OUI/DUI. You cannot because you can never get a LTC or even an FID card. So this is wrong. Its possible in other states as the penalties are different but I learned this first hand. I have a bachelors degree in criminal justice which, took the civil service, applied at several law enforcement agencies here and tried private armed security. Long story short, I got hired as a bank guard for 17 dollars an hour but was required to get my LTC. I went down to the station and found out first hand that I am a federally prohibited person due to my 9 year old DUI offense. A DUI conviction is makes you federally prohibited from owning a gun in MA. I wish I had found this out 6 years prior as I would have never bothered pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. I have since gone back to trade school for HVAC and going that route instead. It was a disappointment but I am a bit upset no one told me upfront at school or when I was filling out the civil service test that ”hey look man you are a prohibited person from this field”. The time and money spent on pursuing something I could never get into angered me. I am mad about my past and ashamed of it as well but even more angry due to the fact I feel screwed over… at least at trade school they tell you flat out what your chances are of getting into something with anything on your record.

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