Law enforcement careers and ADHD

By far the most viewed post in Cinder Cone history is “Can you enlist in the military if you have ADHD?” A similar question is whether you can become a law enforcement officer if you have ADHD, and I suspect lots of people also want to know the answer to that.

The question has arisen in our family as Alan nears the age of 21 and (at this moment in time) has set his sights on going to police academy at the local community college. To give you some background: Alan’s intention of joining the military pretty much evaporated last fall after he paid a trip to the recruiters and saw the scores he received on a sample ASVAB test weren’t as strong as he’d hoped. Shortly after that, he decided that military life wouldn’t be a good fit for him after all, and he stopped pursuing enlistment well before his possible ADHD would have been an issue.

A few months later, Alan got an official ADHD diagnosis and was prescribed medication, which so far hasn’t dramatically helped with his symptoms (assuming he is taking it).

Now he is talking about the police scenario. As most moms and dads would, we are wondering, “how realistic is this plan, exactly?”

Does ADHD disqualify a candidate for police work?

The short answer seems to be, “Maybe …but often, it doesn’t.”

It appears that generally, by itself, having ADHD and taking medication for it is not usually an automatic disqualifier for joining a police force. The candidates will have a thorough psychological evaluation and background check, and it is those results (in addition to passing written and physical tests) that determine whether the candidate is qualified.

When it comes to sworn officers, law enforcement agencies are exempt from most statutes regarding hiring and providing accommodations for people with disabilities. If you would need an accommodation to perform your duties effectively, you probably won’t be hired.

Since individual law enforcement agencies have some latitude in developing their hiring guidelines, some of them reportedly view ADHD as a disqualifier. If this is definitely or possibly the case for a department you are interested in joining, the prevailing advice is not to lie about your ADHD diagnosis. Apparently, the psychological evaluations are very good at detecting when a candidate is lying or hiding something, and that is a deal-breaker. And I am guessing that having a record of lying or covering up part of your history would be a disqualifier when applying to other departments, even to departments that don’t have an automatic problem with ADHD.

As you may know, people with ADHD are sometimes prone to unwise behaviors that may have led to run-ins with the law. A history of these behaviors and encounters may be the thing that disqualifies a candidate, rather than having ADHD as such.

Follow this link to see a list of things that definitely or possibly disqualify a candidate. Although this link is several years old, it contains helpful advice for those with a history of psychological treatment. We learn that a candidate who’d had treatment will probably have additional scrutiny during the application process, and may end up being disqualified. However, there is an appeal process for candidates who believe they were unjustly turned down. Also note the suggestion (mentioned at the very end of the forum) of applying for a law-enforcement-related civilian job. This might be a viable alternative for some who aren’t accepted into a police force.

I found this “ask a cop” forum from 2011 regarding ADHD. Here are two especially helpful quotes from participants known as L-1 and Guard Hard:

L-1: [M]ost agencies require applicants to submit to a psych exam to ensure they are free from any physical, emotional, or mental condition that might adversely affect the exercise of the powers of a peace officer and to otherwise ensure that the candidate is capable of withstanding the psychological demands of the position. It is during this testing that your ADD issues will be addressed. The psych exam is extensive and usually involves two, lengthy written exams and an in person interview. The written exams ask the same questions several times but in different ways, making it hard to fake your response. With this in mind, its going to be had to conceal any negative traits like ADD. Whether this will DQ you will depend on the extent of your ADD and how much it impairs your ability to perform the duties of the job. For further info on the psych (at least from the California point of view) take a look at  and start reading at Section 9055(a). [note: that link is outdated; use this one instead] Then take a look at [a document with detailed lists of positive vs. counterproductive behaviors of peace officers] 

Guard Hard: I was diagnosed in childhood and took stimulant meds from ages 6-17, and I’m anxious to see how it’s all going to pan out if/when I undergo psych screening for another position down the road. My current agency had a relatively quick process, and after a few oral boards interviews, a criminal records check, and some phonecalls to my previous supervisors, I got the job. I had a medical checkup at the local hospital and nobody cared that I’d listed the ADHD diagnosis on the paperwork. Point being, whether or not its even an issue depends on the department. I completed an associate’s degree and did pretty well. I made it through the fulltime academy and actually scored near the top of the class academically, just because the subject material was generally interesting to me. Yes, it can be done. People have sometimes noticed I’m a little absent-minded and tend to procratinate, but frankly, it’s never been anything I can’t compensate for, and in higher-stress situations I’ve done very well. Some ADHD experts recommend police/fire/EMS jobs as great careers for people with the condition, just because we tend to do well in high-pressure situations.

Indeed, I did find a couple of websites that included law enforcement as one of the jobs best suited to people with ADHD. Here is one of them (see slide #2):  Note that this one says, for a person with ADHD, getting through the testing prior to being hired may be more challenging than the actual police work.

On that subject, two different sources told Alan that another entry into police work, at least in some counties, is to be hired first as a correctional officer. When Alan first heard about this, he signed up online to take the written exam the next day. While online, he glanced at some sample exam questions and said he’d do fine without further preparation. However, after he took the real test, he was immediately informed that he hadn’t passed. I think you have to wait a few months before trying again. In this case, his ADHD traits of impulsiveness and aversion to studying tripped him up. He’s now concluded he’ll need help preparing for the police academy entrance exams.

If you’re unsure whether police work would be a good fit for you, here are some things you might want to try. The easiest is to arrange for a “ride-along” in a patrol car, or chat with some officers or with personnel at your local police academy. Volunteering with your local police force involves some training and commitment, gives you some exposure to that world, and looks good on applications. Finally, you might explore finding a job as a security guard. I saw a few private security firms recruiting young people with learning disabilities at a resource fair a few years back.

So far, we’ve seen that your local police or sheriff’s department may hire people with ADHD, as long as the candidates demonstrate they can handle all aspects of the job. But what about a federal agency like the FBI? They are probably a lot stricter, right? That’s what I guessed, until I ran across these two links.  This one indicates ADHD may or may not be an issue for FBI special agents. All candidates go through “grueling physical and mental tests and interviews.” Scrolling down on that page, we learn that candidates for becoming an FBI special agent need a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, and must be between the ages of 23 and 37. In this forum, note that an insider believes many, many FBI agents have ADD or Aspergers.

(To digress for a minute: I assumed people with Aspergers would not be suited for police work. It requires interacting with unpredictable people, “reading” them quickly, and responding to them appropriately. Also, an officer needs the flexibility to deal with anything that comes along. In this forum from Wrong Planet, those challenges are discussed, but check out what “Catamount” has to say (near the bottom): Aspie traits were beneficial during his 20 years on the force!)

Anyway, to sum up what I’ve found: If you have ADHD and you have a keen interest in police work, chances are good that you’d do well at it. To get there, don’t apply to departments where ADHD is not accepted; be prepared for the types of screening that candidates go through; and be honest in your responses regarding your diagnosis.

As always, comments from people with real-world experience on this topic are encouraged!

Footnote: in researching this subject I came across references to “police officer,” “peace officer,” and “law enforcement officer.” Are they all the same? Well, it seems that depending on which state you live in, the first two terms may refer to the same basic job, or there may be shades of differences on what each one is allowed to do in enforcing the law. “Law enforcement officer” is a broader term that ranges from your local police to federal employees like FBI agents.



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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

4 responses to “Law enforcement careers and ADHD”

  1. Unknown says :

    I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news but I just completed my Bachelor’s in criminal justice I done the police academy in Wayne County Michigan. I have tried to become a Detroit police officer but they have a policy saying any of your ADHD or you’re taking medication for your ADHD it will automatically qualify you. And they have these tests known as Empco and its base on two parts. One part is Reading Writing and the other one’s the psychology exam. And I have taken the Emco at least three times fail the psychology but passed the written and writing something tells me that is based on because of ADHD.


    • janet565 says :

      Thanks for commenting, but sorry about not getting to join the Detroit police force. :/
      When I researched the blog post, it seemed that different law enforcement outfits had different policies. Not sure if that’s still the case, but if it is you might try again with another force. All the best to you!


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