By By Ernie Stephens | February 9, 2015
Several times over the past couple of months, I was told horror stories about how great candidates for police pilot jobs were disqualified for employment by the polygraph during the application process. And the story was always the same: If it wasn’t because the applicant revealed that they had sampled a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) too many times or too recently, it was because they had lied about some significant aspect of it. (Issues with alcohol abuse were a close second.)
Once a polygraph examiner determines there is significant deception, the applicant is usually shown the door, and their paperwork is stamped “REJECTED.” So, it’s often a moot point as to whether the substance abuse was recreational, or a function of a full-blown addiction. The bottom line is that the candidate is out, and the search for a new pilot will continue.
When I heard how many people were being denied employment because of drugs, I wondered if it was just the age-20-something applicants fresh out of college, and the kids a few years out of high school. Turns out, it’s also happening with older candidates coming in from prior jobs, including military retirees in their 40s!
Think about that for a moment: The law enforcement profession is having a hard time hiring recruit officers and civilian pilots, not because they didn’t do well on the written exam, or because they stole a box of ink pens from a previous employer. It’s rejecting them because they’re doing or have done drugs, or have serious problems with alcohol. (And chances are your recruiting people are seeing the same trend.)
Should they be disqualified for using CDS and abusing alcohol? For my money, yes… and no.
I say “yes,” they should be disqualified because they’ll have other people’s lives in their hands, whether they’re sworn officers working a beat, or civilian pilots keeping a few thousand pounds of helicopter and crewmembers in the air. I also say “no,” but with a condition attached: Have the polygraph examiner quiz the applicant on how long ago the abuse was, how serious it became, and if there is any intention to do it again. After all, is only one drag on a marijuana cigarette 15 years ago a problem? I doubt it. It’s a whole other story, however, if the use was more recent, or more severe. But, of course, such qualifiers make creating a hiring guideline a nightmare for administrators when such fuzzy lines are introduced.
One of the people who was telling me about the trouble his unit was having getting applicants past the polygraph was actually in charge of a crime scene investigation unit. Bill said that after explaining to a group of undergraduate forensic science students that their past conduct can keep them from being hired as technicians (something most of them were shooting for), he found several of them using their break to delete incriminating photos and videos from their social media pages!
I laughed when I heard about those students deleting stuff, but then I thought about how Bill’s little warning had struck a chord with them. I think all of us – especially aviators – need to spread the word to those we run into at static displays and open house tours that the actions that make you laugh today might make you cry tomorrow if you want to be a police pilot.
I stand by the premise that we just don’t want some people because there’s a high probability (no pun intended) that they have a dangerous relationship with certain substances. But will it hurt us to spread the word to all who show that first spark of interest in police aviation that it is extremely important to stay away from CDS and over-indulgence in alcohol? Sure, they may not listen, or they may think we’re full of hot air, but I feel we need to own that message and get it out in the same breath that we explain which ratings are needed, and what the minimum hours of experience ought to be. It’s about creating that little voice in the back of their heads that might cause them to appoint a designated driver on Saturday night, or wave-off that hookah when it comes their way.
By the way, if you’re in Orlando for the Helicopter International Association’s Heli-Expo 2015, March 2-5, stop past the Rotor & Wing booth (#2064) and visit for awhile. If you can’t attend, visit www.rotorandwing.com daily for the latest expo news!