The 1990 Sam Houston State University graduate serves in the Recruiting Unit of the Houston Police Department. Officer Nelson is happy to share advice with students on how to get a job in the field, and recently participated in Real Talk with CJ, an ongoing program to link students with practitioners.
While the Houston Police Department currently is not accepting applications for new recruits, he urged students to frequently visit the department’s web site at www.hpdcareer.com to see when new applications will be accepted. Because of the recent economic downturn, the department has been flooded with applications – there were 4,800 submitted for two classes scheduled in 2011 for 140 recruits. However, the city’s budget normally includes at least two new academy classes of 140 recruits every year.
To get those jobs, Nelson provided a list of his top tips. Among them were:
- Don’t take drugs, including steroids or a friend’s prescriptions – the tests will detect regular users.
- Don’t lie. The department allows room for some mistakes, but it puts applicants through rigorous screening, including interviews, polygraph tests and psychological tests.
- The background check does include interviews with your family and neighbors, so make sure your personal life matches your professional goals .
- Have stable credit because HPD will check your credit history with Equifax as part of the screening process.
- Have at least 48 hours of college credit with at least a 2.0 average or two years of active duty military experience with an honorable discharge. The Houston Police Department also offers extra stipends for bachelor, master and doctoral degrees .
- Class A felony arrests will automatically disqualify applicants; if you have a class B offense, you have to wait 10 years after the conviction to apply.
- To get on the job, your height and weight must be proportional, according to military standards.
Nelson said many of these same tips apply to most city police departments. In addition, the Houston Police Department shares information with other departments across the country, so if you fail to pass in Houston, it may effect your efforts to get on another force.
If applicants pass the rigorous screening process, they are sent to the academy for six months. After graduation, officers also undergo another two months of field training to learn hands on, and recruits are on probation for their first full year of service.
After two years on street patrol, officers can be considered for many unique opportunities offered in the department. Among the assignments available are the Fox helicopter unit, the dive team, the K-9 unit, the homicide unit, the robbery unit, burglary/theft, the crime scene unit, narcotics, the SWAT team, the Solo motorcycle detail, media relations, budget and finance, human resources and many more.
The Houston Police Department offers college tuition expense reimbursements. The local 100 Club also supports officers’ educational endeavors.
Before joining the Houston Police Department, Nelson spend 10 years in Harris County Adult Probation working with sex offenders. When he first joined the Houston force, he worked street patrol mostly on the North side of town, including Greenspoint during Hurricane Katrina, when 140,000 people fled New Orleans and sought refuge in Houston.
Although Nelson worked 16 hours days trying to help those fleeing floods and damage, he said it was his most rewarding experience as a police officer. He said he watched the community come together to help those in need.
"It was a challenging but rewarding to work hand in hand with fellow officers to help these displaced citizens," Nelson said. "We were able to find available rooms, provide transportation and help feed everyone in need. Offering encouragement to individuals who had just lost everything except the clothes on their back was heartbreaking. The handshakes and hugs from the evacuees as we helped each adult and child was the most rewarding experience of my career as a Houston Police Officer so far."
Nelson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from SHSU in 1990 and a masters at Prairie View A & M University. He is considering pursuing a Ph.D. at SHSU so he can teach future law enforcement officers.