How to become a Police Recruit for the Tustin Police Department


Attempting to join the ranks of the Tustin Police Department, or any police agency, is no small task but for those that are passionate about a career of service, it can be worth the hard work.

The path to becoming a Tustin Police Officer starts with the passing a written test. After passing the written, candidates are invited to participate in the physical agility test. The physical agility test consists of jumping a 6-foot solid wall, a 6-foot chain link fence, an obstacle course, a 165-lb dummy drag and a 500-yard run. The process is timed and points are allotted for how quickly each task is completed.

After passing the physical agility test, you are invited to participate in an oral interview with members of the police department. At the conclusion of the testing process, the top applicants are invited to begin the background investigation. This entire process can take up to six months or longer. Once hired, you are now a Police Recruit and will be slated to join the next Orange County Sheriff’s Academy class.  

Nathan Rodriguez runs through an obstacle course during Tustin PD’s physical agility test at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

In February, 72 applicants were invited to attend and approximately 38 candidates showed up to begin this process by taking the written test at the Tustin Community Center. The two-hour, 105-question exam consists of a battery of five tests designed to measure fundamental reading, writing, comprehension and analytical abilities. Currently, the Tustin Police Department is looking for two to four new Police Recruits.

The process is very detail oriented and because you have to pass every step along the way, the success rate can be low.

“Of 50 applicants, we’re lucky if we get two through the entire process” said Mark Sauerwein, personnel officer with Tustin’s Professional Standards Division. This is one reason the department continues testing on a consistent basis, looking for the best qualified candidates possible.

Possible recruits line up for the next agility test challenge at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

After the written test, 27 of the 38 showing up for the written were invited to the physical agility test. Sauerwein says the solid wall is what turns back most recruits that fail the agility test.

“There is a definite technique,” Sauerwein says of vaulting the wall. He adds that the wall is permanently installed at the Tustin Sports Park, so every candidate can take a run at it before testing.

The candidates who pass the physical test are given an oral interview time later in the day. Candidates passing the oral interview are ranked and placed on an eligibility list. The list is good for one year and not all on the list will be processed.

Those top-ranking candidates passing this entire process are invited to enter into the background process. The background process is a detailed process and the guidelines for this process were developed by the California Peace Officer Standards and Training. 

“We dig deep,” Sauerwein said.

Sydney Stoddard drags a 165-lb regulation dummy across the ground during Tustin Police Department’s Physical Agility Test.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The department contacts references, previous employers, current employers, past and current neighbors, and anyone who might have information about who you are as a person. The department also looks into your credit history, driving history and legal history. During this process, applicants participate in a polygraph test to insure the information provided by you is complete and accurate. Sauerwein said, “Not every mistake is disqualifying as long as you have disclosed it. No one is perfect and the police department understands that”. He went on to say, “We look at the big picture and what you’ve done to correct it and what it has taught you, people make mistakes, it’s how you respond to those mistakes that defines the person you are”. Lieutenant Matt Nunley said, “We know people make mistakes in life, it’s our job to look through the background, sort through the good and the bad and look at the person themselves…we just want to hire good people”.

Jacob Steinbrecher leaps over a 6-foot wall during during Tustin Police Department’s agility test at Tustin Sports Park. One direction offers the solid wall challenge while the other direction of the same wall presents the chain-link fence challenge.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

After passing the background process, the next step is an interview with Police Chief Stu Greenberg. Upon passing the Chief’s interview, you are given a conditional offer of employment. After this comes a medical examination and a psychological examination.

“Then we hire them and send them into the Academy,” Sauerwein said. The applicants are hired as Police Recruits and sent to the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy. In the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy, which happens to be located in Tustin, the candidates are paid a salary and have their expenses and tuition paid for, worth about $7,500 to $8,500, for the six-month academy. Upon successful graduation from the Academy, the new officers spend four months with field training officers to become fully vetted men and women police officers for the City of Tustin.

Tustin Police Officer Chuck Mitchell walks the next group of recruit applicants through the next agility test challenge at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

A recruit applicant leaps over an obstacle during Tustin Police Department’s physical agility test at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Sgt. Colton Kirwan, right, talks to possible recruits who want to become Tustin police officers about the physical agility tests they just completed at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Recruit applicants start a timed 500-yard run at Tustin Sports Park administered by Tustin police officers.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Nathan Rodriguez is the first of his group to finish a timed 500-yard run at Tustin Sports Park administered by the Tustin Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge