VSP responds to chilling details of ‘catfishing’ cop who killed California family
Agency states ‘human error’ resulted in an incomplete examination during Edwards’ hiring process
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The disturbing past of the ‘catfishing’ Virginia cop accused of killing a California family is raising questions about hiring procedures at Virginia law enforcement agencies.
The hiring process to become a law enforcement officer takes weeks of background checks and examinations, but experts say some things can slip through the cracks.
“We go through all types of records. We review credit. We review job references from other jobs. We also have our own series of very detailed personal history questionnaires,” NBC12 security expert Mike Jones said.
Before Austin Lee Edwards graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in January this year, he reportedly had a troubled past that went unnoticed. Abingdon Police said that on Feb. 8, 2016, Edwards threatened to kill himself and his father after using a kitchen knife to cut open his hand.
That police report also said Edwards resisted police and EMTs for treatment and also threatened officers that night.
The Los Angeles Times reports Edwards was taken to a psychiatric facility in Bristol, Virginia, following the incident. No charges were ever filed, and Virginia State Police never knew of the incident.
“There’s no uniform standard in Virginia for a background investigation other than the very basics. Which is a criminal history, active warrant check and reference checks,” Jones said.
Jones has spent decades helping Virginia police agencies with background checks. He said medical history and records are off limits for police agencies, but applicants are asked to disclose any health issues, including mental health.
“In this case, a psychiatric history was not revealed by the applicant, which in and of itself should be a reason to disqualify the applicant immediately,” Jones said.
In a statement sent to NBC12, Virginia State Police said the following:
“At no point during the hiring process or during his 15 months with the department did Edwards disclose any incidents that would have disqualified him from employment.
The department’s administrative review is now complete and has revealed that human error resulted in an incomplete database query during Edwards’ hiring process. Although we believe this to be an isolated incident, steps are currently underway to ensure the error is not repeated going forward. The department is also proactively auditing existing personnel records and practices.”
According to Jones, only 80% of state law enforcement agencies can hire a psychologist for a psychological interview. Some departments don’t have the staff or the funding, he added.15 months
VSP tells NBC12 a passage of written, psychological, and physical testing and a pre‐employment polygraph are required in its background checks.
Jones said the types of questions during the psychological part of the hiring process make a big difference.
“I think a question that could have been asked is, that ‘at any time did you engage in any activity which was threatening or otherwise harm other people?’ That’s not asking about medical records. That’s asking about your activity,” Jones said.
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