Police Officer – Does Color Blindness Matter?

“Can I become a police officer even when I’m colorblind?” This is a common question among colorblind young men, when dreaming about a career at the police department.

This article will tell you, if color blindness really matters when you want to become a police officer. First we will have a look at some main factors and possible test methods. After that you will find out more about local regulations concerning color vision and some actual job offers seeking police officers. An in the last part of this article I will list your 6 steps you have to walk through to become a police officer despite your color blindness—or at least to make sure you check all your possibilities.

Imagine the following situation: A police officers witnesses a theft and reports it to the police station. “The suspect is about 35 years old, has brown, dark-brown, no black hair. A orange, I mean green shirt; or was it yellow-red. And blue, almost blue, kind of blue trousers. Skin color—oh don’t care about.” I know, it doesn’t have to be like that if you suffer a mild color blindness. But with some types of severe color vision deficiency this statements are coming closer to the truth than not.

Color blindness is not a definite no go for becoming a police officer, but it’s certainly a big handicap. Before we have a closer look at the topic and the differences in some countries and police departments, you might like to read this story of a colorblind police officer and his personal career.

If you are suffering from some kind of color vision deficiency and want to become a police officer, there are several factors to be considered.

  • Type of color blindness. There are different types of color blindness. The strongest form is called achromatopsia, whereas you can only see in shades of gray. This would certainly disqualify you from being a police officer. For the other types like red-green and blue-yellow color blindness it mostly depends on the factor listed next.
  • Severity of color blindness. Is it only a mild form of color blindness or are you a dichromat, who have only two different color receptors compared to three with normal vision? Mild forms of color blindness are often not even recognized by the person concerned. Only by taking some tests, they’ll find out about it. It definitely depends on the severity of your color vision deficiency, to make a judgment about your fitness to be a police officer.
  • Local recruitment regulations. Different countries, states, cities or police departments have sometimes different recruitment regulations. Most often this includes also some restrictions concerning color vision ability. Check your applicable regulations.
  • Recruiting staff. And last but not least, it depends either on the person who is recruiting you or on your new boss. In the end they will decide, if you are the right person for this job or not. Maybe if you just fit in, they will bend the rules to your advantage.

If you apply for the job as a police officer, this will almost ever include any form of color vision test. Most often this is done with an Ishihara plates test, but also Farnsworth tests and City University tests are in use to test your eye sight concerning color blindness.

Often people say, they just cheat on those tests and that will do it. I think, this isn’t the way to go. What, if they find out afterwards, or you annoy your partner because you can’t see the colors you should? And what if they will find out during the test, because cheating isn’t always easily done? I recommend to just be yourself. If it is the right job for you, you will find your way with legal methods.

I would like to point out some regulations and job offers I found. You will see, that there are different wordings used when talking about color vision ability and it’s not always obvious what it really means.

Color Vision Deficiency Regulations for Police Officers

To start with I would like to point out this story of a colorblind police officer applicant written down by a chief of the Berkley police department. It shows very nicely, that it’s not always easy to make a judgment and that there are possibilities even for somebody with a color vision deficiency.

In the United States, the New York State Police writes in their qualifications notes, that color blindness is disqualifying. The Washington State Patrol Trooper formulate it with ability to distinguish colors and be free of color blindness and night blindness. A bit less restrictive is the formulation used for recruiting at the Los Angeles Police Department: Candidates must be able to accurately and quickly name colors. A whole battery of tests has the City of Falls Church requiring that Candidates must pass near vision, color blindness, darkness perception, night vision, and peripheral vision tests. And on the other side we have the very concise formulation NO color blindness of the Portsmouth Police Department.

If you jump over the Atlantic Ocean and have a look at some regulations concerning the recruitment of police officers in the United Kingdom, it looks a bit different. According to policies of the Police Service of Northern Irland, an applicant must have 7 out of 10 correct replies in the City University Colour Vision Test. The detailed eligibility requirements for color vision of England and Wales read as follows:

Monochromats should be rejected. Mild anormalous trichromats are acceptable and should be treated as normals. Severe anomalous trichromats and dichromats are also acceptable but should be instructed in coping strategies.

Whereas color vision should be tested with the Farnsworth D-15 test and applicants should not wear ‘color correcting’ lenses during the color test (eyesight standards for police recruitment). A similar wording is used in the eligibility notes of the British Transport Police.

As the last station, we have a look at Switzerland, the country I’m living in. The regulations I found are the most fuzziest ones. The Kantonspolizei Zürich is looking for people with some Farbwahrnehmungsfähigkeit (ability of color perception) and the Kantonspolizei St.Gallen states that aspirants must have in der Praxis ungestörte Farbwahrnehmungsfähigkeit (undisturbed ability of color perception in practice). This is free to interpretation.

Police Officers Job Offers

Looking at some actual job offers for police officers, you will find some similar or even stronger wordings as in the regulations mentioned above. The City of Manteca expects you to be free from significant color blindness and also the City of Pasadena states explicitly, that you have to be free from color blindness. Compared to this the formulation chosen by the City of Ames sounds a bit less restrictive: Vision cannot be inhibited by color blindness or night blindness.

But anyway, job offers seeking a police officer are most often including one of the wordings above and sound very restrictive. Don’t be intimidated by those formulations. Of course everybody is always looking for the perfect match in a job offer. But if color blindness is your only disadvantage you might find your way through anyway.

Your 6 Steps

Recapitulating the facts listed above about regulations and job offers, you have to conclude that color blindness does really matter when you try to apply for an employment as a police officer. With a severe color blindness there is only a little chance to be employed. On the other side with a mild form of color vision deficiency, you might have some chances. Specially in the UK, where the regulations are the most liberal, you could make your way.

Let’s go back to our initial question, if you can become a police officer when suffering some type of color vision deficiency. As we learned, the answer is neither yes nor no. It’s something in between. And becaus you not just give up but keep trying hard to accomplish what you are aiming for, I list six steps you have to take to become a police officer despite your color blindness.

  1. First of all you have to check the severity of your color vision deficiency. This can be done either superficial with some online color blindness tests or thoroughly at your local eye specialist. If you suffer from a strong form like complete red-blindness, it will get quite tough for you to find a job as police officer. So this first step should help you to plumb your chances of success.
  2. After that you should try to find the eligibility notes of your chosen future employer concerning color vision. There are many different nuances in the regulations and they will give you some idea, what they demand. For example the LAPD is much more liberal than some other police departments.
  3. Before you apply you might ask, if color correcting lenses are applicable. There is a possibility of buying some lenses, which can help you to better distinguish certain colors. They don’t make you see more colors, but help to see some differences you can’t see without them. Some police departments might allow you to wear such color correcting lenses. Don’t hesitate to ask them.
  4. If you’ve taken the first hurdle of the employment process, you almost certainly will have to pass a color vision test. Take the test as good as you can without cheating. This will show them the truth about your color vision abilities and of course will be the basis for their decision making. If your application will be denied, try to find out the reason behind it. Maybe it’s not only your color blindness but also some other aspects. And if it is only because you’re colorblind, try to find out more about it; why they won’t employ you. This will help you to get a better understanding, if your type of color blindness is a barrier or not in your job life as a police officer.
  5. Failed the first time? Don’t be disappointed. You might try different police departments where you can apply as an officer. This will take you back to point #2 of this six steps list. And because regulations can be so different, there is most often a chance at another place to get the job you want. Only if you applied for more than one job you can say, that you did everything to make your dream become true.
  6. And if the first five steps didn’t help you to become a police officer, why not start with an other job in the police department and go on from there. There are not only police officers working at a police department. You might find another job you can start with and make your own way. If you are inside the system, usually some more opportunities will open up for you. So don’t hesitate to build your own personal career.

An to answer the starting question: YES, you can become a police officer even if you are suffering some form of color vision deficiency. BUT the way might not be the easiest one and it definitely won’t become true for some of you who are severely colorblind.

20 responses on “Police Officer – Does Color Blindness Matter?

  1. Jaimee Pohl

    THis website was great I thought my goal and dream of becoming a law man was exstinguished, but now I have a chance thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. James

    I am applying for the LAPD and I have my medical next week. However, I was diagnosed with a color deficiency when I was around 8 or so. But the nurse told my mother that I was able to color with no problems. Now, I am in the last step of becoming an LAPD officer. But I am scared because I cannot pass the Ishihara test. I have the x-chrome lens but I don’t want to cheat. What should I do? According to this website, the LAPD is more liberal about color deficiency…I didn’t know that. I have learned so much about colorblindness from this website.

  3. Matt Johnson

    James! Don’t worry about the color exams. Plus, don’t cheat. Remember, each application process emphasizes integrity, so you are better off being honest with yourself and with the department.

    And don’t, what ever you do, fight them. Use this site’s links to support your cause. I am also in the process of applying, but I am not letting them make the decision for me. I am being proactive by finding other sources such as California State approved Police Academies and coping strategies to show recognition of colors.

    Remember, the color exams currently used do not represent reality, but rather display a current challenge. I’m sure that most of us individuals with CVD are not experts in the field of art, which makes our endeavors much more difficult.

    Finally, do what you can to be superior in your physical fitness, reading and writing, and communication skills. My research has lead me to the conclusion that communication is the number one factor in the hiring process.

    Let me know if you need any more help, James. See you on the streets.

  4. Matt Johnson

    I hope that James shares his experience with us – did he, or did he not make it through the medical portion of his LAPD hiring process? Either way, his information could help the rest of us better prepare for such a situation.

  5. Mike

    I am a police officer for a small department in california, and I have red-green color blindness. Some larger agencies will not accept any level of colorblindness, one of the first things I did when looking for a job was ask recruitment officers whether or not colorblindness would be a disqualifying factor. In california the peace officers standards and training medical guide says they reccomend no department hire an officer with any sort of color blindness… key word being recommend. If you show good traits in all other areas, and colorblindness is your only troubling factor, as long as you can distinguish very basic colors, you can be hired, but not at every department. I took the Ishihara plate test and got 1 right out of like 8 during my medical, The nurse then pulled out a little keyring with yellow, green, blue, red, and I think purple on it, and asked me which color was which. The hues of these colors were easily distinguishable by me, and he said that I passed the test. I hope my comment can give hope to some people trying to apply for a job in law enforcement, again my biggest encouragement is to not give up and always ask a recruiter before wasting time in an agency that will discriminate against you for the way god made you.

  6. Dave

    Our son is 7 and wants to be a police officer. I realize this may change when he is older but we are worried about what will happen if it doesn’t and he finds out he can’t go into that career. This year the optometrist told us he was color blind because he couldn’t see the numbers in the pictures with the dots. However, we have never noticed him having trouble distinguishing any colors..from choosing his clothing, to coloring a picture. His teacher says she was shocked that he was diagnosed color blind. He knows the difference between all the colors when they are placed side by side. We even had him try his sister’s pencil crayons that have a variety of shades. He can discern them all. So I am not sure what this means. Can he be that unaffected that it won’t be a problem later on? Can color blindness get better or worse with age?

  7. Daniel Flück Post author

    Dave, job wishes certainly can change often at this age, but this are anyway good questions. First: Color vision deficiency is a genetic disease, so it’s severity won’t change with age.

    It looks like your son is only slightly colorblind. If this will be a problem in future is hard to tell. At the moment there are still some police squads who require perfect color vision. But many start to have a certain degree of acceptance, specially in great britain. Let’s hope we will soon have some acceptable rules for this which are everywhere the same.

  8. Troy

    I am currently a Local Law Enforcement Officer and have been for the last 13 yrs. I just recently discovered I was Color Deficient. I was diagnosed as such when I was being processed for a Federal Law Enforcement position. Although I rated pretty high in all the required areas, I was later told I was ineligible for the position because I was Color Deficient.
    What’s strange about my situation is that I have done work for this Federal Agency for approx. 1 yr as a Task Force Agent without incident. No one, including myself, knew I was Color Deficient. Even now, I could distinguish different colors pertaining to vehicles, buildings, etc. I just could not pass the Farnsworth or Ishihara Tests.

  9. Doc

    Good evening,Troy. Are you aware of the D-15 color exam? And are you ex-military? I recently took the D-15 at the VA Medical Center and I was diagnosed as a Deutan, anomolous trichomat. This means that I am lack pigmentation in my green cone, but I can still distinguish reds from greens. What I have is subtle. My point is that the D-15 is much more specific than the other tests, and it’s reliable. The more evidence you have, and there is a lot, the stronger your case will be. Sounds like this agency is just splitting hairs.

  10. Richard Comaish

    I protest! – this is supposed to be a website about ‘Color Blindness viewed through Colorblind Eyes.’ The example given, ¶3, is very much from an uneducated police perspective, and misrepresents the severity of most cases colour blindness.

  11. Troy

    I have taken the Farnsworth D-15 Test as part of the appeals process for the position which I applied. However, according to their agency, I was deemed a liability for them. This does not make sense to me because I am currently and have been performing the duties they claim I cannot perform safely. I think their whole process is flawed.

  12. Doc

    Richard, my friend, could you please be a bit more specific about your protest. Thanks.

    Troy! I hear ya’ brotha. My Optometrist at the VA voiced his concern about unqualified individuals creating guidelines for sbjects they know nothing about.

    I completely agree with your sentiment. I was with a certain specialized military group for 5 years; I jumped out of airplanes, climbed mountains, and provided medical attention; my condition wasn’t a secret. Now I will be attending Rio Hondo this summer. But I know, even with my background, my CVD will create some challenges.

    Is your conversation with one doctor, or multiple doctors? And do you have any resources to reference from, or outside optometrists or opthalmologists who can assist you?

    Most importantly, have you requested help from your superiors?

  13. Troy

    Part of my appeal, which was denied, included letters from my superiors and co-workers. The letters contained information regarding my performance out in the field, etc. In addition, dates and specific events were also included to illustrate my abilty to perform safely and competently in the field. I have seen 3 different Optometrists and only one was willing to provide me a letter stating that I am able to distinguish basic colors. However, she is familiar with the Feds employment process and she doesn’t think it’ll make a difference.
    I have even gone as far as speaking to attorneys about pursuing different avenues. Currently, I’m still debating whether or not it’s even worth the struggle.

  14. Bobby

    Great website. My optometrist diagnosed me with a form of red-green colour blindness at a young age. However, after taking the Farnsworth D-15 test on this site, I understand the severity of my colour blindness. Also, I always thought there was something wrong with my eyes when it came to distinguishing shades of green-blue. Now I know. Thanks.

  15. James

    This entry is an update regarding my July 23, 2009 post. I have a mild color deficiency and yes, I can distinguish between green, red, blue, pink, orange, yellow and purples without problems. But the Ishihara test is the problem for me.

    Unfortunately, I did not pass my color-vision test with the LAPD. I passed every step with no complications. Even met with my background investigator and was ready to start the process. But before that was to happen I was scheduled for the medical. That was my dream buster, after receiving the disqualification letter. I took it to my optometrist and he didn’t bother to give me an appropriate color-vision test that could have helped me with my appeal.

    Thus, the Dr. just read the disqualification notice and wrote me a short handwritten letter stating my mild deficiency and that an X-chrome lens could be used to correct my deficiency. Obviously, an X-chrome lens or any other color corrective lens is a disqualifying factor.

    This was my first experience and didn’t know how to approach and be successful in the appeals or what type of steps I should have taken. The LAPD appeals board took great pleasure in denying my appeals because the Dr. didn’t give me a solid proof that my deficiency was not going to impaired my duties as an officer.

    For those who are in the hiring process with LAPD or want to apply and have a color deficiency. This is the medical examination process…

    1)A drug test is conducted. You pee in a cup and the excess urine goes into the toilet but don’t flush, the nurse will flush for you. If you flush you might be disqualify. In addition, the toilet has a blue dye in the water that detects traces of narcotics.

    2). Color vision test (Ishihara test) the nurse checks your eyes with a flashlight. She/he will ask you to look right or left or tilt your head up to check if your wearing any contacts. In my case I wear corrective contact lenses which gives me 20/20 and great night-vision. Thus, she already knew I wore contacts because I had stated in the medical application of my nearsightedness. However, if you wear corrective contact lenses you are not asked to take them out. In that same room and after the Ishihara you are given a depth perception test.

    Then I was taken to the next room. A dark room with a brown wooden table and a desk/office lamp. Again I was given the Ishihara test. This time the nurse gave me a q-tip to trace the number for her but I couldn’t see any number. Then I was given two sheet of papers. 1) a laminated paper with color strips and 2) second sheet is where the answers are to be marked. The nurse told me to take my time and don’t rush. But the color strips are hard to see. If you want an example go to your Home Depot paint department. Then located where they have color samples and those are the same color strips that you are given if you can’t pass the Ishihara test.

    3) A hearing test is conducted. You are placed in a box with head phones and the test is conducted.

    4) You are taken to another room where you are to take your shirt off and are hooked up to an EKG machine to test for abnormalities of the heart.

    5) You are taken to another room where your breathing is tested. Not sure what this machine is called but you are to blow into this machine and you see a green ball hovering. Don’t take drinks with caffeine in them because you will fail the test. The nurse asks if you have had caffeine that morning.

    6) The county doctor checks your heart, lungs, reflex, ears, neck, and makes you walk like a duck, and asks very brief questions about your health.

    7) You are taken to another room and are to run on this machine that climbs as it speeds up. This machine has a handle and are to hold onto the handle but must let go as it speeds up. The instructor cautions you that if you hold onto the handle the test will be terminated. You must be on this machine for 10 minutes. If you can’t stay on this machine for 10 minutes you fail the test.

    While you wait for your medical results. You must go and ask for your psychological evaluation packed or a questionnaire. You are referrer to take the test and seat in a room across the waiting area. It is a long one and you can complete it in one sitting or in two. Be very careful and read all the directions and sentences before you mark your answer. Remember that the questions are similar but in different wording. That’s why take your time and re-read.

    Some people were failing because of their weight. I always say, I rather be a bit overweight than with a color deficiency.

    I will apply with the border patrol. Unfortunately, they use the Ishihara test too. But I will ask if they have any waivers or if I can take the Farnsworth D-15 color test or if they accept a diagnosis from a private Dr. This time I will fight, I will not let my dreams go down the drain.

    Color deficiency is gaining attention and I hope a movement can be started that would pressure federal and states to provide alternative color vision testing for applicants. The Ishihara is not the only color vision test out there and is not 100%.

    Lastly, there is a hope though. A doctor in Maryland offers custom made clear contact lenses that actually is 100% effective in passing the Ishihara test and helps color blind individuals distinguish colors in the real world too. The price for these wonderful clear contacts is $8,900 and roughly 67% of law enforcement agencies are okay with candidates wearing these. You must fly to Maryland for testing and fitting. 4-6 hours is the duration of the test.

    Many of us don’t have that kind of money and medical insurance will not cover the contacts.

  16. Richard Comaish

    Doc, my buddy – I just felt that the article seems to unnecessarily add fuel to the exaggerated view of the operational problems experienced with the colour-blind. The degree of severity might be an issue in say, police operations, but the fact is that the vast majority of those branded with the label are mild cases – this needs to be generally understood. Added to which, the key issue here is the notorious conservatism of the employer in question – the police – its failure to make reasonable adjustments for disability in general, and colour-blindness in particular, and its related discrimination, in these aspects, particularly against new recruits. Precise colour identification is, after all, a relatively small part of police work, as of life in general. Obviously, some police departments have got the message already, but the response appears patchy.

  17. David Ferrante

    The Colorful Truth
    After several newscasts depicting me as the “former police officer who cheated on the vision test” aired by Cleveland area news outlets, there is an argument that you may want to consider. Yes, I have a red-green deficiency; Yes, I made a mistake, but I am not colorblind.
    Colorblind implies that one is simply unable to see colors. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact with my disability, and that is exactly what this deficiency is, I can see colors very well. As a fellow red-green deficient reporter recently pointed out, it is the colors within the red-green family that make distinguishing crossover colors difficult. In nearly twenty-one years in law enforcement with the Army and here in Ohio, I never had a single issue locating a house, car, or person based upon a color description. But let’s put all those years aside for a moment and look at this from another perspective.
    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in part reads, “Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. “ This paragraph continues to explain that employers may not discriminate within their hiring practice based upon a person’s disability. The Parma Police department requirements simply do not tolerate colorblindness. No other detailed definition exists and just as the interpretation of colors from one person to the next is subjective, the city of Parma’s discrimination of color deficient applicants is apparently a violation.
    Obviously attorneys can argue this in a variety of ways but consider the last line, “it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.”
    There are thousands of police officers with disabilities that are working and thriving in law enforcement. Officers who wear eye glasses or contact lenses, officers with prosthetic limbs, officers that wear hearing aids, officers that are severely overweight, officers that are diabetic, and officers that struggle with psychological disabilities. Should these officers be investigated and be required to admit their disabilities to the world?
    Let’s keep it simple for the purposes of my situation. A police officer or police applicant may fail the vision test because of his poor vision but with corrective lenses, that same applicant may likely overcome this deficiency. The same holds true with color vision deficiencies. Corrective lenses are available that clear up color confusion. According to Dr. Thomas Azman, his research and corrective lenses are the key to correcting this disability. Since 1999 Dr. Thomas Azman has been using the ColorCorrection System™.
    Dr. Azman has been 100% successful and guarantees success in passing the Ishihara Color Plate Test – the same test the many police departments administer.
    There are numerous findings – medical evidence that color confusion or deficiencies can be corrected to enable the individual to obtain a chosen career path without “undue hardship” to the employer or the employee.
    I resigned from my position in May of 2010. Five years prior to this, I began writing a book titled To Protect and Serve Abuse, a fictional depiction of a large suburban police department within the community of Amrap, Ohio. It seems awfully coincidental that after the book was released in late November of 2010, the Parma Police Department decided then to label me a cheater who was colorblind, seven months later. Apparently this “color deficient former police officer” has ruffled a few feathers with these stories from within that thin blue line.
    Be that as it may, I did what I that I needed to do to overcome my disability. You are entitled to your opinion as to whether the punishment fit the crime. As I go on and try to acclimate myself into a civilian role, I hope and pray that my daughter’s son is not color deficient which is a distinct possibility. And if he is, I am hopeful that discriminatory practices do not handcuff his chances of becoming a police officer, an airline pilot, an electrician, or whatever occupation he finds as his calling.

    David Ferrante

  18. Dave Stillo

    It is on thing to be colorblind but completely different to lie, cheat, and falsify documents. How about taking it a step further and recruiting a relative to take the test for you so you can prepare to cheat on your own. Your dishonest actions are far more deceptive than just lying about a medical issue. And you clearly weren’t police officer material you should have sold used cars with your lyin eyes!

  19. Myrtonos

    How about this situation: A police officers witnesses a theft and reports it to the police station. “The suspect is about 24 years old, has red hair and light skin. A light khaki shirt; and dark khaki trousers.”

    In fact a deutranomlalous police officer may be at an advantage here becasue of the added ablility to distinguish shades of khaki.