If you were cited, detained, and then released by police, many security clearance applicants mistakenly consider them to be similar to minor traffic violations. Ignoring a citation or an arrest can make you look like a fibber on the SF-86 form. And it’s not just about handcuffs and jail time; simple detentions also count.

Failing to report something on the form can lead to accusations of intentional falsification. It’s essential to understand the difference and report accurately to avoid misunderstandings.

It’s a common question over at ClearanceJobsBlog.com, as well:

“I was arrested due to a domestic violence situation but the charges were later dropped and records were revised to show that I was detained, not arrested. Should I report this on my SF86? The wording isn’t very clear so I’m unsure if I should or not. Thanks in advance.”

Do I have to report being detained on SF86?

If you have been detained or arrested in the past, you will have to report it on your SF-86 (Standard Form 86) security clearance application. The form asks for information about your criminal record, including arrests, detentions, and convictions. It is important to be honest and thorough when filling out the form, as the government will conduct a thorough background investigation that may uncover any omissions or falsehoods. Failure to disclose information about your criminal history could result in your security clearance being denied or revoked, which could have serious career implications. It is always better to be upfront and honest about any past indiscretions, as it demonstrates integrity and a willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions.

Background investigators on the thread echo the sentiment that it is better to report it and use the comments section to clarify:

“If you were finger printed it will show up on FBI report as an arrest and you’ll be asked to discuss the details during an in person interview. If finger prints were involved you were arrested no matter what it was changed to later. If you don’t list it then it will be viewed as an omission/falsification and you’ll also be asked why you didn’t list it.”

Sean Bigley, former security clearance attorney says, “regardless of the circumstances, reporting it as required is always better than being accused of trying to hide it from the government.” So, be crystal-clear and report accurately to avoid any issues.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸