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Advice to Future Officers

Thoughts from the Chief

Law enforcement has certainly evolved into a much more dynamic and sophisticated profession than it was a mere 20 years ago. Officers today have to be more versatile than ever before and embrace new ideas, ways of thinking, and solve increasingly complex problems swiftly and decisively.

Advances in technology and science have been permanently interwoven into the profession of law enforcement. Today’s successful law enforcement applicant must have a greater knowledge base in a broad spectrum of topics and be able to multitask in order to keep up with new challenges.

College Degree

Education is key. Most agencies, large and small, are moving toward requiring a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for entry-level positions.

Most young people interested in law enforcement assume that they must pursue a degree in criminal justice; this however is a common misconception. Pursuing a degree outside of the realm of law enforcement could increase an individual’s exposure to other concepts and demonstrate to would-be employers that this person is planning ahead for the future.  This also reveals to potential employers that an applicant may have a new perspective or set of skills to offer their agency.

If applicants have the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree, this could prove beneficial in their opportunity for upward mobility. A recent article published in The Police Chief, a publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, stated that fifty-four percent of police chiefs in the United States today have at least a master’s or law degree.

Background Investigation

An applicant’s background is also very important. Police records and questionable character traits could make the difference in whether or not an applicant gets hired. Speeding tickets could disqualify a candidate if the problem is serious or habitual, but infractions that question a person’s character or integrity will oftentimes prove fatal in the hiring process.

Getting involved in your community and the workforce speaks volumes and gives an applicant a strong foundation. These types of opportunities enable a prospective officer to build both contacts and references which could prove most valuable in the future. Candidates should seek out these types of opportunities to improve both their exposure to law enforcement agencies and enhance their resume. The best indicator of future performance is past performance.

Physical Fitness

We commonly see many graduates with four year degrees that fail their physical fitness test required for entry into the police academy. Typically, during the hiring process most candidates are in their physical prime; if they fail at this juncture it may be a bad indication of their future performance.

Physical fitness is a key component to an officer’s job. The ability to physically defend yourself and others is an essential function of the job. The mere appearance that an officer is in excellent physical condition frequently deters violence. Couple this with the image of a confident, competent officer and you construct a clear picture of command bearing; a strong deterrence to the would-be assailant.

Which Law Enforcement Agency is right for you?

Honestly assess what type of law enforcement interests you. There are many choices.

Frequently people associate prestige with size. There are a host of federal law enforcement agencies, state agencies, county agencies, and many municipal agencies out there to choose from. While it is frequently true that larger agencies can offer more money and benefits, this does not always translate into job satisfaction.

Different agencies have different roles and each and every agency is unique unto itself. It is important to determine what you are looking for. Additionally, agencies have different cultures. Oftentimes different shifts within an agency have different cultures as well; these are quite often determined by formal and informal leaders within the organization. This is critically important to be aware of. Conducting ride-alongs and internships with agencies of interest can assist a candidate in identifying the right organization for them. A candidate’s choice of agency is directly correlated to their job satisfaction and the pride they feel when they put on that agency’s uniform.

The Future of Law Enforcement

Where is this profession headed? Though no person can read the future, we are probably on pretty solid ground to say that future officers need a firm understanding of technology. Computers are here to stay and an increasing amount of the crime that law enforcement is experiencing deals with computers and technology. Currently, law enforcement is less prepared than we should be in dealing with crime in this area. Further development of specialized skills to combat these types of crimes could make a candidate look more attractive during the hiring process. Individuals seeking to make themselves attractive to forward thinking law enforcement administrators should consider this.