Five Tips to Help You Change Careers to Law Enforcement
What kid didn't want to be a cop when they grew up? Playing cops and robbers has been a right of passage since the advent of dime novels and afterschool radio programs. When did the dream die, or did it? Even if you're working in a different field, that doesn't mean it's too late to pursue a career in law enforcement. If you're not ready to give up the dream of being a police officer, here are some tips to help you make the jump into one of today's wide range of law enforcement jobs.
Go Back to School
There was a time when most police officers were hired right out of high school or the military, but those days have passed. Many departments now require that applicants have at least a year or two of college under their belt, perhaps even a criminal justice degree that's been earned from traditional or online schools. Beyond that, competition for police jobs can be intense, and a significant number of applicants--the people you will compete with for the position--have more than one education tool in their proverbial sheds.
Enter the Police Academy
While some large police departments run their own police academies that new officers attend after being hired, this isn't the norm. Increasingly, states are requiring applicants to complete specific law enforcement training before being hired. These programs typically run about 12 to 24 weeks, and include law enforcement-specific instruction including firearm and driver training, and search and seizure techniques. Some states have actual police academies, while in others the training is available through community and junior colleges, or through an online degree program. These certification courses also go by different names, such as Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) or Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), in different states. Those pursuing security careers may find this training valuable as well.
Most local police departments will allow residents to ride along with an officer for all or part of a shift. In addition to letting you see what police officers do first-hand, "ride-alongs" also give you the opportunity to pick the brain of someone who is actually doing police work (and patrol officers typically spend much of their day alone, so you will likely find that they are eager to talk). If you're still on the fence about whether or not to pursue a career as a cop, riding along is a great way to assess whether law enforcement is right for you.
Get in Shape
Virtually all police departments make applicants pass a physical examination that tests their strength, agility, and stamina. These tests go beyond completing simple time trials or a set number of pushups and sit-ups: they are designed to push your physical limits first, and then evaluate your ability to perform certain tasks such as holding a gun steady.
Learn Another Language
Many police departments are chronically short of officers who speak the foreign languages that are common in their community. In the U.S., knowledge of Spanish is of particular value, but police departments need to be able to communicate effectively with all of the non-English speaking groups that live in their city or town. Online foreign language courses can be useful for picking up a new lingo quickly.
Law enforcement jobs come in all shapes and sizes, whether it's riding the beat with a partner or organizing security measures for a public venue. Regardless of which occupation fits your fancy, law enforcement training and the right education is essential, especially during economic slowdown when competition for police jobs is high. So whether you enter the local academy or enroll in a criminal justice degree program, tuck in your shirt, strap on your seatbelt, and get ready to protect and serve.
About the Author
Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher, and for a home improvement company, and he used to own a bar/live music venue.