Getting to know the law enforcement landscape: The 411 on departments and duties
One of the most enticing lures of law enforcement jobs is variety: the ability to choose a crime-fighting path that most closely matches your skill, experience and interest. There are literally dozens of departments, hundreds of agencies, and thousands of national, regional and local crime-fighting organizations that are looking for promising applicants.
Law enforcement jobs in the federal government: FBI agent
Perhaps no law enforcement career epitomizes the excitement of wearing the badge quite like the Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI commands respect and attention; FBI agents are charged with enforcing the over 300 federal statutes that govern our land. These law enforcement jobs are divided into the following sections:
- Counterintelligence division: Identify and neutralize ongoing national security threats
- Counterterrorism division: Detect, disrupt and dismantle terrorist cells
- Criminal Investigation division: Acts against criminal enterprises and individual federal crimes
- Cyber division: Protects the public against computer and white collar crimes
- Directorate of Intelligence: Assist the FBI in meeting national security and criminal threats
The FBI offers a base salary, including local supplements and relocation costs. You'll be expected to pass the Special Agent qualifications at the agency base in Quantico, Va., and be ready to move on a moment's notice to fill FBI staffing needs. Give your law enforcement career a boost by learning a foreign language or earning high-tech computer skills.
Law enforcement jobs at the regional and local levels: Police and detectives
Perhaps your law enforcement career aspirations are geared toward making change in the day-to-day lives of the people in your own town. Police and detectives enjoy that very privilege. Whether in uniform or plain clothes, professionals in these law enforcement jobs hit the streets with one goal in mind: to protect and to serve. Police officers work an assigned beat or they collaborate in one of a dozen special teams to confront crime, restore order and help the citizens they've sworn to protect.
Also, employment outlook for these roles is exciting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of police officers should increase by 9 percent nationwide from 2008 to 2018: that's about as fast as the national average. And the BLS also reveals that job opportunities for detectives and criminal investigators should grow by about 17 percent over the same period. Consider the following options for a police career:
- Criminal justice degree: Not required, but a quality online or campus-based program prepares you with the basics
- The police academy: With nearly 300 academies nationwide, this is still considered the preeminent preparation for any law enforcement career
- Continuing education: This typically comes in the form of physical fitness, firearms qualifications or leadership training
Law enforcement jobs with Homeland Security: Border and transportation specialists
The Department of State has drawn an intense spotlight since the tragedy of 9/11. In the years following, a great deal of importance has been assigned to securing the U.S. borders and protecting its methods of transportation. The Department of Homeland Security may offer law enforcement job opportunities with the following agencies:
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
- Federal Protective Service
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- U.S. Secret Service
The bottom line is that the sheer variety of options you have as you launch your law enforcement career means you could be able to serve in the capacity that is most meaningful to you. And that gives the term "job satisfaction" a whole new meaning.