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Step 4: Picking a Department

Step 4: Picking a Department

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There are many things to take into consideration when picking a department. Things like the type of law enforcement agency, proximity to where you want to live, or starting pay all are important factors. One of the biggest mistakes made by candidates is having their heart set on one specific department and refusing to apply anywhere else. As anyone with experience will tell you, this is a big no-no.

Once you decide what type of agency you want to work for – for example, a county sheriff’s office, big city police department, or a state police department – figure out WHERE you want to work. Maybe you want to stay near your last duty station, or maybe you want to return to your hometown. Try to narrow it down sooner rather than later, because you want to be sure you’re available in the area for interviews, exams, polygraphs, etc.

Now that you’ve decided where you want to work, here are a few pointers for narrowing in on the specific departments.

Zeroing in on a department

It is important to do your research on the area’s law enforcement agencies. If you’re like most people, you will have decided on a metropolitan area. Areas like southern California or the New York City metro area will offer literally hundreds of police departments and sheriff’s offices to choose from. Other areas, such as Washington, DC, or St. Louis, for example, have dozens of area agencies that are hiring. When applying for a law enforcement position, it is a good idea to apply at as many agencies as are hiring in the area.

Agency reviews

Learn what agencies are in the area and start learning about them. Searchable by region, PoliceLink Agency Reviews are a great source of inside information about departments throughout the country. Visit individual department websites and learn what sort of units they have, how big the departments are, their chain of command, and anything else you can about the agency. Of special important should be their recruitment section. This may indicate if they’re hiring, or when their next entrance exam may be. It should also list qualifications for the positions, such as maximum age, educational requirements, past military service, etc.


The best way to learn about any department is by getting the inside scoop from people already serving in it. That may seem a `bit tedious when you’re serving your country half a world away. Fortunately, both PoliceLink and have the two largest communities of law enforcement and military personnel in the world.

PoliceLink’s groups and discussion forums are designed to bridge the gap between aspiring and active LEOs throughout the country – and throughout the world in the case or military service members. You can get connected with officers from a specific department, region, military affiliation, law enforcement specialty, and much more. There are even recruiting officers who offer sound advice for prospective candidates.’s Veteran Career Network has countless members, many of whom are currently serving in law enforcement and have volunteered to serve as career advisors. Reaching out to these members can go a long way to help you get the answers you have and to build a good rapport with someone in a department you want to serve in.

And remember – in a few years from you’ll have the opportunity to help the next wave of transitioning veterans, so be sure you help out when the time is right.

Researching the departments

The next step after picking the departments you want to apply to is meeting the recruiters. We’ll go over that in detail in the next chapter, but before we do, there’s one more important task to be done so you’re prepared.

Using what you learned in the preceding steps will already set you apart from other candidates. But there’s still more to learn. Before you even meet with a recruiter you will want to know everything you can about the department – size of the force, number of residents they protect, the chief’s name, the mayor’s name, any special jurisdiction they have, how long the department has been around, etc. Learn all that you can for each department you intend to meet with.

Often times, some or all of this information can be found on the department’s website or on the government agency’s website. You can also use your networking contacts to learn little tidbits of information other candidates may never have the opportunity to learn.

Next: Meeting a Recruiter

Previous: GI Bill

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