Step 3: Choose the Right Path
There are limitless paths you can take within law enforcement, and they all start at the same place: the street. Your first few years should give you a good idea of the direction you want to take in your career. Do you want to stay on the street the whole time? Do you want to make sergeant, lieutenant, or even chief? Do you want to focus your talents on a specialized unit? Look at many of the options available to you here with:
• Patrol officer
• Detective / Investigator
• Specialized Units
• The Brass
Patrol officers perform general policing work on an assigned shift. Their primary duties involve protection of life and property, responding to reports calls from citizens, investigating crimes, and enforcing laws.
Officers work under the direct supervision of a higher ranking officer and must adhere to all general orders, rules, and regulations. They will exposed to dangerous situations and encounter life threatening incidents.
Detective and investigators are responsible for responding to all major crime scenes to evaluate, process, photograph, document, collect and preserve evidence.
They perform follow up and ongoing investigations on serious and complex crimes not handled by patrol officers. They will consult with their counterparts in other agencies and will participate on task forces regarding cross-jurisdictional crimes. There may be opportunity for traveling to locations through the state or country to conduct investigations or to make arrests on active investigations.
Specialized units exist to answer specific needs of the community by providing a few highly trained officers with special talents. These may include units such as a SWAT team, K9 unit, aviation unit, or school resource officers.
Special units are desirable within the law enforcement community because they signify that you have a high level of training that qualifies you for such an assignment. Specialized officers may receive a higher rate of pay for their abilities. The experience of being a member of a specialized unit may also help you advance into a higher rank as it shows that you have the drive to be the best officer that you can be.
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The commanding officers, or “the brass” as they’re affectionately referred to, are the supervisory officers, from sergeant to chief, in a department’s chain of command. They are known as “the brass” because of the brass colored badges and regalia often used to distinguish them from the lower ranking officers.
The responsibility of the supervisory officers is to oversee the daily operations of a police department. They do everything from hands-on incident command to setting high level policy and direction for an entire department. As you progress through the ranks your expectations of performance are accordingly set higher. Your actions will be much more scrutinized by those above you and even to civilian officials, such as city council members or the mayor.
As a commanding officer you will be responsible for the actions of all officers below you on the chain of command. That means that you will have to answer for their mistakes. Some people may not want this level of responsibility and choose to stay as a patrol officer for as long as possible.