Become a Cop >> Browse Articles >> 10 Steps to Joining the Force


Step 1: Learn About the Law Enforcement Field

Step 1: Learn About the Law Enforcement Field


Conservation Law Enforcement

If you are interested in the outdoors, wildlife, or biology, then conservation law enforcement should be a serious consideration for a career path.

Conservation law enforcement spans a broad spectrum of areas such as park patrol, marine patrol, animal control, fish and game enforcement, and environmental crimes investigation. Additionally, these laws are enforced at all levels of government as well: Local, state, federal and even at the tribal level.

The primary local level jobs have to deal with animal control and park patrol. The authority of these officers varies from location to location. In some places these officers are not sworn, but in others, they are sworn, armed officers with full arrest powers just like any city policeman.

State level agencies generally enforce fish and game laws, perform marine patrol, and investigate environmental crimes. As a state conservation officer or game warden you should expect to be serving in expansive, remote areas. It isn’t uncommon for one officer to have an area of responsibility spanning several hundred square miles. Marine patrol officers enforce boating and fishing laws on both inland and coastal bodies of water. Some states have agencies whose sole responsibility is to investigate crimes such as illegal dumping, pollution violations, natural resources contamination or to regulate natural resources industries.

Federal conservation law enforcement spans much the same areas as both local and state conservation agencies, except they enforce federal laws and international treaties. Uniformed agencies include the National Park Service, United States Park Police, and the Bureau of Land Management, while the investigative agencies include the Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, and Environmental Protection Agency.

Regardless of what level you want to work at, there is an conservation enforcement agency waiting for you to join.

Corrections, Probation & Parole

A corrections officer may have the most under appreciated job of all. Where a street cop may encounter a handful of criminals a day, a corrections officer is guaranteed to be face to face with dozens, if not hundreds, of hardened criminals for every minute of every shift.

The primary responsibility of corrections officers is for the care and custody of all criminals remanded to custody by our criminal justice system. Like other areas of law enforcement, you will find corrections officers at every level of government.

10 Steps to Joining the Force

Starting at the local level, most counties in the country have a local jail staffed by jail deputies or correctional officers. Some areas of the country utilize regional jails that are used by a consortium of localities as a cost and resources savings measure. The duties of these officers handle intake, short-term, and some long-term care of inmates.

State level departments of correction generally take custody of inmates serving longer sentences or more serious crimes. In other words, inmates who don’t belong in a local jail. The so-called “Death Row” is also a state level function where criminals convicted of capital crimes end up. Many states also have dedicated juvenile corrections agencies that are independent from adult corrections agencies, but operate in much the same way.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is the federal government’s primary corrections agency and handles most federal prisoners. Another lesser known agency is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Detention and Removal Operations (ICE DRO) agency. ICE DRO takes custody of immigration violators and arranges for their deportation from the United States.

Probation and parole agencies are often times part of the overall departments of correction. Probation and parole officers deal in community corrections with inmates who have been released on probation or parole. The job of the probation and parole officer is part social worker and part corrections officer. These officers must ensure that inmates who are in the community maintain good behavior and stay out of trouble by monitoring their whereabouts, behavior, and employment.

Campus Law Enforcement

Do campus cops exist solely to break up your parties? Absolutely not. They exist to keep the campus community safe from all threats, just as a city cop keeps the city streets safe. Although school and college campuses have a relatively low crime rate, they are not immune from crime.

Over the past decade many campus police departments have spent a lot of time and effort to become top-notch law enforcement agencies. In fact, the recent trend has been for these agencies to completely the term “campus” from their names. Most campus agencies work closely with surrounding jurisdictions through task forces and mutual aid agreements that allow the officers to cover areas around the campus instead of being confined to the campus boundaries. This type of expanded coverage often times leads to a more active police experience since officers encounter more serious crimes than what generally occurs on a college campus.

Campus law enforcement is often viewed as a good entry point into a law enforcement career and is often used as a stepping stone into larger agencies. Because having a safe campus is a number one priority for school administrators, joining the right agency can provide the opportunity for frequent and first rate training programs, whereas in a traditional city agency you may have to wait months or even years to attend a specialized training course.

Specialized Law Enforcement Agencies

What is a specialized law enforcement agency? Basically, it is an agency with a very defined mission. Some examples of these agencies would be airport police, transit police, railroad police, or port police. One mission all of these types of agencies share is the protection of visitors, employees, tenants and assets. This mission is carried out using many methods and usually in concert with surrounding local, state, and federal agencies.

Because of their importance to America’s commerce system, airports, railroads, and seaports are high are understandably high profile targets to terrorists. As a result, the law enforcement agencies entrusted with protecting them spare no expense when it comes to training and providing the latest equipment and technology.

Homeland Security

The federal government’s approach to law enforcement was drastically restructured following the 9/11 attacks. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created and many agencies which traditionally fell under other departments were moved or consolidated into the new DHS.

The agencies within DHS span every possible aspect of the law enforcement spectrum; from asset protection agencies like the Federal Protective Service to investigative agencies like the United States Secret Service. DHS is even the parent agency to the Border Patrol and to the Customs and Border Protection.

The bottom line is that the agencies that make up the Department of Homeland Security provide the largest variety of law enforcement careers under one roof. Depending on what you want to do, you can be conducting traditional patrol duties in a downtown, urban environment as Federal Protective Service police officer, protecting the nation’s borders in remote areas of the country as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, keeping the sky safe as a Federal Air Marshal, protecting the president as a Secret Service special agent, or enforcing customs and immigration laws as an inspector or special agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Step 2: Decide if You’re Ready

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.