Part 1 - So You Wanna Be a Cop...
Deputy Bob Cooley
My goal in posting this information is to help those reading these lines to realize the dream they have about becoming a Law Enforcement Officer. I do not claim to be an expert, but after thirty years on the job I believe that at least some of the ideas and suggestions I’m passing along may be helpful in your quest. I’ve experienced first hand everything I’m passing along to you so I speak from experience. Constructive criticism is welcome and sought after, so future revisions can incorporate your ideas and suggestions.
A little of my background is in order I started my law enforcement career by joining the reserve officer program of the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C. in 1975. DC was hiring at that time, but I was not ready to make a commitment to a law enforcement career until I had a “taste” of what police work was all about. After a year as a reserve it became clear that this was indeed what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life and my quest to realize that goal began. I am currently a Deputy Sheriff III (senior deputy) in northwestern Virginia and I am celebrating 22 years with this agency in 2007.
I can’t possibly anticipate or elaborate on all possible aspects of the hiring process because of the variations you will encounter. My goal is to help you avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes I made in the early years that I believe will apply to just about anyone who sets out to become a Law Enforcement Officer.
Part One-Questions you need to ask yourself and others.
First, you need to ask yourself why you want to become a Law Enforcement Officer. If it’s just to wear a nice uniform badge and gun then seek another profession! This is a job that is not all fun and games; it is not cops and robbers. It is without doubt one of the most stressful professions anywhere in the world. I know of no other profession other than the military where you literally carry the responsibility of life and death by the weapon carried on your side.
Second, you need to ask yourself will I be able to handle the stresses of the job as well as the physical aspects. With that you need to ask how will my becoming a Law Enforcement Officer affect me, my family and even my friends. Talk to Law Enforcement Officers you may already be acquainted with and ask them “what’s it really like?” Most will answer you truthfully and can give you great insight as to their experiences. You need to talk to family members as to how they feel about your goal. My own parents hated the idea of my becoming a lawman because of the risks involved and the chance I might be killed. Your spouse will have thoughts and feelings that you need to know beforehand. Don’t just walk through the door one day and announce “hey honey I’ve just joined our local police department.” That’s a sure fire way of heading for divorce court. You also need input from your friends about how they will feel towards you if you “put on the blue” someday.
Third, before going any farther contact your local law enforcement agency and ask if they have a “ride along” program that you could participate in. To me this is crucial because it will at least give you some insight through your own senses as to what a Law Enforcement Officer really does on the job. And don’t just ride one time tell the person in charge of the program why you want to ride more than once. Tell them that you’re really interested in the job and you would like to be able to ride again on different shifts with different officers to get at least a feel for what the job is all about.
Fourth, you need to ask yourself what type of lawman do you want to become. Federal, state, and local agencies all have benefits and drawbacks and you need to decide what’s right for you and what kind of agency you want to go to work for. Ask or research through the Internet salaries, benefits, retirement and disability programs the prospective agency has to offer. Then ask yourself if you can support yourself and your family (or prospective family) on what is offered. I’ve always told prospective LEO’s don’t come into this profession expecting to make huge salaries! Sure, you can make big salaries as you advance through the ranks in the larger agencies, but are you willing to commit to the study and hard work necessary to achieve those high ranks? You must decide this for yourself and work to achieve those goals.
Fifth, contact the agencies you’re interested in to find out what they require as qualifications for their department. Some require a college degree; some require college credit hours equivalent to an Associate of Arts degree and others only require a high school diploma. There may be height and weight restrictions and some have an eyesight standard. Check into the requirements and if you find yourself deficient in some area work toward meeting those requirements. Many agencies have a no smoking policy in effect so if you smoke and your goal is to work for a particular agency that has this policy, quit smoking!