Why Grades Really Do Matter to Recruiters
Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith
My mom was a school teacher and both my parents were college-educated so I spent most of my childhood enduring frequent lectures about the importance of academics. Grades were not a problem for me until I entered middle school; then there were just too many other interesting things to do besides study and my grades slipped a bit. This did not go over well with my parents but by that time I had already decided I was going to be a cop, and like most 13 years olds, I certainly knew more than my parents did about such matters.
My plan was to attend a nearby state college known for its excellent law enforcement program (not to mention it’s less-than-stringent entrance criteria) and then hit the streets at age twenty one to become a full time crimefighter. Why would my grades matter? After all, isn’t it the degree itself that’s important? Why would anyone care whether you earned an “A” or a “D” in that English Literature class?
Your grades in both high school and college reveal not only your work in an individual class, but they also show your potential skill level, your aptitude for a particular topic, and most especially, your work ethic. And it’s not just your law enforcement classes that potential employers are going to be interested in, your overall high school and college transcripts are going to be of great interest to someone looking for a quality, hardworking recruit officer. Here are just a few of the high school and college level courses and topics that could make or break your career as a cop.
English / Communications / Creative Writing
When I was on my department’s recruitment team, we used to tell potential candidates that they would use their pen far more than they would use their firearm. Firearms skill is what we call a “low occurrence/high risk” activity; in other words, you probably won’t use that pistol every single day but when you do, you’d better be extremely skilled with it. Proficiency with your tactics will save your life, proficiency with writing and communication skills will likely save your career, so you better be good at all of it. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, we must document everything we do. Our police reports will not only be scrutinized by our supervisors, but by the victim, the offender, and possibly a judge, a jury, various attorneys and even the press. There is nothing more embarrassing than sitting on the stand in court and having your lousy police report read aloud for everyone to hear. View the “Buck Savage in Court” training video and you’ll know what I mean. A low grade in that “Creative Writing” course could indicate to a potential employer that you don’t have the skills to author good police reports, and that may be enough for them to move on to the next candidate in this extremely commutative job market.
Mathematics / Technology
I was one of those kids who hated math and science, and I just didn’t see how either would apply to my law enforcement career. I was still in college when I became a cop, so I was fortunate to find out just how important these topics would be when it came to my success as a cop and I was able to raise my GPA significantly prior to graduation. Within a year of being hired I was working check fraud cases and dealing with bankers on a daily basis; I was thankful for that extra tutoring I had applied for in those Business Finance classes. When I became a narcotics cop, all of a sudden my work life revolved around the metric system (I had no idea how much a “kilo” of cocaine was when I was a brand new narc) and I needed to be able to negotiate drug deals quickly and without a calculator. When I became a field training officer, I discovered that properly scoring a recruit officer’s daily evaluations involved averages and other mathematical skills that I had not planned on ever using in my post-college life. As my career progressed, so did law enforcement’s use of technology. Even that “business typing” class I took (and earned an “A” in, thankfully) when I was in high school became essential to my success as a cop since keyboarding was essential to learning how to use those new PC’s we were all issued.
Social Studies / History / Sociology / Psychology
In the first hour of the “Street Survival” seminar we talk about the history of law enforcement careers and how we can and must learn from our past to make all our futures safer. A good cop doesn’t just respond to calls and write tickets, they track crime trends, are familiar with the history of the community they serve, and they try to understand why people do the things they do. All cops, regardless of department or assignment, are historians, psychologists, and sociologists; it’s just the nature of our job and frankly, it’s a large element of what makes law enforcement such an interesting career. Your coursework in that American History class may not seem relevant to solving a residential burglary, but being able to understand culture, connections, and even geography will make you a better, more logical and compassionate police officer.
Police agencies will also be interested in any courses you may have taken involving physical education, coaching, foreign languages, accounting, engineering, and biomedical studies just to name a few. Recruiters really do scrutinize those high school and college transcripts we ask you to provide with your application or other relevant paperwork, and good grades tend to be indicative of a quality candidate.
One last word about grades. When I was a field training sergeant I dealt with a recruit who seemed unable to author a proper police report. No matter how much remedial training we provided him, he could not seem to write a decipherable report, and yet he came to us with a Master’s degree in Police Administration from a university known for its volume of written work required to earn a graduate degree; and his transcripts indicated he had done well in the program.
During a particularly frustrating counseling session I finally asked him “How the heck did you earn a graduate degree when you can’t seem to write a simple report?” He was a handsome, personable young man, and it was then that he confessed to me that he had convinced a number of fellow female students to write his papers for him. In other words, he got good grades, but didn’t earn them; we released him from the program the following week.
Enjoy school, study hard, and remember your goal is a successful career in law enforcement; grades really do matter! As always, good luck!