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Programs to Make You a Better Police Candidate

Programs to Make You a Better Police Candidate

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

So you’ve decided that law enforcement is the profession for you. Congratulations! As you’ve probably figured out by now, it’s not as simple as choosing your agency, walking in the door, filling out an application and being handed your dream assignment. Law enforcement is a diverse profession with literally thousands of options, specialties, and career paths. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: only a very small percentage of police applicants actually get hired.

Law enforcement is very competitive, and the hiring process tends to be lengthy and seemingly fraught with obstacles. I was chatting online with a PoliceLink member a few weeks ago, and he expressed frustration with the time-consuming application process. Very often a department’s application includes page after page of odd requirements (“List three of your neighbors when you were in grade school, include current contact information.”) and arduous requests (“Attach certified copies of your transcripts from grade school, high school, and college, and list three teachers or professors from each institution. Include current contact information.”). The applicant said to me: “It’s almost like the application is part of the test.” Bingo! That’s exactly what it is.

Police testing is time-consuming and expensive for the agency, so they want to make sure you are serious before they invest time in reviewing your application and background. Not only are most agencies going to ask you to fill out an extremely detailed initial application, they’re going to heavily scrutinize what’s in it. One of the best ways to show that you’re serious about their organization and the profession in general, is to seek out opportunities to learn about the law enforcement community and grow as a potential employee long before you ever get hired.

If you’re a young applicant, look into a cadet program. These vary with each agency, but often offer an hourly wage or a stipend to pay your local college expenses in exchange for your work as a “cadet” or “community service officer.” You’re going to be doing primarily grunt work, such as lockouts or traffic direction, but it’s a great way to further your education both in the classroom and in the field.

Many departments also have Police Explorer programs, regulated by the Boy Scouts of America (boys and girls are welcome to participate), but managed by the individual police agency. Explorers are generally ages 14-20. They’re uniformed, they have their own rank structure and they’re closely monitored by police advisors. Explorers are strictly volunteers, but the program is a great way to learn about law enforcement. Each Explorer Post meets regularly and receives training and assignment opportunities from its home agency. There are regional and national competitions in areas like forensics, building searches, and traffic stops. As an Explorer, I was in one of the few mounted units in the country. With opportunities such as these you’ll have a head start in learning skills such as report writing, radio usage, geography, and even officer safety.

Programs like these also provide both you and the department with opportunities to “check each other out.” Make sure you conduct yourself in an appropriate, professional manner at all times. Listen more than you talk. Be positive, don’t complain, be willing to take on whatever tasks you are asked to perform, and perform them well. Avoid becoming too personal with your advisors or other members of the agency. Work hard to protect your integrity and your reputation. You’re not a cop yet, so don’t act like you already are. In other words, maintain decorum. You’re in a para-military organization, and you’re at the bottom of the food chain. Learn to like it there. It’s temporary, but it’s necessary.

If these types of opportunities are not available in your area, there are many other activities you can get involved in to help you stand out as an applicant. Even though many police agencies do not require a college degree, consider higher education a priority. If college isn’t in your future, strongly consider a tour in the Armed Forces. Military veterans bring outstanding experience to the law enforcement profession, and they tend to find the police academy and the para-military environment of most police departments an easy adjustment.

You can also become a volunteer. Many police departments have volunteer opportunities, such as citizen watch programs or front desk assistance. Enroll in your local Citizen Police Academy, which is a great way to find out about your local department; many CPA’s have an alumni association that often assists the department with special events and other community activities. If there are no law enforcement volunteer activities available in your area, become a community volunteer in an area that you’ll enjoy. Find out where some of your local cops volunteer and see if they need help with their after-school sports programs or their work with senior citizens. Work with kids who need a good role model. Volunteer to assist senior citizens learn a new skill, such as computers and other newer technology. In other words, be a good citizen and get involved in your community. It will make you a better candidate and a better cop.


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  • Photo_user_banned_big

    cora521

    over 3 years ago

    22 Comments

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  • 1393794_10151798561878138_392793313_n_max50

    Blueblood1974

    over 3 years ago

    5204 Comments

    Great artcile SGt Betsy.

  • Av-109_max50

    CL2K10

    over 3 years ago

    62 Comments

    Good information. I would like to add though some departments consider/call their "volunteer" portion Auxiliary officers too. I know a few departments here in New York have them like that. Education would definitely be a plus, not only for hiring, but also for a pay bonus (hey, every bit counts!) and while at college you have opportunities sometimes to be part of criminal justice related organizations or even community related organizations. If none of that applies or anything in the article, you can always put on a resume that you attended things such as 5K benefits, and things of the sort.

  • Pro_max50

    expsgt

    over 3 years ago

    294 Comments

    Hey. Great words of knowledge! Overall since the start of my Law Enforcement career, I've been a Cadet with a Sheriff's Department for 4 years, and moved to a bigger agency, and am now a Senior Cadet with a Police Department. It was nice when I went to the police department because I got to experience a full background check which is what they did to me. As Senior Cadets, we get to conduct lots of hands on training. A lot of people would say that being a Cadet is NOT experience when it in fact IS. We take stolen vehicle recovery reports, animal bite calls, respond to vehicle accidents to provide assistance, vehicle abatement, and more. Definitely experience, and good experience at that. We write reports in which go to the D.A.'s Office, so we kind of have a round about idea of how the system works. Definitely something I would recommend to anyone.

  • Strauss_2008-1_max50

    SStrauss

    over 3 years ago

    1234 Comments

    Thanks Betsy. Good words and ideas.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    Very helpful article!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    @Shawnda35: While you are getting your degree, see if the Dept has a Reserve Program. I am also older and looking at changing my career to be in Law Enforcement. I went to my local PD and signed up for a ride-along. During the ride-along is when I found out they had a Reserve Program. After applying to become a reserve officer, I attended the citizen's police academy. The citizens police academy actually gave me a little glimpse of what I would be going through in the Reserve Police Academy. I have been a reserve officer now for over a year and will be completing the Reserve Academy next month. I will say this, having a full-time career and being a Reserve Officer is very time consuming. Make sure you have the support of your family and are able to dedicate the time to your training and volunteer hours.

    I wish the best for you in your future journey.

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    Blueblood1974

    about 5 years ago

    5204 Comments

    very helpful.

  • 100_0655_max50

    tanya13

    over 5 years ago

    10 Comments

    I didnt know these things. They are extremely helpful.

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    guarddog45

    over 5 years ago

    218 Comments

    Thanks for mentioning the Citizen Police Academy as an insightful window into the local Police Dept. I was able to connect with several officers, do ride-alongs and get a bird's eye view from the outside of what being a cop in my community was all about. I learned a lot and found a career change field from my experiences with them. I only wish that every town offered it to its citizens so that people could get a realistic view of what cops are really able to do/not do in many situations. It really helped me to understand them much better and helped me not to "waste" their time as much. Now, I think more about what they will ask me & how they will be able to respond. I learned more about how they have to prioritize their calls, just like they have to do in the medical field.You'd be amazed at the number of people who do not understand about this...just look at any ER Waiting room and listen to the complaints. GuardDog45

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    Matoxewu

    over 5 years ago

    50 Comments

    a lot of helpful advice there thank you.

  • Me2008_max50

    Shawnda35

    over 5 years ago

    52 Comments

    Thanks, that was a helpful article. Like chris869, I'm in my later years for starting this. I also have children, to whom I need to be a good role model for. I've made a few mistakes in my life and I'm now trying to make up for them. I've always been interested in solving mysteries. I have just applied to Florida Tech Online to get my degree in Criminal Justice. Other than checking with my local Police Dept. for volunteer work; what other ideas should I pursue?

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    tonymartinez1984

    over 5 years ago

    528 Comments

    Thanks...

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    chris869

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    Hello, I have wanted to be a police officer since my late 20's Now I am pushing 40 and have some items in my past that are not so great. I have two young boys and want to give them a good life and I want to do something with my life I can be proud of. Is their a mentor program or someone that can help me follow the rights steps to achieve my goal. I know I would be a good police officer! they say the hard way is the best way to learn and I have learned my lessons. Please help me or give me some advise before it is to late. Thank you,

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    zouhir141

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    hi i wish to be police man .but my problem is i am not citizen .so what do u think .do i have chance to cop or not please replay me.thinks

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