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Getting an Early Start on Your Law Enforcement Career

Getting an Early Start on Your Law Enforcement Career

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

Teenagers get a bad rap. Many adults think that teens today are nothing but a lazy, drug-crazed, sexually obsessed, over-privileged, video-game-addicted drain on society…all the same things that adults thought about my generation, except for the video game part. In reality, this current generation of teens may be the next “Greatest Generation;” many have an excellent work ethic, a deep sense of service, and a desire to make a difference.

I was in junior high when I decided I wanted to be a cop. I was frustrated that I had to wait until I was 21 to become a full-fledged police officer, and you may feel the same way, so in addition to finishing high school and getting ready for college or military service, here are some things you can do to prepare for a life as a crime fighter.

Police Explorers

The Explorers program is a great program for youngsters to find out if law enforcement is really the career for them. Explorers can get involved in community service, simulated police training, ride alongs and much more. The National Rifle Association even has a marksmanship program specifically designed for Explorers Posts.

Military ROTC

Military ROTC programs are a great way to serve, to learn and to earn money for college. Law enforcement is a paramilitary profession, and during the hiring and promotional processes most police agencies give special consideration to those who have served in the military. ROTC is also a great way to learn more about a career as a military police officer.

Many high schools also have work/study programs where half of your day is spent at school and the rest of the day is spent off-site, learning about a specific career. Most of these programs include the building trades, the medical field, technology, and service industries like hairstyling, but more and more are offering a chance to study criminal justice. See if your school district is willing to participate in such a program or already does. Some high schools also offer the opportunity to receive both high school and college credits by taking classes at your local community college. See if this program is available and if you can take a criminal justice class or two while you’re still in high school.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering is another way to gain valuable experience helping people while meeting potential mentors and building your resume. Working with kids, senior citizens, or on a great law enforcement cause like the Police Unity Tour can be extremely rewarding and help you learn about service, organization, and personal sacrifice, all skills you’ll need as a professional crime fighter.

Most of us have to or want to get a job when we’re in high school. Try to choose a job that will not only line your pockets but will help you develop skills you can use when you’re on the job as a cop. I was lucky enough to get a part time job as a police dispatcher in both high school and college, but I also worked as a waitress, in food prep, and in several office settings. I learned how to type, file, and most importantly, how to deal with customers. The people we serve and protect as police officers are our “customers,” and whether we like them or not, we have to deal with them patiently, respectfully, and with compassion. Nothing prepares a young adult for community service better than working in a restaurant or a retail establishment where “the customer is always right.” Besides, working in the service industries gives you the chance to study the human animal. Body language, proxemics, speech patterns, group behavior – its all fascinating stuff and it’s often vital to your very survival as a cop.

At any job you do, volunteer or not, work harder than anyone else, show leadership in your assignment or task, and be respectful, ethical, and honest. Stand up for yourself, but be willing to say “I made a mistake” or “I’m sorry” when you need to. Stay out of trouble and choose your friends and associates carefully. Always be mindful of the fact that you want to be a cop, not be running from one!

Make fitness a permanent part of your life style now and never give it up. Work out, play sports, and get involved in martial arts, the shooting sports and any other activity that will keep you in shape and continue to build your self confidence and your skill. And yes, play those video games – superior hand/eye coordination is essential to many law enforcement tactical skills, and technology is just as important as gun-handling skills to today’s modern cop. Just don’t forget to go outside, get some exercise, and interact regularly with your friends and family.

Law enforcement isn’t just a job, it’s a career – one that is filled with history, honor, and tradition. If you’ve decided to become one of us, work hard, learn all you can, and when you pin on that badge and strap on that gun, enjoy the adventure, there’s nothing else like it on the planet. Good luck!

  • Angel_and_josh_hayes_max50


    10 months ago


    My name is Angelica Lee Sullivan (Hayes) i want to become a cop so bad..... i will be 18 in a week and a two days. it is my passion to want to help others and get crime off of the streets... However i didnt finish high school. i want to get my GED and go to collage.... I know some people quit high school because they just dont want to the work... But that was not the case with me... i was getting bullied in school so bad my life was threaghted and i told the school princeable that i was getting threaghted and he said that there was nothing that he could do... so after i quit high school i got married.... I have known that police work was my passion for as long as i can rember. and i think it would help me in alot of ways to help other peiple feel safe and to bring peace into the world.... I want to work with people that feel the same way that i do about all the crime in the streets... i would like to talk to some one about ful filling my dreams could you help?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Great information. i was an Explorer for 4 years, and to be honest it was the best thing that i could have done with my time. But as that 4th year came i started to think it was NOT for me, so i quit going, and told myself i would NEVER be a LEO. Now here i am 26 and am on my 5th year of patrol and i love it. Looking back the Explorer Program really opened my eyes to officer Safety. My very first ride along they D/S i was riding with was shot and killed. I will never forget the thoughts of wanting to find that scumbag killed my mentor. If you are thinking to go into Law Enforcement really think about if you are ready for friends and loved ones to turn their backs on you, cause it will happen, i havent talking to my mom for about 4 years... But it is the best career out there and personally i LOVE IT. Hope you write more articles, maybe about the job itself and explain that reports is about 85% of the job.?.?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago

    Great info, working at the sheriff's office is the best thing I have done! I have learned so much! And I can't wait to actually work there full time! Thank you for your great advise!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago

    What is the cut off age for explorer? I am planning on volunteering with my dept in the fall so I'm waiting for that. I applied and everything. Long process to apply though haha

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max160_max160_max160_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Becoming a Explorer was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, I have a few more months of high school left then its on to collage.

  • M_2d5d0f9b654a4f72ade051216f8c08a6_max50


    over 6 years ago


    i want to join the force !! i just dont how yet but im looking into it

  • Joe_max50


    over 6 years ago


    I have been an explorer for my County's Sheriff's Office for about 2 years now. Law enforcement is something that I would like to do for the rest of my life. I have learned quite a lot from being an explorer. I only have a couple more years until i can become a certified LEO, But im very glad I got involved in the explorers, not only do i know all the sheriff's employee's, but the department I am in actually hires their explorers first. But for all the younger kids, i'd for sure check out the explorers post. It's a great way to learn the basic's of law enforcement, and to get you hyped up about an exciting career in law enforcement!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 6 years ago


    That is so truth thank you it help a lot . I was in the explorers and am going to start Auxiliary police in nyc it help alot .

  • Vapd_new_badge_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Sorry Darien..........The Feds have a 37yoa ( Border Patrol 40 yoa) cut off for agents.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 6 years ago



  • 101_0072_max50


    over 6 years ago


    I would say the Police Explorers is a great way for people to find out if Law Enforcement is for them. It keeps your active and shows you inside a department also bettering you chances of getting hired there. Its a proven program.

  • 6921071_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Great article, I learned some stuff!

  • Dsc02083_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Good Article, I wish they had offered a Law Enforcement program at the local vocational school I attended, back when vocational schools were invented (early 70's), a LE program was not even thought of. I did take advantage of college classes while in high school. The physical fitness idea is excellent, start early and don't stop. I think it is important to keep a steady employment history and not jump around. A customer service job is the right direction, you have to be able to deal with people. Also, check your local dept. if they have a ride along program, to see if this is the career for you.

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