The Civilian Side of Fighting Crime
Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith
Do you love the idea of being involved in crimefighting but are not sure you’re ready, willing or able to strap on a gun, a badge, and a TASER? Fortunately for you, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to work in law enforcement without being a sworn officer. In fact, your most difficult decision may be which position to go after, so think about your talents, your personality traits, and your career goals, and then consider some of these potential career paths.
Are you an action junkie?
Being a police dispatcher is the job for you. Having been both a dispatcher and a street cop, I can tell you that both positions can offer a similar adrenaline “rush.” Working in an emergency communications center can give you the challenge and excitement of handling everything from suicidal threats to armed robberies to delivering babies, all via the telephone, the computer and the radio. Because you’re responsible not only for the safety of the community but of the officers you serve, the camaraderie runs high, as does the excitement. Be prepared for some job stress and some tense moments, but if like action, dispatch is a great way to serve the community without putting your life on the line.
Do you like to be in the middle of it all?
Look for a job as an administrative aid in a police agency. As any chief or sheriff will tell you, their secretary is one of their most trusted advisors and confidantes. Administrative aides in most police departments are privy to and trusted with a great deal of confidential information and communication; there are few people considered more valuable to the organization. Make sure your skills are sharp and that you can be counted on to keep confidences and you’ll find yourself with an extremely rewarding and interesting career.
Do you crave order and organization?
Look no further than the records section of your local police department. Even in this age of electronic information storage and retrieval, most police agencies generate a surprising amount of “paper” data, all of which has to be collected, filed, and managed. Records technicians often manage both “hard copy” and electronic data, and they also may handle citations, collect bond money, deal with the public at an information window, and staff non-emergency call centers, among many other responsibilities. Look for openings in your area and then ask to sit down with one of the supervisors and see if they offer the type of challenge you are looking for.
Was science you favorite subject in school?
Many local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have civilian opportunities in their crime labs or on their forensic teams. You could work in fingerprint identification, drug analysis, or on a crime scene unit handling crimes from burglaries to homicides. Make sure you have an eye for detail, a mind for science and plenty of patience, and then seek out a good forensic studies program. Some agencies offer on-the-job training, others will require you to have specialized training and/or a degree.
Do you love animals?
Consider becoming an animal control officer. Modern “ACO’s” are nothing like the stereotypical dog catchers of old “Lassie” movies. Today’s animal control officers enforce ordinances, investigate abuse, respond to wildlife calls, and provide invaluable information to the public. As an ACO you may be called upon to give presentations at schools or at your local citizen’s police academy, testify in court, and even assist in child abuse and other criminal cases where animal abuse is often a symptom of a larger issue.
Do you like to be outside?
Many police departments hire civilian “community service officers” to supplement their patrol staff. CSO’s handle lockouts, take non-injury crash reports, direct traffic, work at the front desk and handle many other non-emergency police matters, keeping patrol officers free to address criminal activity and other, more pressing issues. CSO’s are generally issued uniforms and less lethal weapons (such as an ASP, OC spray, and/or a TASER) and drive some sort of marked police unit but do not make traffic stops or take enforcement activity beyond parking citations. They may also perform parking enforcement and other similar duties. They work outside in all weather conditions and interact closely with uniformed officers and the public, so if you’re a “people person” this is the job for you.
Do you like public speaking?
Many police departments have civilianized the crime prevention function. As a “crime prevention specialist” you might be handling neighborhood watch meetings, presenting child safety classes, or developing programs for senior citizens among many other duties. This is an excellent job if you are out-going, enjoy working with different age groups, and believe in the power of prevention.
Are you a techie?
Like most organizations, police departments are dependent on computers and other technology for their day-to-day operations. As a law enforcement computer professional, you may be responsible for myriad duties including managing the dispatch function, the booking system, various databases, personal computers, even assisting the computer crimes unit. The possibilities are endless and depend primarily on the size of the agency you choose and your level of skill and education.
Working with law enforcement can be incredibly rewarding and you don’t need to be able to arrest people to make a difference in the community. If you’re interested in law enforcement but not sure you want to be a full-fledged cop, take a look at the civilian side of fighting crime; you’ll be glad you did!