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Does Size Matter? Small Agencies: The Cop Career Gatekeepers

Does Size Matter? Small Agencies: The Cop Career Gatekeepers

Westmoreland Police Department (Tenn.)

As the economic crisis for local government has deepened over the past few years, so too has the belt been tightened at law enforcement agencies. Once a seller’s market, the crime fighter hiring endeavor has morphed into a buyer’s market. Many police departments and sheriff’s offices have found that, in the event that they are able to hire, they have the ability to pick from a much larger pool of applicants than they had in years past.

Applicants in an increasing number find themselves thinking: “If only the right person believed in me, I could have a chance to prove myself.” Don’t despair, dear reader, as there is a way to make that thinking work for you and here’s how.

Weed Out Philosophy

Larger agencies have multiple step screening processes that involve many people and have are oriented to screening those out that do not fit the range of criteria. For example, they may have a drug usage policy for new hires. If you fall out of that range, you are out of the process. They may have a college or military service experience requirement. Again, if you are not within the parameters of that policy, you are disqualified.

At larger agencies, in general, there is a drive to have the process focus on what excludes people and not necessarily what includes people. We have all seen, either first hand or through the forums and discussion boards, officers say that a certain person would make for a great police officer save for a certain indiscretion many years ago that was a disqualifier under a static and unbending process.

That is not to say that larger agency officers and deputies aren’t excellent officers; they sure are terrific. But the larger, bureaucratic methods used to manage the avalanche of applicants means that they have to adhere to an objective, cookie cutter approach that also guards against veering from the strict criteria.

Many people are involved in the process and the ability to say yes to an applicant is restricted by the rigidity of the screening process. These are not gatekeepers that can grant you access if any part of you falls outside of that narrow parameter.

In order to get that chance and get your foot in the door, you need to become more creative and seek out places where the gatekeeper authority is vested in single person or handful of people. Further that gatekeeper individual or people has to have the authority to use their flexibility and subjectivity to see you as a person worth taking a chance on.

As a hiring municipal police gatekeeper myself, I had second chances applicants and they turned out to be fine officers. They were investigated further and the drive was to figure out ways to justify taking the chance; not the other way around.

But where, you ask, are those gatekeepers that hold the keys?

Small Agency Gatekeepers

Smaller agencies are a great place to find those gatekeepers that are not stuck to long, “weed out” oriented process. Often dismissed by those seeking the big name and pay that mega departments bring, smaller agencies bring much to the table.

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  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    I have always been a small dept kind of guy. I was with a 24 man dept which was good. Now my dept is 12 man and growing. I love the community and a firm believer in community oriented policeing. Great Article.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    Excellent article and points. I went from the larger agency of 0200+ officers, after realizing that the big city thing was not were I wanted to be for 20+ years, to a smaller agency of 6 officers. I wish I would have had this information back when I first started. Not that the bigger agency/city is bad (I learned a hell of a lot from working there), but I love the flexibility of working my own cases all the way through from start to finish. I still have the same type of things that the big city has, just a lot more time to deal with those problems.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    A personal addendum to my comment on this article, the intimacy, both between fellow officers and the community, is one reason I like smaller agencies, whatever they may be. Joining the medium, large and mega-sized departments bring more perks, but its the people who really make the job worthwhile. It'd be nice to be an actual person as opposed to simply an ID number or "back-up."

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    This is one of the finest articles I have ever read on Police Link. Plenty of wisdom for any of us working towards a career in law enforcement.

    My only challenge to this article: not all "small" agencies are alike. I know of many such departments that utilize the same bureaucratic approach to officer selection as the medium, large and mega-sized departments. Small cities like Annapolis and Rockville in Maryland, as well as Fairfax and Manassas in Virginia, have departments ranging anywhere from 70 - 200 officers, but are operated a lot like your more "stereotypical" agencies. My point being, "small" is not just numbers or organizational complexity; its also a state of mind, so to speak. The aforementioned departments serve cities who have rather substantial governments overall and relatively large populations.

    It seems to me that Dr. Weinblatt means to refer to the departments of small towns or cities that do not have as large a population, have smaller governments, or even campus agencies (those are truly small departments!). The community to which the agency belongs to as well as how the overall government is sized, structured and operated plays a lot into how "bureaucratic" a department is when it comes to hiring people. A government's bureaucratic nature tends to "trickle down" to the agencies below it, regardless of the agency's size.

    This highlights the importance of an applicant thuroughly examining potential agencies to apply to. Going off of numbers alone does not tell a person whether a department likes to weed out or weed in applicants.

    Still, superb article. I plan on following the good doctor's advice!

  • American_flag_eagle_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Great Article.

  • Mr_ree_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    realspecialagent, you may have had a 14-man department experience, but the author of this article was the 'chief' of a 5-man department, including himself. He really does know about teeny departments. He really does not know about larger agencies other than what he has heard.

    Small agencies vs large agencies amount to less than a handful of differences. Pay and job description. All the other nuances are the same: Your standing and who you know no matter how much its denied.

  • Ship_patch_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Another great article at Police Link !!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Bump AnchAK, I am a reserve Officer for a small department and we handle everything ourselves.

  • Badge_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I've found that a smaller department can be even more challenging at times than a larger department. In smaller departments, the patrol officer may handle all of his or her own cases exclusively, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies, petty crimes all the way up to serious assaults, or murders. Smaller departments may not afford you te luxury of taking an initial contact report and handing it off to the detective or investigators.

    Smaller departments allow you to have more intimate knowledge of your community. During an off duty critical incident, if you are ever involved in one, responding officers to the call in a smaller department are more likely to recognize you immediately than in say, a large department where officers dont know eachother from different shifts.

    Pay can be smaller in smaller departments, it depends on who you work for and geographic location as well. Smaller departments may allow you to be on more of a personal level with your local prosecutors, which can help greatly at times during the course of your investigations.

    The pay will be more often greater in larger departments, but you may wait months or years before getting hired on at one. I totally bombed at my hiring board at a small department and still got hired; they knew that it was my first ever interview wit a hiring board and they found it in themselves to really look at who I was and what I was about and I was given a chance I will never regret and always appreciate for the rest of my life.

    If you've never interviewed for a police officer or deputy position, get in the know and talk to people who have. As with any department interviews, dress well, look sharp, be clean cut and know what your going to say before you answer the questions. Good luck to all who are trying to hire on at smaller department.

  • Happy_father__s_day_by_harseik-d3jd2qj_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    This is a good article (well, aside from some spelling issues). I am in the federal government; however 16 years ago I started in a 14 man department in northwestern New Mexico. Yes I left over many issues, including pay, but, to this day I miss it greatly.

  • Justice-400_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I'm currently crossing my fingers on getting through the process at a very small department of five officers (that includes the chief). The odds were pretty amazing; 50 applied, 25 said they would attend testing, 15 showed up, 12 passed the physical, 7 passed the written and went on to oral boards for two positions. I'm really excited!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Great article. A small department is a great training ground from the ground up. I worked for both large and small in my 35 year career. Believe it or not, I was a lot more involved in a small department. You did it all from the first officer on the scene, the crime scene investigator all the way to the courtroom you did it all.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Dr. Weinblatt,
    Thanks for pointing out options for people wanting to get their start in law enforcement. Please make sure that people know that over 80% of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are staffed with less than 25 sworn officers/deputies. In reality there are not as many large agencies as one may think.


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    Very well said! There is in fact a wealth of experience and character to be had in officers who left their previous agencies for any variety of reasons (I would submit that a lack of true servant-leadership on the part of many supervisors and inadministrators is at the root of most of our problems as a profession). Many go on to make great officers if they are fortunate enough to find an agency willing to "take a chance" and with a background investigator who is willing to dig deeper and see a bigger picture. We have a tendancy to lose our compassion as a profession ("There but for the grace of God go I.").

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