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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.)

Weed In Philosophy

First and foremost, they have more latitude to create an entry process that is built more on “weeding in” someone based on chemistry and personality than on checking off the boxes on a long personnel hiring form (as opposed to “weeding out”). While that flexibility can sometimes leads to allegations of cronyism and nepotism, that same emphasis on your personality, along with getting to know that department’s gatekeeper, can more easily lead to a slot when hiring time comes.

There are a variety of ways that you can get to know the small agency gatekeeper (chief or sheriff) to show off your personality that would dovetail nicely with the community. Some of those include participating in ride alongs with the officers or neighborhood watch groups. You could even take a step further and get the training on your own (many states have that available through local community colleges) to become a volunteer reserve or auxiliary law enforcer. Stretched thin in the manpower area, they’ll appreciate the help and get a good look at your abilities, talents, and personality.

Secondly, since small agencies tend to have higher turnover than larger agencies, that hiring time may come around sooner than you think. Folks leave because the pay isn’t as good as larger agencies that look more seriously at them now that they are armed with more training and experience. Officers also leave smaller agencies as they get jammed up by bad decisions or criminal activity. Additionally, small agency politics sometimes drives those officers off, but they often find that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. Politics exist in agencies of all sizes; they are just in different forms.

That turnover works for you as you can get that chance you are looking for to prove yourself. There are some advantages and some prefer to work for a smaller department.

While the call volume may not be there, small jurisdiction officers get a chance to follow their cases farther as they are not just referring it over to the investigations bureau. In a small department, the responding patrol officer is the investigator doing the follow up.

Danger and Challenges

The seriousness of the work and danger in small agencies is as real as those in larger agencies. That is especially true since many smaller agencies are running thin of manpower and back up is few and far between. Rural sheriff’s offices have that as an acute problem in their geographically far flung counties.

A check of sites such as Officer Down Memorial Page ( illustrates that small agency officers face many of the same dangers and challenges as their larger jurisdiction brethren. Officers from all sizes and types of agencies share the moniker of crime fighter.

Another advantage to working in a smaller agency is the opportunity to get know may people in the community on a first name basis. You are their neighbor and their officer. Their problems are often your problems and, if you handle those issues well, they will have strong, positive feelings for you. As officers in smaller agencies tend to more often live in the communities that they police, the ties to the community tend to be stronger.

In that bid to become a badge bearer, don’t dismiss smaller police departments and sheriff’s offices. They are worth a hard look and they are often structured to give you that chance to prove yourself.

You can join a smaller jurisdiction and be a respected law enforcer. This is one where size doesn’t matter; rather it’s how you practice the art of law enforcement that counts.

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, “The Cop Doc,” is a former police chief, ex busy jurisdiction patrol deputy sheriff, and criminal justice educator who has written articles and provided media commentary since 1989. He can be reached via

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 2 years ago


    Even if a year or more has passed since you worked, you can still find a job. Several steps such as attending professional events, filling out job applications and working with employment agencies are similar to what they were years ago. Others steps have changed with the advent of the Internet. Today you can also use social networks, online job boards and company websites to find a job from manager positions to truck driving jobs in tucson az.

  • Coloradologo_max600_max50


    about 4 years ago


    One of my favorite concepts from the Academy was "totality of the circumstances". We are asked to look at things from a big picture perspective. The hiring process should be designed to hire "the best person for the job". Unfortunately the hiring process for many agencies seems to be a burocratic mess that rewards people who are good at getting hired by police departments, not being good prospective officers. On the other hand, I've learned that there are a lot of politics happening in the background at small departments. This is how people who barely pass the academy or POST test get hired while people with 4.0 academy GPA's don't. I'm learning that WHO you know can be as important as WHAT you know in the PD hiring process.

    I don't mean to sound overly negative, and by no means am I questioning the quality of people currently working in departments. I am just saying that a better balance of "the process" with "the person" might make things work better. I'm always amazed that my friends who work for the agencies with the most tediously complicated hiring process seem to have the most people not making it through FTO and the highest turnover rates. Either the process doesn't work as well as they think it will, or it is a symptom of a bigger "red tape" issue that turns people off once they get there.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    small agency=good experience to do alittle of everything

  • Bdulrge7old_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article, completely rang true in my experience so far in the application process. Fortunately, I am in the final waiting step with a department with over 500 Officers.

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 4 years ago


    A Mouth full for the Small....

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    You learn to do it all.

  • Edres_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Some of the most diligent officers did not have a perfect backround and were afforded an opportunity to let they're talents shine on the right side of the law

  • Edres_max50


    over 4 years ago



  • 100_0171_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I got lucky enough to find a chief that took a chance on me. While the bigger agencies had that weeding out process, my chief looked at my drive, desire to learn and commitment to the job. Those that leave the smaller departments for the money, I understand. I want the shield. I want The Job.

  • Img_0103_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Words well spoken "JohnS1111"... And I wish you well Sir...

  • Fallenherobadge-3-1_max160_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Dr. Weinblatt, Thank you for the encouraging words in a time when jobs are at a premium and applicants are abundant. In this day and age many people are in denial of their past and if they have made mistakes they need to own up and take responsibility for those decisions. I am ready to retire from the military with a spotless career and have been very diligent to do the right thing even when no one is looking - Integrity. I have been applying for large, medium and small police jobs for the past year and I am encouraged that departments will look for the qualities that are honed in the military. I have served for 20 and look forward to continued service to the good people of the community where I will eventually work.
    I am discouraged by the fact that people that do not meet the basic qualifications are still being considered. If you have a visible tattoo and the dept. does not accept this, then don't even apply. Same applies for drug use, don't bother. If the applicant lacks integrity to follow the law when no one is looking, they will be the same ones to twist policy if it suits them when they screw up. If you screw up, admit it, take the punishment and move on.
    In this day of limited budgets and positions, let the qualified applicants shine and get the jobs. All others may want to rethink their past indiscretions. For those of you who think this is harsh, or is a tough pill to swallow, then I am probably talking about you, think about it.

  • Picture_204_max50


    over 4 years ago


    good synopsis of smaller agencies. working in a smaller agency ,there are times (almost every day) when we are in an agency assist to our neighboring bigger city and sheriffs departments, wheather it's follow up to a theft , a car chase , atl a vehicle with drugs or involved in human smuggling. the added benefit is we depend on each other and communicate beyond our jurisdiction.
    many cases have been solved involving inter agency relations.
    the negatives (as some might think) is there is no gang task , accident, traffic,arson units in small agencies. we are the responder , investigator and contact for most of our cases. as referenced in the article , some get the training and knowledge and move on to bigger agencies but also as stated ; the grass ain't always greener on the other side.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I lved my second department. It was just the sheriff, undersheriff and me. It wa sgood for education and taining on the job. Long time ago.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I started police work as a part time officer in 1972 I went on full time in 1981. This was a small police department. I worked my way all the way to the top and learned a lot in this small department of only 50 officers. I am glad that I started with a small department and stayed with them it payed off . because I worked hard and new all the officers I made it all the way to chief of police

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