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 (www.odmp.org) 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 www.TheCopDoc.com.