Police officers have sworn by oath to protect local communities for the greater good. They are entrusted to respond to emergencies and reduce crime in their respective regions by safeguarding both people and property. There are many areas of interest in law enforcement, so the day-to-day schedule can be very different for each specialty.
Uniformed police officers issue traffic tickets, respond to emergency and non-emergency calls, arrest suspects and testify in court. Some specialty units include canine, narcotics and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). There are 780,000 jobs in the U.S. for police officers and the top 10 percent earn more than $93,000 each year.
Get acquainted with the police department you’re applying to, and talk to some of the police officers on the force. Each police department has different standards and opportunities depending on its locality and size. Knowing what to expect about the day-to-day responsibilities is important to make sure it’s the right career choice for you. Having a professional police officer as a resource will help prepare for the academy, and can also serve as a role model after training.
Get involved in your local law enforcement. You’ll establish relationships with professionals in the industry and start getting familiar with the culture. Volunteer or work at different positions within a variety of departments to get a better idea of your career goals. You can start building years of experience in the field while you’re earning your degree.
Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will help police recruits stand out in the competitive hiring process. It’s also a crucial necessity for promotion opportunities, such as advancing to a detective. A criminal justice program will prepare students to enter a career at federal, state or local police departments. Students will learn about police department structure, justice laws and criminal prosecution. They will have an understanding of how a modern day law enforcement agency operates in its daily responsibilities between departments and different levels of government. The ethics of policing will also be emphasized, as well as the relationship between a community and its police force.
These are some common subjects students would study for criminal justice and law enforcement:
- Crisis Intervention for Police
- Crime Analysis
- Criminal Justice Ethics
- Management in Criminal Justice Organizations
- Criminal Law
- Effective Community Policing
- Introduction to Sociology
- Juvenile Justice
Applicants must graduate from their local agency’s training academy before getting hired to a department. An applicant must have a high school diploma, be a U.S. citizen, and have no serious criminal offenses. Although specifics of academy training differ between police departments, all applicants must pass physical and written exams, drug tests and a series of interviews.
Before the academy, refresh your knowledge of criminal law and law enforcement structure. No need to become an expert, however, because that will be reserved for academy and on-the-job training. Familiarize yourself with how to keep a uniform in spic-n-span condition, including proper placement of badges and spit-shine boots.
Start a physical regime as soon as possible, and research what your agency’s fitness requirements are. If you start working out just before the academy, you’ll likely overextend yourself and get injured. You can get dropped during the academy for injuries. Start with the basics of sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups and run every day. You should be able to easily run a 4-mile distance. You’ll also perform job-related workouts while in the academy such as body drags, wall climbs and sprints. Make sure to always cool down and stretch.
Promotions in the police departments are garnered by education and on-the-job experience. Continue to earn certifications and sought-after training skills. If your goal is to work in law enforcement administration as management, you should start working toward a master’s degree in criminal justice or public administration.