Getting Started in a Law Enforcement Career

Law enforcement offers a number of opportunities for college graduates to enjoy a fun and rewarding career. The life of a patrol officer provides a measure of variety and excitement not found in other jobs, while at the same time presenting the chance to help others and serve society at large.

Getting started in a law enforcement career is not difficult, especially for those with prior military experience or a college education. The first step in the process is to simply apply.

State Requirements
Most states have established minimum requirements for police officers, which generally provide that you must be either 19 or 21 years old, be a United States citizen, have a high school diploma or G.E.D. and not be a convicted felon.

The application process will entail a thorough background check, a test of your physical abilities and a medical evaluation by a physician. Depending on the department you have applied with, you may also expect to undergo a polygraph exam, psychological evaluation and eye exam.

Everyday, in some way or another, you will find that you truly make a difference in people’s lives.

Do your research and determine what department you want to work for. While law enforcement officers are legally capable of performing the same functions regardless of what department they work for, different agencies offer different specialized services on a day-to-day basis.

A sheriff’s deputy will be responsible for law enforcement in unincorporated parts of their county. Sheriff’s offices are typically tasked with serving process and warrants, and often serve as bailiffs for the court system.

Local police departments are restricted to the city limits in which they are assigned and handle all law enforcement functions within their jurisdiction.

State police and highway patrol functions differ from state to state, but usually specialize in traffic enforcement and public safety.

Federal Jobs
At the federal level, you can find uniformed law enforcement jobs in areas such as customs enforcement, border security, and in the Capitol Police Department. The United States Secret Service also has a uniformed division.

For college graduates, the opportunity for advancement will likely weigh heavily in choosing which agency to work for. As a general rule, larger departments will have many more opportunities both for promotion and lateral transfers. The larger the department, the more resources are usually available and the more specialty units there are. State agencies, due to their size, often offer the best opportunity to advance quickly.

In the current economy, competition is tough across all job markets. With a diminished economy, however, comes the concern of a rising crime rate. This means many police departments are looking for ways to put more officers on the streets. The best way to compete is to complete your degree and keep a clean record.

For those who are still in college and considering a career in law enforcement, be certain that police work is for you. Consider applying for internships with local departments and go on ride-alongs often if available. This will help you get a real feel for the job duties and can also help you build contacts within the agency that may be helpful further down the line if you apply for a job.

Few careers offer the same satisfaction that law enforcement can. Everyday, in some way or another, you will find that you truly make a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s simply giving them a warning and asking them to slow down or helping a victim of crime, you will be able to sleep better at night knowing you helped make the world a better place that day.

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