If you’re a young person thinking about going into law enforcement, you may wonder if it’s the right career for you and if so, what steps you can take now to get the most out of your career later.
While a law enforcement career can be challenging, it can also be very exciting and fulfilling for the right kind of person. Men and women who have had successful careers in law enforcement report that they love their jobs, and have made many lifelong friends at work.
So, what should young people know about pursuing a career in law enforcement? Veteran cops advise young people considering this career to get at least a college degree and preferably a master’s degree, stay physically fit, and consider military service.
While most people think of local or state police departments when they think of a career in law enforcement, don’t forget that there are many other options, and not all of them require carrying a sidearm and busting perps.
Education Will Make You a Better Officer
When PoliceOne.com editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie asked real cops what they’d say to a young person who asked them about getting into law enforcement, most veteran officers said that their most important piece of advice would be to stay in school.
You don’t need a college degree to get into law enforcement; many police departments will hire you with just a high school diploma or some college credits, but not a full degree.That, however, doesn’t mean that higher education won’t serve you well in a law enforcement career. The more education you have, the more money you’ll make, and the more opportunities for advancement you’ll have.
Many cops who started on the force young said they ended up going back to school online or at night to get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice or a related field. Many also said they wished they’d made school more of a priority when they were younger.
Physical fitness is very important for law enforcement officers, who must spend their days running after suspects, climbing, jumping, lifting, pushing, dragging, and carrying heavy objects, and even using physical force to subdue or restrain suspects.
In order to be admitted to a police academy, you’ll need to pass a physical fitness test. So if you’re a young person thinking of joining law enforcement, do whatever you can to stay fit. Joining one or more school sports teams is a good start.
Consider Military Service
Military service is a good way to get and stay physically fit, and it will also give you a better idea of whether or not you’re cut out for law enforcement — much of your success in a law enforcement career will depend on your ability to follow orders and be disciplined. Veteran police officer Bob Carroll told PoliceOne.com that joining the military is a good way to get an advantage in applying to federal law enforcement jobs.
“Take some time after college and consider the military for experience, because in federal law enforcement, military time will transfer to [your] retirement. After spending time in the military, if [you] would still like to be a law enforcement officer, start by applying to federal agencies first. The pay is better and it takes fewer years to earn a retirement,” Carroll said.
Other veteran officers agreed that federal law enforcement offers better pay and benefits, and some said they had advised their own children to go into federal, not local, law enforcement.
Remember, You Have Options
A law enforcement career doesn’t have to mean working as a police officer. Other options include:
- FBI agent
- Secret Service agent
- Game warden
- Customs and Border Patrol agent
- State Trooper
- Forensic scientist
If you get into a branch of law enforcement and it doesn’t feel like a good fit, you can always explore another.
If you’re a young person considering going into law enforcement, you should know what steps to take to get the most out of your career. Perhaps the most important thing is to get your education out of the way as soon as possible, preferably before you start your career in law enforcement. A solid educational background is the key to success in law enforcement, and in life.
photo credit: dirt bike cops 2 : market street, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)