You can protect and serve your way into a rewarding job as a police
officer. North American police forces have been putting up Wanted posters
-- for new recruits.
"Police services have been hiring new officers in large numbers the last
few years," says Walter Greczko. He is the coordinator of a police foundations
program at a college.
There are many reasons for the opportunities. Retirement, promotions,
population growth and government spending inspired by security-conscious citizens
are all factors.
"It is the state of the world that means we'll always need police officers,"
says Cora Beem. She is a retired chief of police, and the associate director
of the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Police work has become much more complicated and requires more police
officers. New technology and issues such as the threat of terrorism have greatly
increased the workload and challenges for police services, and so there is
a great deal of hiring of new officers taking place at the present," says
The hiring of new police officers must keep up with population growth.
That means when the country grows, so does the police force.
"Many serving police officers are nearing retirement age and leaving in
large numbers," says Greczko. With an aging population, new recruits must
keep up with retiring officers.
Since policing is a government service, the level of government spending
affects the opportunities for police officers. Because there are many levels
of government, job opportunities can vary from place to place.
"We train nearly 750 recruit officers a year for departments throughout
the state -- so it depends on where you want to work and how often they have
vacancies that will dictate how quickly you get hired," says Beem.
Police forces have been actively recruiting to make the faces you see on
the force reflect the diverse faces you see in North America. We live in a
multi-cultural society, and administrators want police forces to reflect that.
The numbers or visible minorities and women are therefore increasing.
What Police Want
Requirements for becoming a law enforcement officer vary across North America.
Even the age at which a person can join varies, ranging from 18 to 21. There
are some constants, including being in good physical condition and having
a clean criminal record.
Candidates can expect thorough background checks. And just because there
are a lot of jobs does not mean those jobs are easy to land.
"Police services have high standards when hiring police officers, so anyone
interested in becoming a police officer should look at the requirements which
are posted on the websites of each police service," says Greczko.
Beem says that some people are involved in the hiring process with departments
for two to three years before they get a job. She says that future officers
should choose the size of the town they want to police, then apply in communities
that are close to friends or family.
"It is important to have a support team in place," she says.
Taking the First Bite
If you decide you want to take a bite out of crime, don't bite off more
than you can chew. "Don't jump into large departments right away -- I have
found that many officers fail there because they lack experience. Start with
a small agency, spend four to five years, and then decide what to do next,"
Those with college training in police science or with military experience
will do the best in local or state departments. To work for a federal agency,
you'll need a bachelor's degree and several years of experience.
"Police work has become very competitive as many departments have higher
standards, exceptional employee benefits and a chance to do a job unlike any
other," says Matt Barker. He just got a job in a police department in Tempe,
Barker came to policing as a volunteer in his local police department's
Explorer program. He recommends joining a similar program.
"During the five years I was in this program, I learned that police work,
although exciting at times, is full of paperwork -- the stuff that you don't
see on the TV."
TV is not the place to look for career advice. Future police officers
must get out into their communities and get experience with real people.
"The opportunities in policing are endless, and there are so many positions
and divisions to get involved in without switching companies or careers,"
says Jason Toms. He is training to become a police officer and work his way
up through the ranks.
"To me, policing is an adventure, and being able to work as a team and
make a positive difference in the community that I live in is important,"
This site has a listing of police training academies and colleges
throughout the United States
Calendar of training opportunities
How to Become a Police Officer
The basics on getting into this career