Finding My Place in the Field of Law Enforcement

My motivation for a career in Law Enforcement has always been about saving and protecting people’s lives and enforcing the law to maintain peace and order in the community. At a young age of course I didn’t realize that to a certain extent, that motivation was based on something partly idealistic and that I was somewhat naive in believing that the path towards such a career would be relatively easy. It wasn’t – but what did not discourage me from continuing was discovering that my motivations, beliefs and expectations were founded on something not only noble, but fundamentally necessary; all of us need security.

We need to pursue the life that we know and the future that we aspire to and be assured that we can accomplish this in a society that can protect us and our rights. What also encouraged me to continue was discovering how challenging and stimulating the field of Law Enforcement was. There’s this perception or stereotype even of the policeman as either being a pencil-pusher, or a gun-toting, trigger happy field person and the truth is that there’s actually a little of both.

Law enforcement after all is an organization- something which the force itself only recently discovered as something equally significant as the traditional enforcement model that most people (and even the police force) think it has always ascribed to. I can say that after 9/11, the entire field had virtually been shaken up and that the traditional model has been scrutinized and tested. I can say that for young people such as myself who are just about to enter the force and are testing the waters so to speak and exploring options, we are most fortunate to be in a time of change and reformation.

A time when Law Enforcement is forced to take a look at itself and make an assessment if its goals, objectives and missions and see if they are still relevant; to ask the question of whether it is still able to fulfill its basic duty of protecting people’s lives and property and upholding the rule of law. My search for a place in the field has given me a whole new perspective not only on this point, but more importantly, on the career aspect of the job.

Again, the common misconception that most people have is that every police-officer is made from a single mold, or come straight out of a generic police academy with nothing but a gun and a badge. The realities which I myself discovered in my search for a job underscore the fact that a career in law enforcement takes the same kind of effort as any other job and even more when one considers the aspect of the dangers of being in the field, or being in the front lines and of course, the stress which takes its toll physically and psychologically.

First, there is the matter of finding an occupational specialty and of the various options, advantages and disadvantages that went along with those options. I had always wanted to be a detective, but my childhood fantasy had to give way to my adult excitement at discovering that special agents were not the only “cool” guys on the force. Another factor was that intelligence work involved a different sets of skill and mindset which I felt I wasn’t prepared for yet. The choices were numerous and difficult; should I be a police officer?

A game warden maybe? Or how about trying out for Homeland Security? The attendant options made selection complicated and difficult as there were variances to consider whether to seek local, state or federal employment. My first consideration of course was the job description- what did it require me to do and if I was up to the task. I had to consider whether I liked regular or general law enforcement work which basically required taking calls and doing paperwork.

A position in a small area or jurisdiction may simply be just that, or in a larger department, I could choose a specific type of duty. Not everyone though is desk bound or spend the rest of their lives on shifts. I have discovered that specializations can be challenging if not downright exciting. For those with appropriate backgrounds and aptitudes, there are particular law enforcement fields where one can specialize in chemical and microscopic analysis, training and firearms instruction, or handwriting and fingerprint identification (OOH, 2007).

Others who may be athletically inclined or have specific interests can also work with special units such as police officers who make their rounds on horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, or harbor patrol. There is also the canine corps, the elite special weapons and tactics (SWAT) or for those with medical backgrounds, on emergency response teams (OOH, 2007) Not as “exotic”, but certainly equally important are law enforcement jobs on the county level such as sheriffs and deputy sheriffs along with their staff or sworn officers.

Sheriff positions however are elective and tend to be occupied by senior officers. In the state level, there are the familiar state troopers or highway patrol officers who enforce security in our nation’s highways. Other more intimidating possibilities include joining the FBI or the Federal Bureau of Investigation perhaps and be in the thick of examining security investigations of national importance. I would think that any police officer who loves and is committed to his work may have at one point in his life dreamt of joining the vaunted bureau.

I could just imagine the tremendous responsibility of doing surveillance work, wiretaps, undercover missions, etc. and be involved in high profile cases such as organized crime, corruption, white collar crime, robbery, espionage, drug trafficking and of course, terrorism (OOH, 2007) The issue of terrorism is a major point in the sense that even if I’m not in the battlefield as a member of the Armed Forces, my role as a police officer in a domestic capacity is just as important, if not more important as 9/11 has evidently shown.

The possibility of harm and danger seems to be much closer to home and as a law enforcement officer who may be employed by the Department of Homeland Security, one gets the chance to defend one’s country without even leaving it. Again, I could only look with a combination of awe and envy at career officers who are Federal Air Marshals; Secret Service special agents and Secret Service uniformed officers who are tasked to protect our country’s highest ranking officials including the President of the United States himself.

But the job description of course only describes the job and not the ability of the person holding it. If statistics are to be taken as a guide or as an indicator of trends on law enforcement jobs, it would seem that according to the U. S. Department of Labor, police and detective work have the highest percentage of jobs in 2006 at 861,000; the bulk of these jobs at 79% went to local governments, 11% went to state police agencies and Federal agencies got the remaining 7%. As expected, the greater concentration of officers was in larger cities and urban areas (OOH, 2007).

The trend of course as I have discovered is that jobs at local police departments are numerous simply because acceptances are easiest for applicants who meet the criteria. A majority of openings that I had come across were possible also because of retiring officers and a fairly large number of others who were “moving up” to bigger jobs in Federal and State law enforcement agencies. Other determining factors that I had discovered was that naturally, departments which offered smaller pay had plenty of openings as well as those areas which were known to have high crime rates.

Qualifications are a bit more difficult even for those who are simply applying for local police jobs. The minimum level of education is a high school diploma or a GED equivalent, but that alone would certainly not get you far if you have aspirations for higher police positions. Jobs in local and State departments often require college degrees or at least relevant courses such as criminal justice, political sciences and a military background (Montaldo, 2007).

I have discovered that if I were to really pursue a high level federal agency job, I should at least have a bachelor’s degree on top of relevant experience in either law enforcement or the military. But once you’re in, the benefits and advantages for further advancement is taken cared of by the agency itself; I came across agencies with work benefits that included paying all or at least part of the expenses of their agents to pursue courses and even degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration of justice and public administration (Montaldo, 2007).

Some of the so-called rookies that I had met were at least 8 to 10 years older with an already impressive if not solid law enforcement background. For top-tier jobs like with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the requirements for getting in are even more intimidating; specific college degrees preferred include Information Technology or Computer Science, Accounting, Electrical Engineering, Law, expertise on a major language and at least 3 years of full-time work experience (FBI, 2007).

But impressive or not, a job is a job first and foremost and a vital requirement is that salaries and compensation should be of course commensurate. The first fact that I had learned about pay scales was that salaries differed by location and what the government allocates for a given period or year. Salaries of police officers have been the object of criticism and with good reason- the stress and the dangers involved does deserve commensurate compensation, but I believe that it isn’t as if there is no room for advancement.

I guess an initial salary of modest size is one of the realities of the job, but as I have always pointed out to people, friends and family included, is that if you’re just focused on what you’ll earn, then it’s not the right career for you. I have always believed that money can make you happy and satisfied with your job, but a lack of serious commitment to it or challenge is something that additional pay cannot change.

Still, I think that it would be daunting for a police officer in a single-income household to make do with an average of $33,000 – $44,000 average starting pay, but how one budgets it really depends on where one lives among a host of other factors (Montaldo, 2007) Still, like I said, there is much room for advancement which depends on one’s personal commitment, skill, ambition and dedication. It’s no secret of course that more high profile State and Federal law enforcement jobs command higher salaries.

There’s even the Law Enforcement Availability Pay or LEAP given to Federal special agents based on the amount of overtime expected with the job; equivalent to 25% of an agent’s grade and step, a basic GS-10 employee with a base salary in the vicinity of $48,000+ can bring that amount to $60,000+ because of the availability pay (FBI, 2007). But more than compensation I realized that a far greater concern for someone like me who is just in the process of looking for a suitable job in law enforcement is to know and understand what is expected of me by my future employers.

A special concern that I have noticed in all the departments that I have looked over is the so-called “generational” gap. While the field was forced to get out of its comfort zone and to revamp its traditional paramilitary structure, most departments are still headed by senior officers whose leadership styles can be described as inflexible, rigid and inordinately committed if not married to their job (Brocklin, 2007).

But the changing times however have made them more aware and open to bridging the generational gap and the results have been not only revealing, but significantly helpful. In several casual interviews with some of them, I began to appreciate the fact that their main concern was instilling an important value among us potential recruits and officers which was to consider the job as not just a career, but a calling.

In short, a fully engaged officer is one who has the attitude of being attracted to and being inspired by the work assigned to him; he is also fully committed; he is both interested and challenged by the work; he cares about the department and values its goal and commitment to serve the community and bring honor to the profession; he can also go beyond the call of duty if it were so required without hesitation or doubt (Brocklin, 2007).

And in this regard, I realized that it isn’t such a tall order for us young officers when the leader himself must also set an example- it takes two to tango after all and if the leadership will not take the initiative, it will certainly not work. Another important concern that I had was being inside the organization itself- sure, I had the calling, the right motivation and the right attitude, but I wasn’t coming in alone; I was entering into an organization with a complex structure and a certain level of expectation of how prospective employees should work, relate with others and behave.

The main emphasis as I have discovered is on effective human relations; after all, in a stressful environment, a certain amount of sensitivity is required not only towards fellow workers but also to the public who are always in contact with the department. There must also be a strong awareness of the department’s goals and objectives and that the success of how these are accomplished is through teamwork- to be a cohesive organization that must be responsive and resourceful in fulfilling the needs of the community (Miali, 2007).

Loyalty is also absolutely necessary for how else can one keep one’s integrity if there is no loyalty to the department and to the community, or if loyalty is compromised in any way? Expectedly, one is also required to develop subordinates; as one pursues a higher degree of responsibility, it is necessary to take under one’s wing, a junior employee who would also receive the guidance and career enhancement that one has also received from the beginning (Miali, 2007). In summation, my search has been fulfilling if not educational.

I can say that for others who have embarked on the same endeavor, I would advise that one should not be hasty in looking for a similar job; the options and the possibilities are endless and the informed decisions must be made. This is not just a career but a great responsibility to society as well and as such, should not be taken lightly. References Brocklin, V. (2007) How Do We Get Young Officers to Commit to the Job Like We Do? Leaders. Leadership Features. Retrieved December 20, 2007, from

http://www. officer. com/ FBI (2007) Career Paths and Opportunities. Retrieved December 20, 2007 from https://www. fbijobs. gov/ Miali, E. (2007) Expectations From Above. Leadership Features. Retrieved December 20, 2007 from http://www. officer. com/ Montaldo, C. (2007) Getting a Job as a Police Officer. Crime/Punishment. Retrieved December 20, 2007 from http://www. about. com/ Occupational Outlook Handbook (2007) Police and Detectives. Retrieved December 20, 2007 from http://www. dol. gov/