Police Force

Being a member of the police force, whether it's the local community force, the state force, or a federal force, places you on the front line of law enforcement in the protection of lives and property. As a major player in the Criminal Justice degree field, the police force performs the roles of pursuing, apprehending, and reporting. In fact, a large amount of a police officer's duty is to write and maintain the records of law breaking incidents.

Most police officers are responsible for patrolling specific areas or community jurisdictions where they become accustomed to the daily routines of the citizens. Police forces that are located within the metropolitan urban centers generally engage in a form of 'community policing' where the relationships that they build with the local neighborhood citizens help to assist them in fighting crime and maintaining order.

The police force also serves as the first responders called upon for maintaining the law and order at a situation. They may be responsible for directing highway traffic at a collision, investigate a break in, or provide the first medical assistance to an accident victim. A police officer also gathers the facts and collects evidence on every incident in which they play a role.

The exact duties of a police force can vary depending upon if they are a member of a local community force, the state force, or a federal force. State and federal laws often restrict the responsibilities of which police force may have the right for enforcement in a specific area. For example, a police officer, a game warden, or a detective are all law enforcement positions, but they are responsible for enforcing different aspects of the law and, to some degree, in different locations.

Private police forces are those found typically serving areas such as a college or university campus, a public school district, a retail mall center, or a public transportations facility. These private police forces play a major role in protecting public safety by supplementing the public police forces.

Police officers often become specialists on the force in such areas as weapons handling and criminal investigations. By using their matrix of specialists, a police force can bring their own professional in-house expertise to solving a crime or investigation without the need for outside assistance.

Police Officers

Police officers are some of the most highly respected members of the community, next to the men and women serving in the military armed forces, and rightfully so since they often put their lives on the line for the safety of society. The career of a police officer can fluctuate from spurts of extremely high adrenaline during pursuits of criminals to levels of tedium and boredom in dealing with reporting and filing paperwork. As a result, a police officer must have specialized training and an education to maintain a high level of endurance for both the body and the mind.

The education of a police officer can vary from organization to organization. Some jurisdictions require no college diploma, while others require a Criminal Justice degree or enrollment in an affiliated police science program. New officers are also normally required to attend a community- or state-operated police academy where the basics of handgun safety, law enforcement technology, and police patrolling techniques can be taught. Once enlisted and accepted into the police force, an officer continues to receive an ongoing amount of training and education for the latest in technology, procedures, and tactics.

Staying in peak physical condition is one of the most important requirements that must be maintained when being a police officer, especially if the officer's duty requires patrolling the neighborhood on a daily basis. The reason is simple as the job is physically demanding and enduring. The ability to give chase at a moment's notice against a suspect by foot, by car, by horseback, or by other means is a major part of an officer's role in their enforcement of the law.

The stress and strain of a police officer's daily routine places a high level of endurance on the mental conditioning challenges required by the job as well. The fact that an officer carries a gun that can end a human life in a matter of seconds carries an enormous responsibility to administer law enforcement with a sense of morality and justice. A police officer must know what is right and what is wrong. The police officer must also perform his daily commitment with an analytical sense of thinking that goes through a systematic approach process to solving a crime or recording the facts of a case. At the same time, the officer must be able to provide compassion and comfort to a fellow member of society, from the sufferings that may befall a victim at a motor vehicle accident. For an untrained individual such a daily grind could produce tremendous emotional swings, but for the trained police officer, it's all part of a day's work.

The daily routine of a police officer typically falls into three categories, an active patrolling of the community, providing a law enforcement response to an incident, and filling out the paper work that documents their response to that incident. A police officer's law enforcement services will include everything from the pursuit of criminals, to summoning help at a motor vehicle accident, to the handing out of traffic tickets.

The role of a police officer is exceedingly demanding, but it is a role that is also a rewarding occupation and one that carries a deeply personal sense of pride, honor, integrity, and character in a criminal justice career dedicated to public service.

Police Training at the Academy: What to Expect

A career in police work can only be undertaken following graduation from a state or federally approved police academy. Police training at the academy will prepare you on many levels to perform as a proficient, safe, and competent police officer upon graduation. While academies are either state or independently operated, all police academies must pass regional accreditation to maintain operations. A large metropolis, such as New York City or Los Angeles, may have a police academy affiliated with the city police department. Smaller municipalities may send potential recruits to a statewide academy program for police training. Check with your local government to find out how your state governs the police academy and training programs.

There are two ways to enter a police academy, and the one that applies to your region depends on the affiliated police department or state legislation. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, hire candidates onto the police force prior to their attending the affiliated police academy. Other cities and states may require candidates to pass a state-approved academy before applying to the local police department. Furthermore, some local governments require that police academy graduates take a state-level police examination prior to being activated as an officer, whereas others require that the graduate obtain work within a police department to activate their status as a police officer.

If your state mandates graduation from the state police academy prior to applying to the police force, you must be cognizant of the selection requirements and eligibility criteria. Although these vary considerably by state, some requirements are uniform. All candidates must be between eighteen and twenty-one years of age, must be a U.S. citizen, and must possess a clean record without felony or misdemeanor convictions, a clean driving record, and a high school diploma or GED at a minimum. Many academies encourage at least an associate-degree level of education, preferably in criminal justice or an associated field. You will also be required to take a physical fitness test, which may include a timed run and basic calisthenics such as sit-ups, push-ups, and the like.

Depending on the state' s timeline, you will have to pass physical and academic training standards prior to acceptance in the police academy. For cities such as Los Angeles, where the department hires the trainee prior to police academy attendance, these examinations and screenings are completed prior to the actual hire. Some cities may complete the screening and tests prior to acceptance into the academy, to be repeated upon application to the police force. At the very least, you may expect a drug screen, polygraph, character assessment, physical examination, and psychology evaluation. These tests are administered orally, physically, and on the computer. You will be subjected to a complete background check and your prior employment history will be scrutinized as well.

Although the courses offered by each academy vary, they follow the same central theme: get the cadet ready emotionally, intellectually, and physically to perform as a competent officer and an addition to the police force. Classes will incorporate both physical and didactic training, which will vary in duration depending on the academy you attend. Physical fitness preparation may come in the form of daily PT, tactics and self-defense, de-escalation, and pressure-hold techniques. Weapons training is an all-inclusive way to educate cadets on basic firearms and accoutrements of the police officer. Classes on driving, safety, and traffic law enforcement will prepare you for your starting role on the police force as a patrol officer. Larger cities may provide academics on gang awareness, HIV and AIDS, and human relations. Most academies will conclude training with departmental specifics such as making an arrest, booking procedures, writing reports, and state law.

Regardless of which academy you attend or are sent to, you will graduate ready to perform your first duty as an official police officer. Competition for selection to a police academy may be keen, especially if you are trying to get into a major metropolis. Prepare your mind and body for the challenges that lie ahead with ongoing education, perhaps obtaining advanced degrees in criminal justice, as well as a rigorous physical training program. If you make if through and graduate the police academy, many programs award the sidearm and shield as a part of the graduation ceremony.

Planning for a Career as a Police Officer

Law enforcement is a flexible career choice, with many professions and educational options that pave the way. Careers as a police officer are available at the county, state, and federal levels. For the county, police officers may work in the game sector, such as park police or for the sheriff. At the state level, police officers can work in highway patrol, state crime labs, or state narcotics. Federally, police officers hold positions in the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Transportation. If you are planning for a career as a police officer, explore the myriad ways to get there.

Police work is physically and mentally demanding. While the glorified police persona depicted on television may have sparked your interest in this career, the profession is not always glamorous. Police work, especially in large metropolises, can be dangerous. Getting a position on the force is highly competitive, with physical, psychological, and aptitude testing required for most police departments. Although some departments do not mandate hours of collegiate education, others do, and a college degree may place you above your peers during selection time.

Past work experience in criminal justice careers and the military is highly valued when transferring to police work. Due to the similarities in physical, mental, and educational experience, many police departments have transfer programs for retiring armed forces members. Service members may enjoy expedited testing during the police officer screening tests as well as higher pay, especially for veteran service members. However, you must hold an honorable discharge from the military; dishonorably discharged service members are not accepted as police officers.

The entry-level degree requirement for some police academies is simply a high school diploma or equivalent. However, most forces will not accept candidates who are younger than twenty-one years of age, with an upper age limit of thirty-five years of age. An associate degree in a related field, such as criminal justice, is highly recommended and is a prerequisite for applying to the police academy in some large cities. The NYPD, for example, requires potential candidates to have at least sixty college-level credits or a minimum of two years in the service.

If you do not have experience in a related field, you will need to start the application process at the entry level. Police officer candidates apply to the department where they wish to serve. Following the application, a series of screening exams ensues, including but not limited to a Department of Civil Service screening examination, a medical exam and record screening, a thorough background check, oral and written psychology tests, and character assessments. You must also be a U.S. citizen and have a clear employment history. Candidates who are ill, overweight, out of shape, convicted felons, or hold other convictions, or who are not U.S. citizens, will not be accepted into the police academy.

Once your screening and exams are completed, you may be hired on condition and selected to attend the department's police academy. The length of each academy's training varies, though the schooling typically lasts about eighteen weeks. The goal of the police academy is to prepare future police officers through education and training. Academy instruction may include courses on firearms, tactical operations, unit-specific training, traffic enforcement, report writing, and related police procedures. This academic training is paired with physical training to get candidates in optimal shape for their service. An acceptance into the academy does not automatically provide a position on the force as a police officer; competition is keen and dropouts are common.

Upon successful completion of the police academy, you will be placed in a starting position, unless you have years of military or specialized experience. Most new officers begin their careers in patrol, enforcing traffic and civilian laws. Depending on the force, you may be eligible to take an exam and escalate in pay and grade after two years of competent service on patrol. The detective and sergeant exams are required for career advancement, with sergeant being the highest-paid police officer on the force.

Career opportunities in a police force extend to:

  • Sheriff
  • Deputy Sheriff
  • Bailiff
  • Highway Patrol Officer
  • Detective
  • Fish and Game Warden
  • Airport and Railroad Security
  • Campus Security
  • ..and many more

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