Have you ever had this happen to you?
You just finished a traffic stop or dealing with someone on a call. The person you are dealing with has a record as long as his brain capacity is short. He says to you with a very serious look on his face, “I am interested in being a cop, how do I do that?”
You try to suppress the urge to laugh directly at him. You stop yourself from telling him that he may want to look into how the scientists at MIT are coming along with that time-traveling technology. If that works out he should consider a lobotomy.
Maybe you mumble something about there being a test or say nothing and get the hell out of there. Either way, you have a pretty good idea that this guy won’t find his way into the academy.
Real Questions from a Real Person
But, how do you answer that question when it comes from someone else? Someone who is earnest, a good person and who seems genuine in their interest. They may even be someone you know or who is a relative. If you are of the right age maybe it is even your own son or daughter.
I have some experience with how to handle this question from both sides.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to get a summer job in a police department in a small town. It bordered the city I grew up in and where I work today.
It was a great experience. I learned a lot about dealing with people and it introduced me to the real world of police operations. I kept the job for many years all through college and it turned into a full-time job as a civilian clerk after college.
Along the way, it helped solidify my desire to pursue a career in policing. Throughout that time with varying levels of seriousness I would ask the police officers I knew from work about the process of becoming a police officer. I wanted to know what to expect and how to best prepare.
I got lots of advice, most of it well meaning. I would occasionally get the “are you out of your mind kid? Do something else. This job only has assholes inside and out.” I learned to consider the source on that last bit of advice. The one universal theme to all of this advice and information was that it was at least partially wrong in one way or another.
I soon came to understand that the absolute worst person to ask about how to become a cop, was someone who was currently a cop. The information seems to have just fallen from their brain.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do my best
Now as a cop I have gotten this question numerous times. I do my best to give the best information I can.
I try to keep in mind that things do change and the process might not be identical to the one I remember. I know for sure by talking to new academy graduates that the way things are done in the academy has definitely changed.
These are just a few small guiding principles that I try to use to be as responsible as I can be when answering these questions. Convey, the most accurate information that you can; I try to be as detailed as possible keeping in mind of course that I am not in recruiting.
Recruiting is a specialty that you have to be right for.
At a career fair in college, I met a recruiter from a state police agency in my region who was born for the job. This was an agency I did not want to work for in a state I did not want to live in and by the end our conversation he almost had me signed up.
This guy could have made a living selling ice in Antarctica.
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
When I am asked questions about what the job is like I try to give the good and the bad. I tell them about the exciting stuff but remind them that they will have to work Christmas and that there is nothing glamorous about guarding a crime scene outdoors at 2:00 am when it is five degrees outside.
I also try to keep in mind that the person I am speaking with is probably very idealistic about a career in policing. I know I was. I try not to respond like what my NYPD friends would call a “hairbag,” (a/k/a complainer or whiner) I am not generally salty but it creeps in on all of us once in a while.
This may not seem like the most pressing topic in the policing world. It isn’t. But there is a police recruiting crisis in this country.
When I was first trying to become a cop tens of thousands of people competed for a relatively few number of spots, it is not like that anymore.
I think it is important that all of us try and help the good people who show a genuine interest in policing. We need as many of them as we can get.
Stay safe out there!
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