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Jobs and Career Opportunities in Law Enforcement & Security

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Qualifications, Education & Training

Gaining employment as a law enforcement officer or detective is governed by civil service regulations at nearly every level: State, city, special, and local agencies. Minimum requirements include being a U.S. citizen, being 20 years old or more, and meeting physical and background standards. At the Federal level requirements are even more stringent, typically requiring a first-time candidate to be between 21 and 37 years old and hold a college degree. Physical examinations cover all aspects of health, including strength, agility, hearing, and vision. Most jobs in the industry are found in larger police departments, which typically require new applicants to have earned at least a high school diploma. Because they work with the public, it is important for law enforcement officers to be able to work with people and build relationships of trust.

Background investigations, interviews by senior officers, and sometimes psychological or psychiatric evaluations are all ways to ensure a candidate is honest, responsible, moral, and wholesome. Most agencies use lie detector tests and drug screening as part of their application process; some agencies continue random drug testing on employees after they are hired.

New officers are typically trained before being given their first assignments. At the State and local levels new recruits attend police academies for 12 to 14 weeks. Recruits receive instruction on civil and constitutional rights, applicable State and local statutes, and methods of investigation. Recruits also receive hands-on training with traffic control, gun use and safety, self-defense techniques, emergency and first aid care, and supervised patrol experience. Some departments in large cities employ high school students to do clerical work and attend some classes. When they reach the minimum age requirement for full-time police work, these police cadets or trainees are often appointed as regular officers.

Opportunities to move up in the department typically begin anywhere from six months to three years after being hired. Officers first must pass through a probationary phase, after which they may be promoted to receive more pay or move into a specialized position, like detective. Appointments to superior ranks like sergeant or lieutenant are made based on an individual’s ranking on a promotion list, which is usually based on the individual’s job performance and scores on written tests.

Minimum qualifications to work for the FBI are significantly more rigid. A candidate must speak a foreign language fluently, have at least three years experience working full time or possess a law or accounting degree. New recruits train for 16 weeks on the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, where the FBI academy is located.

Minimum requirements for U.S. Secret Service special agent positions are the same as for agents in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives: three years’ of relevant work experience or a four-year college degree. Training consists of two parts: first in Glynco, Georgia, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where new hires receive introductory criminal investigation training for 10 weeks; second, another 17 weeks at their respective agencies receiving training specific to their job duties.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents must be college graduates and have maintained a minimum 2.95 GPA in college, previously conducted criminal investigations for at least one year, or studied at least one year of graduate school. DEA new hires receive their initial training at the FBI Academy in Virginia for 14 weeks.

To qualify for positions with the U.S. Border Patrol, a candidate must pass a reasoning and language skills examination, possess a legal and current driver’s license, be a U.S. citizen, and be under the age of 37 at the time of hire. A combination of both work experience and education can qualify a candidate, though having earned a college degree demonstrates the candidate’s aptitude to provide leadership, be decisive, and succeed in demanding situations.

Qualifications for postal inspectors include a bachelor’s degree; one year of relevant employment history; passage of a background check, drug screening test, and health requirements; and possession of a current driver’s license. Applicants possessing at least one professional certification, like that of a certified public accountant (CPA), may have more opportunities. The candidate must between 21 and 36 years old and be a U.S. citizen.

Potential law enforcement officers are being encouraged more and more to obtain some kind of law enforcement-related training at the college or university level. There are programs offered in criminal justice and law enforcement at many universities, colleges, and junior colleges, and an increasing number of applicants for law enforcement jobs possess formal college-level training. Other relevant courses include accounting or business finance, computer science, and engineering. As many police jobs are physically demanding, sports and physical education can help an applicant become competitive, fit, and physically able to perform their jobs. Foreign language fluency is especially helpful when seeking employment with the Federal government or with other agencies covering large foreign-language-speaking populations.

Even after obtaining a law enforcement job, education plays an important role in improving on-the-job performance. Continuing education related to job tasks like firearm use, relationship and communication skills, and crowd control techniques are provided by agencies themselves, State-sponsored training programs, or Federal training centers. Officers are also instructed in current legal developments, use-of-force policies, and progress made in law enforcement equipment and technology. Officers may earn higher salaried by completing advanced degrees related to work like criminal justice, police science, or public administration; many agencies will even pay for all or part of the school tuition for qualified officers working towards such degrees.

Listed below are the general qualifications for sworn law enforcement jobs. Each department or agency may have some slight differences in their hiring requirements. Some departments require that you pass a polygraph test while other departments do not administer the test.

 

Federal Law Enforcement
·  Be a U.S. citizen.
·  Minimum age is usually 21.
·  Possess a valid driver's license.
·  Have a 4 year college degree
    Or
·  3 years of investigative experience.
·  No felony convictions.
·  Willing to work anywhere in the U.S.
·  Pass a written entrance test.
·  Pass an oral interview.
·  Pass a background investigation.
·  Pass a polygraph test.
·  Pass a psychological evaluation
·  Pass a medical examination.
·  Pass a physical fitness test.
·  Vision must be correctable to 20/20.


State Law Enforcement
·  Be a U.S. citizen.
·  Minimum age is usually 20 or 21.
·  Possess a valid driver's license.
·  Have a high school diploma or GED.
·  Possess 60 college credits.
·  No felony convictions.
·  Willing to work anywhere in the state.
·  Pass a written entrance test.
·  Pass an oral interview.
·  Pass a physical agility test.
·  Pass a background investigation.
·  Pass a polygraph test.
·  Pass a psychological evaluation
·  Pass a medical examination.
·  Vision must be correctable to 20/20.


City And County Law Enforcement
·  Be a U.S. citizen.
·  Minimum age is usually 20 or 21.
·  Possess a valid driver's license.
·  Have a high school diploma or GED.
·  Possess 45 college credits.
·  No felony convictions.
·  Pass a written entrance test.
·  Pass an oral interview.
·  Pass a physical agility test.
·  Pass a background investigation.
·  Pass a polygraph test.
·  Pass a psychological evaluation
·  Pass a medical examination.
·  Vision must be correctable to 20/20.

 

Additional Information On The Qualifications

Citizenship
Most agencies require that you be a U.S. citizen. It does not make sense that you could not be a U.S. citizen yet you enforce the laws of the United States. However, there are a few local police departments that do not require U.S. citizenship as long as the applicant has a work visa or green card.

Age
The minimum age is usually corresponds to the law that you have to be a certain age in order to carry a firearm.

Federal criminal investigator jobs, series 1811, (FBI, Secret Service, etc.) have a maximum entry age of 37. By law, all criminal investigators must retire at age 57 with 20 years of service. Therefore, one must be less than 37 years-of-age when applying to meet the 20 year requirement. Applicants who possess prior federal criminal investigator experience may be eligible to apply for a job beyond the age of 37.

Education
A four year college degree in any field of study will qualify you for most federal, state and local law enforcement jobs.

In lieu of a degree, most federal agencies will accept three years of responsible work experience. Each agency can determine what they consider to be qualifying experience. For example, the Secret Service wants you to have three years of criminal investigative experience. Three years as a police officer will not necessarily qualify you with them. Whereas, the U.S. Marshals Service will accept you without any law enforcement experience as long as you have three years of supervisory experience.

Most state and local law enforcement departments require an applicant to have some college credits, usually around 45 - 60. Some require an Associate degree while other require a four year degree.

Felony Convictions
If you have a felony conviction, you are not eligible to apply for any sworn law enforcement position. Under federal law and most state laws, a convicted felon cannot possess a firearm. Also under federal law, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving domestic violence such as spousal abuse you cannot possess a firearm and therefore cannot become a police officer.

Written Entrance Test
Most departments have a written entrance test. 70 percent is usually passing but will probably not get you the job since some departments give their test on a regular basis and only hire the top scores. The test is usually a general aptitude test and does not ask questions about the law.

In addition to the written test, some departments give a video test. The video portion of the testing is based on law enforcement related scenarios that focus on quick judgment and common sense. You watch the video and then answer multiple choice questions as to what you would do. All of the answers can be derived without prior police training or experience.

Physical Fitness / Agility Test
Most departments give a physical fitness / agility test to determine your strength and endurance. This may consist of push-ups and sit-ups performed in one minute time period, a sit and reach flexibility test, a 1 - 2 mile run, a bench press test, a stair climbing test, carry or drag a weight a certain distance, a vertical jump, climbing over a low wall, push test and a balance test.

Vision
There are no universal standards for vision. Most agencies require that your vision be 20/20 or corrected to 20/20. There is a concern that if you lose your glasses or contacts you should be able to see to perform your job. Therefore, most agencies have a minimum vision requirement without glasses. Some will allow you to have 20/200 corrected to 20/20 while others only accept 20/100 corrected to 20/20. Most agencies do allow you to have corrective surgery to bring your vision to 20/20.

Drug Usage
Every department sets it's own standards as to acceptable past drug usage. Generally speaking, the use of any hard drug such as heroin or LSD will disqualify you. Marijuana usage is usually acceptable if it was years ago and was limited to an experimental usage.

 

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