By, Mike Kennedy
As a former Airborne Infantryman, I was often told (mostly by other soldiers of equal or lesser rank) that the skills I had acquired through my Infantry training and experience were not necessarily transferable to a civilian career. Some active duty Infantrymen may be hearing the same kind of thing today. While my after-Army career was not in law enforcement, warriors today may choose the law enforcement field for their after-service career and find that their skills and training do in fact, transfer well to law enforcement.
It is true that tactical skills and appreciation for, and learned ability to gain, situational awareness and understanding are certainly transferable to law enforcement. However, it may be more accurate to say that the personality traits of the individual that first draw some individuals to military service; the desire for action and conflict, functioning well in rapidly changing situations, the desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves are what also draw veterans to careers in law enforcement. When these traits are coupled with the typical law enforcement work structure; one of rank, order, unit and task and purpose, we may see the complete picture.
Motivation aside, to make the transition from military to law enforcement one must know the way and understand that the way may vary from region to region. At the Ready’s At the Region feature is designed to provide the individual wishing to begin a law enforcement career, veteran or not, the state by state knowledge necessary to do so. Other resources exist and an especially good one is 10 Steps to Joining the Force: A Guide for Military Veterans published by Police Link and Military.com.In this guide, Police Link and Military.com lay out a step by step process for making the transition.
Step 1 is to choose the right law enforcement career. In this process they offer a Military Skills Translator that will take your military specialty and match it to the law enforcement field to which it is best suited. This step also offers an overview of the many law enforcement fields out there. From Deputy Sheriff/Police Officer to Corrections to State and Federal Special Agents, this step provides information you need to begin to understand what is available for you.
Step 2 provides a transition checklist and timeline starting at one year prior to separation from the service. Transition to a law enforcement career will certainly be easier when you know what to do to move you towards your goal at one year, eight months, six months, five, four, three, two, and one month before separation.
Step 3 discusses the GI Bill and how you can use it to finance your law enforcement education. What may not be widely known is that there are different GI Bill programs all of them administered a little differently based on eligibility and duty status. The guide states that in some parts of the country the standard practice is for law enforcement agencies to hire only those candidates who have paid their own way through a police academy. This is where the GI Bill will come in handy. However, the GI Bill will only pay for training at academies that are run through accredited colleges or universities that provides college credits. Know this before choosing an academy and make sure you get your law enforcement education through an accredited college or university. Also, if the department or agency that hired you will be providing your academy training you will not be eligible to receive a GI Bill benefit while attending. It is possible though that you might be eligible for a monthly stipend through On the Job Training benefits. Make sure you check with the VA and the academy you want to attend to see if OJT benefits are available to you.
Step 4 of the process is picking a department. There are several important things to think about when picking a department. Always consider the agency type, how close it is to the place you want to live in, and starting pay. The guide points out that many people make the huge mistake of only applying to the one department you really want to work for and not applying to any others.
Step 5 is meeting a recruiter. There is very good information in this section. The key do’s and do nots are listed below.
• Wear a suit
• Speak professionally
• Ask questions
• Don’t be a know-it-all
• Listen and be courteous
• Don’t use military jargon
• Be early
• Expect tough questions
• Be prepared to state your goals
• Remember you are signing up to be a police officer
Step 6 is applying for the job. The guide provides very good information here too, all designed to help you separate yourself from the other applicants. Bottom line for veterans here is if you received anything less than an honorable discharge, forget about it, especially when it comes to federal agencies. That being said; Veterans do have an advantage over those whom have not served. This section of the guide provides detailed information about Veterans Preference Points. Make sure you understand how these points work and the points for which you qualify. Step 6 urges aspiring LEOs to sell themselves by emphasizing public speaking abilities and instructor certifications earned while serving. This step also reminds the reader that as a LEO you will be dealing with civilians. Unlike the military, when you give a command to a civilian they may not follow it to the letter like your Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines would. Keep your cool!
Step 7 covers exams. You will have to take and pass at least one and many times, more than one exam to be hired as a LEO. The guide recommends buying your own study guide and learning it cover to cover. Ride-alongs are also recommended here so that you can gain a truer understanding of what it is you will be doing on a daily basis as a LEO. Contact the agencies with whom you have applied and request a ride-along.
Step 8 is the Background Check. Get ready to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb. The background check will look at your character, finances and your driving and criminal records as well. The investigators will also be talking to your family and friends. The most important point to be made here is that you be entirely truthful and forthcoming. Do not, under any circumstances intentionally leave anything out. If you do and what you intentionally left our is discovered, the chances are very high that it will, forget about being hired. It is important to tell your friends and family that you are the subject of a background check and that an investigator may be contacting them to ask about you. You will also be subject to a polygraph. This is why it is incredibly important to be upfront and honest about the information you provide in your application. Be prepared for some serious questions that may shake you a bit- Have you ever stolen anything? Lied to your boss? Looked at child porn?
Step 9 is fitness. If you have maintained your fitness level from active duty- none of the exercises that are part of a law enforcement fitness test, should be a problem. However, on top of the usual pushups, situps, and run that are part of an APFT, you can expect others too.
The guide provides a lot of great information about what to expect at a law enforcement fitness test and even provides a workout regimen to increase your cardiovascular endurance.
Step 10 discusses the common hurdles veterans face when transitioning to law enforcement. Probably the toughest point to work through here is that whether you got out as a Senior NCO or a Commissioned Officer; when you are hired as a LEO- you are now a Private. This is tough for some to go from being in charge and leading to not being in charge and being screwed with. Expect practical jokes to be played on you when you are a new LEO. This really shouldn’t be an issue for veterans as practical jokes are a big part of military life. PTSD- if you have it, get help! Most veterans are bottom line up front kinds of people. We have a mission and we will execute. Be careful in the interview process and especially after you are hired to not come across as overly aggressive. As a LEO, you will sometimes face delicate and sensitive situations that do not require aggression, but sensitivity. Public image of law enforcement, especially in these politically sensitive time, is extremely important and no department wants to have to deal with an overly aggressive officer.
You can download 10 Steps to Joining the Force: A Guide for Military Veterans here