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So you want to be a cop?

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

These are some of the key attributes I believe an ideal candidate possesses in their skill set when applying for a job in Law Enforcement. Before you stress out over the financial investment required, remember most Officers retire as proverbial millionaires, with pensions well into the six-figures per year. So, a little investment now will pay off for you later in a big way.

· Bilingual

In today’s America, if you only speak one language, you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage. America is a melting pot of cultures and languages. A melting pot you are looking to work in while serving your community. Communication is one of the most important tools in an Officer’s toolkit. The fastest growing minority in America, is Hispanic / Latin American. Learn Spanish, at least enough to struggle through an interview; or to catch buzzwords that might indicate a threat to Officer Safety. That's at a minimum, and I am certain that you want to standout as an Applicant and not blend into the pile. To do that you need to become proficient in Spanish. There are many resources to help facilitate this: Rosetta stone, private tutoring, school classes, culture immersion, and so on. All of the listed have varying price points, ranging from $299 up to over $1000. Of course, Spanish is not the only language out there, nor is it the only language sought after by Departments; pick a secondary language and become fluent. Keep in mind that many Departments pay personnel an auxiliary pay for fluency in another language, some as much as $200 per month.

· Education

Gone are the days of the stereotypical “Dumb Cop.” Most Academy curriculum today rivals that of College level coursework, and often, is accepted for academic credit at major institutions. By translating education to the streets, the public has a higher expectation of Law Enforcement, and will require Officers to have the ability to think critically which is a skill honed in college study.

Stay away from college certificates. Focus on obtaining at least your Associate Degree. Contrary to popular belief, it does not matter what the degree is in, so pick a subject you are interested in and can complete. The higher you climb up the academic ladder, the more enticing you look to Departments.

Education isn’t just displayed in Degrees, if you really want to separate yourself from the pack, then acquire professional licenses, in addition to a college level education. Licenses such as EMT, Paramedic, Scuba Diver, Fixed Wing / Rotary Wing Pilot, CompTIA (A+, Network +, Security +), Boater’s License, Captains License, etc. These are great indicators of your willingness to learn, grow and bring valued assets to the Department you are looking to become a part of.

· Veteran

This is an option that admittedly isn’t for everyone. This will be more than just some notch in your applicant packet. This above all else will catapult you into the front of the pack in any Law Enforcement hiring process. That being said it will require the most from you, there are countless sacrifices that joining the military will require of you. But as a Veteran I can say with extreme confidence that the change it inspires within, prepares you to face any challenge life can throw at you. Veterans are held in high regard in the job market, especially in the world of Law Enforcement. The values instilled in you across any of the Branches of the military, are the same values that most Departments hold in high esteem. Do not take joining the military lightly, it is true what they say, it isn’t for everyone. I can’t cover all of the nuances of the military in this section. But suffice to say that if you are considering joining the military, do your research and plan the best course for yourself while you are in.

· Physical Fitness

Law enforcement is unlike any profession out there, your day can go from routine to life threatening in the blink of an eye. I’m going to give it to you straight, fat cops, are liabilities. It brings discredit to the uniform, the Department and yourself, when you cannot maintain some semblance of physical fitness. You will end up getting yourself killed or seriously injured or worse yet, your partner. That is why most Police Departments have a basic physical fitness test, to screen prospective applicant’s ability to perform in the Academy. News flash, the Physical Fitness test is a minimum, not the golden standard. If you can’t exceed the standards set forth by the test, than you have no business applying to the Department. To become a police officer, one is required to pass the standard physical fitness test. Most departments use the physical abilities test called PAT, where the candidate is tested in running, pushups, and sit ups. Others use an obstacle course that test various applicant attributes such as, endurance, agility, and coordination. Come prepared.

· Training in Martial Arts

Just in case no one told you, or you live under a rock; some people you come into contact with will want to do you harm. They will want to beat you within an inch of your life to get away, and that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, they will do their best to kill you, to take your life for no other reason than they don’t want to go back to jail. This is a reality, a reality that many perspective applicants don’t give much thought to. As a DT instructor I can’t tell you how many times Officers down play the importance of training in effective martial arts. Instead they look to rely on their tools, such as the Taser, OC spray, or their gun. News flash, Tasers fail, the effects of OC can be fought through, and your gun can be taken away and used against you. The only weapons that can’t be easily removed, require no reload, and never fail or malfunction are your personal weapons. The limbs attached to your body, and the squishy thing that sits between your ears. That being said not all martial arts are created equal, and some are more practical in today’s modern setting than others. Some styles to stay away from, are any type of kung foolishness, any art taught in a McDojo, and any establishment that has 13-14 year old black belts walking around in it. Google McDojo’s if you aren’t familiar with the term. These places will be primarily business based, and not the best places to learn how to keep your life in a street altercation. Effective martial arts I would suggest include: Jujitsu, Wrestling / Catch Wrestling, Boxing, Kali, Arnis, Judo, MMA, Muay Thai. Again, at the end of the day, it’s your life and the lives of your partners at stake; bleed now, so you don’t bleed later.

· Firearms Training

Every call you go on, no matter how mundane, involves at least one gun. Yours. So it’s probably in your best interest to know how to use it. You will be required to carry a gun on duty, and you may be called upon one day to use it to preserve life and property. You don’t want that day to be the only time you’ve handled your firearm since the mandatory yearly qualification. Something I was told when I was in the Academy “You don’t rise to the occasion, but fall back to your level of training and preparation”. That being said, it stands to reason that you don’t want the academy to be the first time you’ve ever handled a firearm. You’ll be behind and at a severe disadvantage to your peers. Look up local gun ranges, many of which offer introductory classes, to help get you familiar with guns and shooting principals. Afterwards, go to the range, at least every other month to run drills and stay sharp.

Lastly, as always, familiarize your self with your prospective Departments policies and procedures. Take an interest in reading and studying case law, and follow current events in the world of Law Enforcement.

Remember, there is nothing worse as a Rookie Officer, than being called a Rookie Officer by a suspect on scene. Trust me it sucks, but it’s bound to happen to you at least once. One of the best resources for Cadets and Rookies on FTO to use in order to gain a rapid and expansive knowledge on a variety of calls quickly is the “Rookie Handbook: A quick reference guide to calls for service”. It was written by Cops for Cops, its quick, to the point, and has helped numerous Cadets Graduate, and many a Rookie make it off FTO.

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