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Police Officer Jobs for Vets

Want a job that pays a middling salary, is probably dangerous, and often involves long, grueling and strange hours? But one which will not tie you down to a desk, will not require you to put up with office politics, will allow you much personal initiative, will enable you to meet a wide variety of people (admittedly, some you’d rather not meet), will allow you to provide an essential public service, and which offers some very good advancement opportunities – that’s the position of police officer.

For many transitioning vets and reservists, the move from military camo to PD blue seems like a natural. Being a citizen soldier has much in common with being a police officer – military life, like police work, exists within a hierarchial structure, can be physically demanding, requires courage and commitment. But there are some major differences, too, and if you plan to apply for a police officer position you should know that recruiters and interview boards are on the lookout for hyper-aggressive personality traits that, while often acceptable in the military, are deemed inappropriate for police work. For example, if you take the attitude that, as a police officer patrolling an inner-city neighborhood, you’ll be working in a kind of combat zone, you’ll probably get rejected. Nowadays, “community policing” is the accepted philosophy of virtually all big-city police departments. That means they want “kinder, gentler” recruits who will defuse potentially violent situations and exude a calm, friendly demeanor to citizens, never a confrontational attitude. Show an overly-aggressive “them vs. us”  attitude and you’ll be selected out every time

You may wonder if having a PTSD diagnosis will disqualify you. The answer seems to depend on which police department you apply to. PTSD is not generally an automatic disqualification for police employment and many agencies have specific protocols for evaluating PTSD candidates. Virtually all departments – at least in their publicly stated policy pronouncements – indicate that PTSD diagnoses are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if symptoms interfere with job requirements. You may be able to get further info on the department’s website, or better yet, by talking to current members of their force.

Demand for police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers is on the rise right now and opportunities are great, especially for vets. Starting salaries are generally around $50,000, or somewhat less at small or rural communities. There are 18,000 police departments in the country, and insiders say it’s always a good idea to apply to several at one time – don’t pin your hopes on just one department. Insiders also suggest you start researching jobs at least six months before you leave active duty if you can, as the hiring process in law enforcement is one of the most time-consuming of any occupation. To get started, just call the departments of your choice and find out where and how to begin the application process. Many of course will provide this kind of info on their websites.

What’s involved in landing a job as a police recruit? The hiring requirements and processes vary, but in general you need an honorable discharge, a high school diploma, and a reasonably clean background (no felonies – though you probably won’t be disqualified for a minor misdemeanor). Expect a background investigation more intense than you’d like – even some of your former neighbors (including the little old lady across the street who didn’t like you very well) may end up getting called or visited.

You’ll have to pass both a physical and written exam. The physical exam should be no problem for most vets, and as to the written exam you should spend some time with a police officer exam study guide (available in public libraries). A few positions require polygraph exams but if you can answer the question “Have you ever committed a crime?” with reasonable aplomb, you’ll do fine.

Once you’re hired and have made it through the police academy (a three to ten month program not too different from boot camp), you’ll have a year-long probationary period. Eventually you can aspire to become a detective, sergeant, or even lieutenant, or to specialize in crime lab work, or other fields. Incidentally, many police departments are now making special efforts to recruit veterans and giving them hiring preference over non-vets. As many as a third of some large urban departments are vets these days. Also these employers are usually very accommodating to reservists, continuing their benefits and full pay if they are deployed or away for training. Finally, you should know that, in some cases, it is possible to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits while in a police department training academy (something to check into if you are offered a position).

Police work is attractive to many vets for many reasons, not the least of which is that, as said, it is somewhat similar to the military experience. But you should be forewarned police work has little in common with the high-octane adventures you see police officers and detectives involved in on TV or in the movies. Although law enforcement agencies are pseudo-military in structure,  much of the work is routine and reactive in nature, say insiders, and does not entail the rigid rules and rank structure of the military.

So how can you get a better sense of what it’s like to be a police officer? Many departments offer shift riding programs that enable you to ride along with an on-duty officer.  Give it a try – it’s the closest you’ll get to experiencing what it’s like being a police officer yourself.  Just contact an agency you are considering applying to and ask if they offer a ride-along program.

For much more on police officer careers, check out PoliceLink.Monster.com.

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