By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Many servicemembers aim for a career in law enforcement after their military service. Lots of law enforcement agencies do not have a maximum age limit, so a second career in law enforcement is a realistic option. In addition, police departments often seek out candidates who have prior military experience.
Why Police Departments Like Servicemembers
There are several reasons why military candidates are popular with police departments:
- Servicemembers understand the chain of command. One of the advantages for police departments in hiring veterans is that soldiers, airmen and sailors have experience following orders in a hierarchical structure. They also have experience working with first-line supervisors and in resolving challenges and issues at the lowest level possible.
- Physical fitness and self-discipline. Service personnel are required to maintain physical fitness standards to prepare them for the rigors and daily responsibilities of policing. Self-discipline is a requirement in the military that translates well into police work. Veteran police candidates remain calm under pressure, utilize proper discretion and have good problem-solving skills.
- High ethical and moral standards. At the core of each military branch are its ethical and moral standards that maintain good order and discipline. Military servicemembers are held to these standards in and out of uniform, which promote maturity and good decision-making skills. The ethics and morals developed in the military serves police departments well when they are integrated with the responsibilities and discretion of daily policing.
Preparing for a Law Enforcement Career
Prior to transitioning out of the military, servicemembers can take several steps to prepare for a career in law enforcement. These steps are important because they help veterans stand out from the competition.
Collecting College Credit
The American Council on Education (ACE) offers recommendations on military training and experiences that many colleges accept for credit. This is important because having both military experience and higher education can set you apart from others competing for a job in the police department.
[Related: Do Cops Need a College Education?]
The military can provide you with a Joint Services Transcript (JST) or a Community College of the Air Force transcript. It will include ACE’s recommendations for college credit and can be submitted with a police application.
The military transcript should include the following information from the servicemember:
- Personal data
- Military course completions with college credit recommendations
- Military occupations with college credit recommendations
- College-level test scores
- Other learning experiences with college credit recommendations
Another option is to use your military training for college credit. You can apply to American Military University and earn a college degree while you are still in the military.
Veteran’s Preference Points
Another good option is to request Veteran’s Preference Points at the time you apply for a law enforcement position. The number of preference points you have may vary based on your service career and may provide an added advantage over the competition. It’s advisable to use your Veteran’s Preference Points to apply to the police department of your choice well before you transition out of the service.
Applying while in Military Service
The police application process commonly consists of a comprehensive background check, a polygraph, an oral board hearing, and medical and psychological screenings. This process can take six months to a year to complete.
As a result, you could be at an advantage by speaking with police hiring officials before your enlistment ends. You might complete the hiring process while you are still in the military. That could reduce the time between your final paycheck from the military to your first paycheck from your police career.
In conclusion, hiring servicemembers can be a tremendous asset to police agencies and can provide a rewarding career for those who have completed their military service. Hiring former military members is good for the community overall, because of the inherent discipline of servicemembers and their ability to apply effective decision-making skills to changing situations. In addition, servicemembers may be experienced in handling emergencies that can assist in their response to community emergencies and they often have the right skills to be effective law enforcement officers.