5 Tips to Help with the Military-to-Law-Enforcement Transition

CHP-Swat-TeamMany of those who choose a military career find that once they leave active duty, they still want a career that is structured, allows more excitement than can be found in the average cubicle, and occasionally offers a bit of danger. A second career in law enforcement is a natural transition. Unfortunately,  many former service members find themselves in the unemployment line rather than the police academy because they failed realize there is more to becoming a police officer than walking into the recruiting office and saying “Here I am.”

Hopefully, the following tips will allow you to continue to serve after leaving your current position.

You are not alone. The first thing you need to realize is that you are not the only one who has dreams of trading cammies for a badge. Most law enforcement positions are highly competitive and, although prior service is a plus in your favor, it is not a guarantee you will be hired. But knowing that ahead of time will allow you to prepare for the competition.

Talk to a recruiter. I know, last time you spoke to a recruiter may not spark fond memories, but you probably didn’t get to meet anyone else who was knowledgeable about what military service means. The same holds true with police recruiters. If the department you are interested in has one, do yourself a favor and give him/her a call. If there is no recruiter, try to meet a seasoned officer and talk to them.

Sell yourself. Many of the other candidates will have similar experience, so you need to sell yourself as the perfect recruit. Obviously, any law enforcement training is a plus and should be highlighted, but you need to remember to include any achievements. Four years as a supply clerk may not seem very glorious, but making E-6 and receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal while doing so will definitely make you stand out.

[quote_right]”There is more to becoming a police officer than walking into the recruiting office and saying “Here I am.”[/quote_right]

Do not lie. One of the biggest mistakes any candidate makes is lying or omitting important facts on either their application or during the oral interview. Remember that those reviewing your file are trained investigators and have access to a variety of records when conducting background checks. Other than felonies, there are very few prior acts that will automatically disqualify you… but lying about even a traffic citation can take you from the front of the line to the circular file.

Maintain a professional image. Since the time of Roman Centurions and Medieval Knights, soldiers have often lived by the motto “Work hard, play hard,” but do not let what you do today ruin tomorrow. A history of drunken debauchery makes for good war stories but doesn’t sound so good during an interview. Remember that with today’s use of social media, almost nothing is secret.

Another military tradition is tattoos. Just as the military as a whole has changed its attitude towards extreme personal expression, so have many police departments. Know ahead of time what your desired department will or will not accept before getting a naked mermaid on your forearm.

Do you have any other tips for service members considering the transition to law enforcement? Share them in the comments below.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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