I recently interviewed a prospective applicant for the job of police recruit. All he kept saying was, "I want to be a police officer." OK, great, that is the entry level position and that is what gnarly old chiefs like to hear: "I am here, I want the job and can perform in it; just give me the chance." But, if you are now preparing to apply for a job or enter the academy, here is my question to you: Where do you want to be 20 years from now? (Hint: Do not tell the gnarly old chief that you want his or her job!)
Most all of us enter this vocation with the idea that we want to be a great detective, be a commander of the unit, or be some high-speed tactical operator. Sadly, some take the first job that they are offered and get into a rut and stay there.
I have observed some of the most brilliant officers working in smaller agencies. Why are they there? They took the job, liked the town, liked the department, got comfortable with the entire situation, and 20 years later they are still there. Most are happy, but wouldn't you wonder, "What could or would have happened if…?" Well, before you get comfortable, let's talk about this.
When you apply to a department, check it out first, do your research. Check its Website, if it has one. Talk to incumbents on the department, not just their recruiters. Study the organizational charts. If the biggest part of the tree is in patrol and there are only one or two leaves in the special unit that you are interested in, this is the formula for limited potential.
Look about the department; are there young, fresh faces in special units or are they all old? This will reveal if it is a seniority-based department or if they put the performers where they need to be.
Ask about training opportunities. If all you hear is "mandatory" or "minimum state requirements," then your chances of obtaining advanced training here are minuscule at best. What is the public or the media spin on the department? If the agency a bad reputation, you could face working under a consent decree or public review; either of which could be problematic in your future working conditions.
Check the cost of living, standard of living for the area. Does the agency require that all employees reside in the jurisdiction? It might be a great job but a crappy place to live. Remember, you only work so many hours. If you or your family members hate the place, having the greatest job in the world won't be able to make up for the rest.
Don't make the rookie mistake and ask only about toys (cars, bullets, guns, and gadgets). Shop around and make the intelligent decision. It is your future here; don't let it slip out of your grasp.