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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

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Academies: Pay Your Way or Wait?

Weigh the pros and cons of attending the academy on your own dime.

January 13, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

I get this question nearly every week regarding the academy: Should I wait to get hired or should I pay my way? There are some states that will allow a candidate to attend the academy without being hired by an agency. You are deemed as "pre-service" and you pay your own way.

There are some pros and cons to each path. Let's explore this further.


If you live in a state that allows this pre-service career option, fully investigate it before enrolling. The big question is, Will this improve your chances of getting hired?

Perform your own mental "background check" of yourself first. If you have previously applied to an agency and not been hired, ask: Why? If you have baggage that is removing you from their employment consideration, address your baggage first. For instance, if you have bad credit, a poor job history, or do not meet some other requirements, address these flaws first. Most states will require some waivers, a background investigation, driver's history, and other requirements (physical and psychological screenings) before acceptance to an academy, and these can be very expensive.

Now, paying your own way to the academy is a double edged sword. First consider the tuition costs which can be very expensive. If you can find a scholarship or assistance, great; just remember you could have a loan to repay.

Secondly, most every academy has a caveat that while attending the academy there can be no secondary employment. So, how are you going to live these few months? If you are living with your parents or are independently wealthy then this is fine, but otherwise this can be very expensive. Some states experimented with part-time academy training, nights and weekends. This is dreadfully long and I am unsure if this is available any longer.

Another major question is to determine just by being pre-certified without police experience, is this that advantageous to your being hired? Agencies throughout the nation will seek out experienced officers but inexperienced is still the wild card. Read the fine print, for pre-certification can have a shelf life. Some states will label you as "certifiable," for you cannot be sworn without an agency. Often, you will have to attend annual update training or become working or sworn within a time period. This warrants some serious consideration.

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You could find it advantageous to wait for employment and have the hiring agency pay your way. Many of the unseen expenses are covered by the agency. Medical, background checks, travel expenses, and equipment are on their budget, not yours.

If you have a job, are in college, are transitioning from the military, or have financial obligations and a family, usually I will tell you to wait. That way, if you are injured in an academy performance exercise, you will have the protection of insurance or workman's comp offered by the agency. This can be a more favorable position for your family and your economic future.

Think and weigh your options wisely.

Research your future and occupation; it will pay dividends.

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