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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



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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Should You Gain Law Enforcement Certification On Your Own?

Many states allow you to attend the police academy on your dime. Is it worth it?

August 29, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Let's discuss whether you should pay for your law enforcement certification to become a better candidate. While this is usually answered with the perennial, "it depends," there are differing views on the topic.

Many states now allow a "qualified" or "certifiable" person to enroll and attend the police academy. Each state is different, so make sure you fully research what you're embarking on. The caveat is that you're qualified to enter after a completed, brief background check.

This isn't the Golden Ticket; it's a starting point. You may complete the academy, but won't be certified until a law enforcement agency employs you. In some states, this completes the certification process. In others, you'll have to attend additional law enforcement training for completion. Because you haven't been a cop, you may not have received specialized training that requires full law enforcement clearances.

Each academy is different. In some states, it's a full-time academy, meaning you're a full-time student and nearly incapable of working a regular job. Do you have the financial means to take as much as six months off? Who's supporting you and paying the bills?

There are a few states with part-time academies that schedule classes a few nights a week and a full schedule on weekends. While this may work for you, it takes longer and several states don't offer this path.

What do I mean by "qualified" or "certifiable?" Graduating from the academy or passing state entrance requirements does not guarantee you a law enforcement job. Passing this cursory background is like getting to first base. Law enforcement agencies will perform an in-depth background check. You may face polygraphs and drug tests. Your neighbors will be interviewed. Former employers will give input.

Just because you don't have a police record or outstanding parking tickets, don't presume you'll skate. Graduating from this academy isn't a fast lane to employment. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if there are other things that could cloud your employment chances.

Ensure that you fully research your state's requirements. Every state has peace-officer standards, as well as a training council (P.O.S.T.) or commission. Fully research the state's requirements for certification. Most departments use this as a baseline, and can require more if they desire and explain why. Check out the medical requirements (such as vision and hearing), physical standards (such as physical training improvements), educational requirements (such as GED or college), and psychological requirements — you may have to be tested. Speaking a second language can give you an edge.

When it comes to background checks, each state has its own requirements. Some may allow life's youthful misadventures (such as a juvenile record). Others may take strong stances on recent recreational drug use. Some states are lenient, while others have no sense of humor.

Even if you feel you will make all the grades, this investment will not ensure you employment. Granted some departments seek certified officers but this is not a sure win. Our men and women of the Armed Services are granted Veterans Preference Points for their service to our county. Whether you agree or not, military veterans (like me, Hooah!) get them and may well score higher. This is life.

If an agency you desire to work for is under any consent decrees for past hiring sins, and you're not the ethnicity or gender they're seeking, you may be out in the cold. There is no guarantee in life, except death and taxes.

For you to invest your time, effort and a pile of money to become certified is indeed laudable. Before you do this, you must thoroughly investigate your prospects and weigh your chances. If you feel up to the challenge, go for it. I wish you the best. I don't want you to waste your time, effort and money if this is a pipe dream. If you're going to try this, give it all you have.

Tags: Military-related, Job Applications, Background Investigations, Training Standards


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Allen @ 9/3/2011 6:46 AM

We should make the process as accessible as possible to people of all ages. For example, if you are in a work environment that only allows you to go to night and weekend school, and feel that you would like a solid career change, offer these classes in community college with certification that when hired will severely shorten the actual training required to get on the street with an FTO. This way you won't have to lower the bar to bring in people who are unemployed and just looking for a 'job'. Another possible method would be to train reserve officers as close as possible to regular certification, then after a couple or few years active reserve allow them to challenge full time certification testing. Just a couple of thoughts. Be safe.

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