As a young recruit, you may wonder how to choose a department to start your law enforcement career.
Veteran officers often ponder why a recruit chose a less-than-steller agency as a career starting point. The answer: Young Recruit Blues. Yes, you want to be a cop regardless of the cost.
But will you keep a job from an agency that gave you the opportunity nobody else would? Will you have a pension when it's over? Young cops often don't think about pensions. They only think about wanting the opportunity. Give yourself a reality check. Stop and explore the financial health of the governmental entity sponsoring this agency. You may be hired today, but if there are layoffs, the last in seniority will be the first out the door. Throughout the Northeast and Midwest (in the "rust belt"), cities and counties face dire economic futures.
You'll get the job, get on a shift, and settle into the routine. Soon you'll get a beat, better assignment, and you'll settle down. At around the five- to seven-year mark, you may earn civil service protection. The salary isn't bad, and you'll look toward the other side of the fence.
Before you jump the fence to greener pastures, remember that it could be better grazing or AstroTurf, so ask yourself if the risk is worth the reward? Senior officers will tell you they should have switched to a better agency years ago. But because of family responsibilities, good schools for the kids, or other lures, they're now riding out a less-than-stellar career with a marginal retirement.
What are my recommendations? I can't live your life or know the best place for you. Nor do I know what kind of law enforcement style is best suited to you. Here are a few suggestions about entering the profession.
There are not as many jobs out there. You may have to apply; hope to land employment; and make the best of the situation. If you can shop around, investigate the stability of the city, county, or state backing the department. Don't count on the plush police pension of yesteryear. Far too many governmental entities are lashing back at the increased costs of defined employee benefits. These may be fleeting memories for the future. My suggestion is seek out a livable 401/457 plan, invest young, and stick with it.
Once you're established in an agency, you may hear about the possibility of a better opportunity. Just understand that you're about to become the FNG (Fabulous New Guy) all over again. Starting over can be hard; keep your ego in check and it can be done. If you're sarting over in a new county or state, you'll lose your comfort zones. If you're single person, it won't be as much of a problem. However, if you have a family or are starting one, think hard and seek their input. An unhappy family will mean an unhappy you!
Looming layoffs have become more common in recent years. Young officers should have a "what if, then" plan. Don't walk around oblivious to your situation. Read news reports and take an interest in your government's actions. If you feel you're about to get a call from Human Resources, it's already too late.
I've seen far too many young officers acquire vast personal debts. Pull back on your spending, and save your funds for the ultimate rainy day. This can be extremely difficult in today's times, if you're the least paid and have young family expenses. My desire is for all of my young readers to be successful and never have to deal with life's stark realities. However, the old trainer in me must prepare you for life's tactical turns, so you can make the best of it. Keep your training up, stay sharp, and polish your resume.
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