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How Do I Go From MP To COP?

November 01, 2007  |  by Kelly Kyrik


Those who choose to enter the military do so for a variety of different reasons. For some it's simply a wise career move that includes a free college education and some great benefits.

For others, however, it's more of a calling. These individuals have a profound desire to serve their country. Being an MP affords them the chance to do so, both in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, they have a choice as to how to serve their country. Many choose combat first, but there are plenty of other career opportunities waiting for them when they come back.

The same diversity exists in civilian law enforcement, so it's only natural that some of these MPs decide to further their careers by becoming police officers. Most cops have the same devotion to their country as those in the military, and they often look at their job as a calling, too. This means that police work offers an MP the chance to serve in a way that's very similar to the work he or she has been doing.

SERVING AS AN MP

"I love to serve, I love our country, and I love people," states Jim Spreine, who retired from the Laguna Beach (Calif.) Police Department as police chief after more than 35 years in law enforcement.

Before that he had served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a combat Marine and Armed Forces Policeman in Danang, followed by a stint as an MP at Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

His sentiments echo those of many MPs who have made the transition to civilian law enforcement. These officers have already done their duty in the military, but since they still want to serve their country, they make a decision to change careers. Or, as is the case with many, they do both at the same time.

Steve Weaver has been to basic training and tech school, worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in his capacity as a reservist at Andrews Air Force Base, and responded to domestic calls as a cadet in the Maryland State Police Department. And he did it all before his twenty-first birthday.

"I thought it would be great to be a reservist as well as to be in full-time state police law enforcement," says Weaver, who often works with the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division as a cadet. "I really like that I have the option and opportunity to serve in the military and in the civilian world, too."

Many young people like Weaver choose to first join the military rather than civilian law enforcement because in doing so they're able to get a jumpstart on their career. That's because, while most police departments require their applicants to be 21, the military accepts recruits at the age of 18.

"When I first went into the military I was really interested in law enforcement, but I wasn't old enough," says Walter Balkiewicz, an evidence technician with the Reading (Pa.) Police Department as well as an MP in S2 Intelligence.

So Balkiewicz went into active duty, where he stayed for 10 years, eventually working Operations and Intelligence in Iraq. When he returned home, he had the honor of presenting the city of Reading with an American flag that had been flown in Baghdad. It was then that he decided it was time to enter civilian law enforcement, but he wasn't quite ready to quit serving in the military.

"I didn't want to throw away everything that I had accomplished on active duty," says Balkiewicz, who is currently awaiting a promotion to Command Sergeant Major. "And I also knew that my family was a little tired of moving and packing. So, instead of getting out completely I joined the reserves so that I would be able to continue my military career and at the same time pursue a career in law enforcement."

Spreine, unlike Balkiewicz, made a full transition from MP to cop in 1970 and he found that serving in the military had given him the confidence he needed to succeed as a civilian officer. He also discovered that there were many others like him.

"When I started there were a lot of former military personnel," he says. "They weren't all military policemen, necessarily, but there were certainly plenty of former Marines and soldiers. Serving in a police uniform seems to be a natural progression for a lot of us who had served in the military."

Spreine believes that many of the young MPs who are currently stationed in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan are going to want to continue to serve after they're finished with active duty.

"Right now they are policing a country," he says, "and it's not going to be very difficult to come back and continue policing in their own country or community."

TRANSITIONING

For these returning MPs, the transition to cop is a relatively easy process because their experience in the military has more than prepared them for their duties in civilian law enforcement.

"Basically, the police force is a paramilitary organization," says Balkiewicz. "So you understand the set-up; you know how to follow the chain of command and you know how to address people in a proper manner. It's easier for you to follow the different rules and regulations because they are similar to a military-style set-up and you understand how everything works."

Even though incoming civilian officers find that the laws are slightly different- instead of dealing with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, for example, they're working with local, state, and federal laws-the basic concept is the same. And their military training can often grease the wheels.

"After we graduated from the academy in the state of Pennsylvania, we went out on what they call a field training program," explains Balkiewicz. "It's basically a year-long program, and you have to have another officer with you the whole time. But because of my knowledge and experience I was able to be released from the program within the first three months."

Those in the military have also already learned how to handle hostile situations, which is not something that civilian recruits are able to deal with right away. And, unlike civilians, MPs have all endured weeks of hard training before they've even seen active duty.

"I had already been through an academy; it was called 'boot camp,'" says Spreine, who later joined a small police force that didn't require academy training. "So I knew, 'Yes, sir; no, sir; yes, ma'am; no, ma'am.' I knew how to drill, I knew marching, I knew how to salute, I knew how to polish my shoes and wear my uniform, shoot a gun, all the things you learn in Academy. I feel that definitely gave me some advantages."

Another advantage in transitioning from MP to cop is that superiors are more likely to look at those who have already served in a favorable light, which can mean more promotions and opportunities.

"One of the cadet recruiters I talked to said that he liked the fact that I was in the reserves," says Weaver. "He said that it looked good, especially the military police training. I know that I won't get promoted right off the bat, but I think I'll have a better chance of being promoted later down the road."

SAME DIFFERENCE

Even with all their experience, however, MPs who have made the transition to civilian law enforcement find that being a cop can be quite different than being in the military.

Spreine learned that as he began to patrol the streets of San Clemente, Calif., in 1970.

"When I was interacting with young Marines as a Marine MP, they were very obedient," he says. "When an MP tells a Marine to do something they do it. Rank doesn't really matter; if you are an MP with the rank of sergeant and you're dealing with a general, he is still required to listen to you. But citizens were a little different."

That was due in large part to the fact that he became a police officer just as the Vietnam War began to wind down. It was an era that was not particularly cop-friendly, and he soon learned that many citizens didn't necessarily look at officers as authority figures. As a matter of fact, plenty of them had an outright disdain for cops.

"It was even more difficult at that time because we had the hippies and the yippies and the free love generation," he says. "They didn't listen well and they didn't like anything that was 'government.' I thought I had it all together coming from the Marine Corps into this profession called law enforcement, but I found out it was night and day."

As Spreine's experiences indicate, however, the differences between civilian and military duty often have more to do with the day-to-day dealings with civilians, rather than the organizations themselves. As entities, their structures are very much the same.

"The operations are set up in a very similar way," says Balkiewicz. "You have patrol police officers, you have administrative, you have a traffic division. You have a K-9 division, you have people that work the desk, you have operations. The military police is exactly like a regular police force. It runs on the same set-up."

In addition, the training for both is similar. MPs and cops alike agree that training for either profession is extensive and thorough and that an effort is made to connect with each individual.

"You cannot get through training going unnoticed, or under the radar," says Weaver.

"They get to each trainee and teach us well. Plus the Maryland State Police follows the U.S. Marine Corps values and ethics, so the training is very similar to military training. I think that being in the military before I started cadet training helped me significantly. I can't imagine going into the police academy blindly, without my military training."

A GOOD DEAL

Given the fact that MPs enter the civilian law enforcement field knowing what to do and how to do it, they make excellent employment candidates. Those who do the hiring in police departments know that they're usually getting a good deal when they take on an ex- or current MP.

"We in the law enforcement profession have talked for years about how you've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince," says Spreine, referring to the fact that a good officer is often hard to find. "There are just a lot of people that don't have the maturity, life experiences, desire, or discipline to serve."

MPs, on the other hand, have more than enough training, experience, and general know-how to handle the job. They're good cop material and usually can do their work efficiently right from the start, unlike a civilian fresh off the street. MPs simply have all the characteristics that law enforcement agencies are looking for.

"The military instills discipline and the law enforcement profession requires discipline," says Spreine. "That means we expect those officers to show respect, to hold back anger, to hold back frustration, and not to have any bias or prejudice when they get out into the field. MPs are more able to do that because, in the military, the day you get off the bus and you meet your first drill instructor, that discipline starts. And it just keeps going until the day you get out."

That said, not all MPs can make the transition into law enforcement. Some in the military come back with disabilities, not just physical, but also emotional. There are a lot of psychological negatives involved in going into a combat zone and some people are not able to put the experience behind them and move on. But there is a large pool of MPs that are currently on active duty, and when they return it will make it easier for those looking to recruit professional, experienced personnel.

"We're still going to have to kiss a lot of frogs," says Spreine with a laugh, "it's just that there are going to be a lot more frogs to kiss!"

Spreine and others agree that law enforcement can be an exciting and fulfilling next or second career for those in the military.

"I think there are a lot of young men and women serving in the military today that are wondering what they are going to do when they get out," he says. "They need to look at their local law enforcement agencies because local law enforcement agencies are looking at them."

Tags: Military-related, Military Police


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