You've completed the FTO program and now patrol as a solo officer. Life is good. One day on the station bulletin board, you notice an announcement for an interdepartmental transfer to a specialized unit. This is your lucky day, because you've always wanted to be a K-9 officer, detective, traffic enforcement officer, or other specialized officer. Right?

But wait. Read the fine print. All candidates must have two years of service on the department before they can apply. This is not fair and who came up with this scheme?

Time-in-service requirements have long been around; they started in the military. For readers who have never been in the military or in a paramilitary occupation, there's no easy explanation. If you're working in a grade — let's say patrol officer — you'll have to serve a suitable time period in the pay grade or assignment before you can be promoted or transferred. This allows you to gather valuable experience or what I call exposure.

I know you feel you're smart, work a challenging precinct, and have mastered your role. Still, there are industry standards or norms. An officer needs to have received a suitable amount of experience in a certain grade or assignment. Two years seems to be the baseline. Read the announcement carefully. It could be two years on patrol; your academy and FTO time may not count. There's a reason for this. When you're in the academy and with an FTO, you have a buffer from decision-making that shields you from the hard knocks of experience.

There are life lessons here as well; don't allow yourself to become discouraged. If you fully understand these norms of the department then you'll know how to plan your career. If you know you're not positioned for the next transfer to a special unit, this will allow you more time to prepare. Select extra assignments that position you for this special experience. Attend academy classes to give yourself the necessary foundation to present yourself as the best candidate the next time around.

The grass on the other side of the fence may not be as green as you think. Fully explore your wants first. You may have a good schedule now, but go to Detectiveland, and your life can get turned upside down with cases. While you wait for the time to pass, get on with your life. You may want to complete your degree, spend some time with the family (while you can), or take time for yourself.

Time can be on your side as well. You might not be the top candidate now. This allows you to position yourself for the next assignment of the career. If you look at this organizational norm as a game, then you can learn to play it to your career's advantage.

Related:

The State of American Law Enforcement: Can the Average Cop Thrive in the Age of Specialization?

How Do I Advance My Career?

Author

William Harvey
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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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.

View Bio
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