Career in Law Enforcement?

It depends..  This advice is coming from a retired Military Army Officer who rose to the ranks as a Correctional Officer through Case Manager to Unit Administrator of a 125 bed Segregation Unit while serving as the CERT, Correctional Emergency Response Team – Commander for once was a 2200 bed State Correctional Institution.

Why do I say – it depends? Mostly due to several factors.  Age, personal experience and other available employment options, the degree of your aspirations will come from these major distractors, more or less.

Age and experience can go hand in hand; as I know many knuckleheads in their 30’s still making destructive personal career decisions while I have met youngsters in their early twenties with remarkable level heads.

Although age and experience become important as both are contributing factors in what becomes important to your personal goals; you will find what drives your decision will be the available options at the time.  I have observed, most every person that considers a like career, have noble notions to serve the public.

Fact is, most people I have interviewed as Correctional careerist and first timers would probably be in a different career field if a better employment career was offered.

Additionally, most with aspirations and no experience in law enforcement naturally will seek Corrections as their first step. If that is you, great job! I have seen many successes in this transition to a prosperous career leading to local Sheriffs and Police Departments.

Fortunately one particular learned trait has demonstrated to overcome many deficiencies and has always led to quick promotions. What is that trait?

I have witnessed – in more cases I can count, the most sought after successful trait was the ability to properly communicate. Not just with their subordinates, peers and superiors; but more importantly with the public and those in their care. Yes, there are courses out there that will school you on the finer art of communicating; however, it will be the specific art of de-escalation honed by actual use as a Correctional professional / Beat Police Officer that will surely secure your continued employment.

Best news is, the art of de-escalation or talking someone down emotionally, is a skill you will always have in your tool bag to use in many other potentially tight scenarios in and out of uniform.

Trust me, I have had to use it with my spouse on various occasions, once during a parking lot disagreement at Walmart and recently with my neighbor during his house fire. Fun Times!

If you are interested in an outstanding book on de-escalation check this one out:

Super Secret Police S**t That Can Save Your Life by Harry Hammer:

Ok, here is what I would use as things to consider if in fact your options are limited and you have a notion to pursue a law enforcement career.  First visit the local police stations; and or Sheriff’s Department and ask to speak to the Personnel Officer. You can of course visit their websites for every condition of employment.  At the time of this post, all have major shortages and even have lowered their employment considerations, such as age and college requirements.  If that becomes a temporary road block, then go contact the local State Correctional facility.  

Ok, why not the local jails?  Each will have its own good qualities; however, most every one has a political climate of favoritism, Family or who you know run rampant.  Personally, not my cup of tea probably because I’m not a yes man or – suck up to move up – kind of person.  If you are – go for it, could be your type of fun!

What I have found is that no job in law enforcement now is providing any real long term retirement benefits except maybe a 401K.  If you are smart and have the open mind of a student of life, invest into any 401K program till you are fully vested.  For most places fully vested is 5 years.  For any law enforcement job, 5 years is a long time to be exposed to some of the worst people you will ever come across.  Will it be worth it? Well, that will be a personal discussion as you weigh the pros and cons.

For example, I have a friend, age 47 now into 3 years as a Correctional Caseworker who was once a Senior Tele -Communications Sales Executive, even had a storied career as a roadie for a world famous Rock and Roll Band. He shared with me that now it is unfortunate for him he had to leave early before retirement benefits. Personal decisions made in haste minimize options, we all know this; especially in hindsight.

Best advice here is no matter the age, get enough out of the opportunity, whether a vested 401K or solid stepping stone to a better job, etc. before you move on. Meaning, learn when to make the move vs quitting too early. There will always be a price to pay when you allow your emotions to take control of your life’s most difficult decisions!

Best to always step back, even if just mentally, and take a critical move from an emotional ramp up to one of logical thinking.

My buddy due to age and no real financial umbrella for him and his family; now is doing some critical soul searching.  Please take a lesson here.

If interested, click here for more personal insight:

Ok, if you are still with me, and you are still gathering information to add to your final decision to jump into law enforcement; here are some more considerations:

                  – Respect for the badge has dwindled.  As a side note. A friend shared this word as an acronym ‘B a d g e’ = Bravery, Attitude, Dedication, God, Empathy.  God – could also mean – a higher power.  

I have witnessed, trying to enforce standards with the average citizen exposed to divisive media coverage and adverse proliferations of dwindling ethical standards – points to an unsafe career path.  Most prior careerist with established retirement have retired early because of it.  Sad state of affairs indeed!

                  – Politics and policy makers are far removed to what challenges Beat Officers and New Correctional Professional now face on a daily basis.  An atmosphere of changes that ONLY follow critical incidents vs advice from the field has become the accepted norm – meaning, something bad has to happen first!  Basically, when their political reputation is threatened then the decision to change a policy is made; unfortunately, loss of life or possible bad media coverage seems to motivate policy or procedural change.  

                  – Ratio of inmate to staff is not in your favor. Especially in the field of Corrections, nationally the shortage is critically becoming unsafe.  When the standard fill for both security and program personnel was already based on the bare minimum to support a profit business model!? Now you know! Currently, the national average is 65% fill or 35% short.  BTW,  locally, I have witnessed levels below 50% where several ill advised changes made by ‘high and mighty Executives level lead to several incidents, which if not saved by some after hours Security Heroes could have lead to a full blown riot.

                  – Pay does not support the risk.  When Amazon and McDonalds compare to the walk in hourly rate of correctional professionals, you will have a challenge convincing a typical new hire that this is the route to go.  However, if pay is the only criteria you are considering, I’m guessing, you probably would not be reading this far?!

                  – Profound Camaraderie!  Yes, all of the challenges on paper outweigh the benefits.  But just like every challenging military school I attended where only the best were left standing, the fellowship of a select number of survivors will become the driving force in future difficult personal decisions – basically you will become the person you would not have been if left not challenged.  Maybe that is the sole reason why the average person does not apply?  Cannot answer that one personally – just my observation.  Maybe, overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds in the quest for a higher purpose comes to mind. 

Nice to know you now that we have met! 


Pinoy, Filipino American, retired Military and Law Enforcement Commander - Loves to help others free themselves to reach their full potential through time and energy leverage of old shared wisdom.

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