Many motivated people desire to serve in the law enforcement community, but for various reasons being a peace officer may not be a good fit for them. There are other well-paying and personally rewarding options. One great opportunity is as a public safety dispatcher. Another option is a position often called Community Service Officer (CSO) or Public Service Technician (PST). Still another unique position is in intelligence. Let’s talk about these.
Police work requires physical abilities and the temperament to deal with combative persons, engage in pursuits and sometime use deadly force. It is dangerous and not everyone chooses this option. Others are seeking to advance to a sworn position and want to get their foot in the door.
The most common position is dispatch. Money and benefits are excellent but it can be stressful and involves varied hours. The Santa Rosa (California) Police Department lists their pay range for this position as $4,375 to $5,317 monthly. In Florida, Delray Beach lists a top pay of $24.10 per hour. An agency in Connecticut lists a top salary of $48.424 yearly. It gets better. From my experience there is a severe shortage of dispatchers and so there is lots of overtime. Add holiday pay and shift differential that many offer, and no one makes base pay. Because they are needed nationwide, there is ample opportunity to work where you want to live.
Regardless of what job you opt for, most all offer full health insurance plans, retirement, and a host of other benefits. It seems that government agencies are some of the last employers offering these excellent benefits. The main difference with sworn (law enforcement officer) positions is that those often have an early retirement (public safety) option while dispatch and other jobs discussed here do not.
Every day in dispatch is different and the work can be personally rewarding. You have the opportunity to help people daily. With that comes a great deal of stress. Dispatchers often report being frustrated by the fact they send officers into dangerous situations without being able to be there with them to help. They may be forced to listen during tense situations and fights without being able to offer immediate direct assistance.
Another problem--or advantage--is the varied hours. It involves working night shifts, weekends and holidays. This can be especially difficult for single parents. On the other hand, there are advantages to having weekdays off.
You will find that many agencies share communications facilities. One police or sheriff’s department may provide dispatch services for all surrounding agencies. Dispatchers must be intelligent, quick thinking, and usually must type at least 35 WPM. While most dispatchers tend to be female, it is certainly an equal opportunity profession.
There are generally two types of dispatchers: call takers and radio dispatchers. One person receives the call, gathers the information and electronically ships it to the radio dispatcher where it can be sent to the field officer or deputy via voice radio or computer.
In California, dispatchers have certification requirements that include120 hours of training--classroom and on the job. Valuable information may be found on the California POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) web site.
Being a CSO or PST (some agencies use other names) is another great option. People in these jobs assist field law enforcement officers. This involves non-dangerous assignments like traffic control, special events, basic accident investigation, basic crime scene investigation (CSI) and report taking. Exact duties differ with agencies and in some cases CSOs may have some form of career progression, including assisting investigators. Here you have a better chance of working days or swing, but still expect to work weekends.
I’m not addressing CSI, as they are not in high demand. It seems like everybody wants to be one. That job requires extensive education and training, especially in the sciences, and it would take pages to dispel the myths perpetuated by fictional television programs. You are not going to walk into your average agency and get hired for CSI.
A growing career sector is intelligence. Almost all federal agencies have intelligence personnel, as do many big police and sheriff's departments and state agencies. Intelligence usually requires specialized college training and is more likely to be a daytime, Monday to Friday type job. Fluency in a needed foreign language is a highly sought after skill. In some cases, the duties are more "tactical" in nature, often being more of an investigative assistant on major cases. In other cases it involves issues related to homeland security, terrorism, gangs, major drug dealing organizations, etc. The intelligence professional must put together the big picture. They establish the links and broad overview of terrorist, criminal or drug organizations. These can include international groups, gangs, and biker groups involved in illegal activity. They must understand the complexities of these organizations and what makes them tick. In some cases it is described as trying to drink water out of a fire hose--lots of information coming in that the analyst must then digest and make sense of and then give the collated summary to the investigator, director or via training to the troops. It is an excellent and rewarding career that is in high demand. The best intelligence training to qualify for this career may be by first serving in the military in an intelligence capacity.
There are other positions, such as clerical, that support law enforcement but dispatch, CSO and intelligence are among the more popular choices. The pay, benefits and rewards are very good. Hours and stress may be difficult for some, and exact duties will differ with the agency.
These great jobs may be a rewarding career in themselves or a stepping stone to a sworn position. Give them a look!