I submit to you that whether you take one class per semester or pursue recreational education opportunities like getting your certification in scuba diving, as long as you’ve learned something new each year then you have demonstrated, and can articulate, how you’re NOT remaining static in life; how you’re steadily improving yourself, thereby making YOU a more valuable commodity / asset for your agency. Educational “maintenance” is as necessary as physical maintenance, so include them both as the base needs in your strategic planning.
Now, where do you go after that? To some extent, ‘where you go’ is determined by the size of your agency, the opportunities that may arise, and the interests you have in law enforcement. If you want to be on the SWAT team then you should tailor your training and educational goals to support that goal. If you want to be a homicide investigator then you should tailor your training and educational goals to support that. If you want to be a park ranger, plan your training and education accordingly.
THIS is where a proper mentor proves very valuable. If you want to be a SWAT cop, approach one of the veterans, ask him for some of his time and pick his brain. Build that friendship and let him (or her) coach you on how to mold yourself into a good SWAT applicant. If you prefer investigations, do the same thing with a veteran investigator. If you prefer to work as a School Resource Officer, find one and pick his/her brain on how to get into that assignment and then start working toward it.
Here’s the kicker though: you shouldn’t just be planning for the next assignment. You should be planning the next three to five assignments. If each one lasts two to five years, then you plan half or all of your career with multiple optional branches of decision along the way.
I know a man who had a pretty long career as a police officer. In fact, he’s still enjoying it at least 45 years later. While that’s a fantastic career, what strikes me is that he spent 34 years never attaining a higher rank than Corporal. I can’t help but wonder if that was actually his plan. If it was, so be it. Nothing says you can’t plan a career wherein you reach a certain rank in a certain expertise and never leave it… because that’s what you want and love to do. That 34-yr corporal excelled in his position and only left it because he reached mandatory retirement age. He moved on to a leadership role with a different agency and is enjoying the benefits of 34+ years of experience as he mentors younger officers along in his new position.
Maybe your goal includes a badge that says “Detective Sergeant.” Maybe your goal includes having your officers call you by the nickname “Lou” which would actually be spelled “Lieu” because it’s the abbreviated nickname for Lieutenant. Maybe your goal is to work up through the ranks, taking whatever assignment is necessary to achieve each promotion because you’re just trying to get as high as you can so your retirement check is as big as you can manage. As long as you can be happy in that pursuit then more power to you and good luck.
The bottom line is that unless you want your employment to control your life (and let’s admit it: being a law enforcement professional already controls your life more than you’re happy with at times)… but unless you want your job to control your life in ways you can’t even think about 20+ years from now, then it behooves you to sit down and craft a plan; a strategic plan with options and back-ups so that you can steer your career and end up where you’d prefer to be. Creating such a plan the first time can be daunting. Updating it each year can be tedious. Both are necessary – so get it done.