Preparing for the Next Level

July 4, 2023
The best time to prepare for the next job is now. Find out some of the best things you can do to land that future police or law enforcement position.

Here you are, an entry level officer or deputy and life is good. You have passed the academy, the field training program and have a steady assignment. The question is how long do you want to stay here? How soon before you want to position yourself for the future assignment? The answer is now. The best time to prepare for your next job is when you get the first job. Dale Carnegie said it better, “...the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.”

This article appeared in the March/April issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

What you may find out is that the guidelines for hiring police officers versus the recommendations for promotions to the higher ranks or even future assignments... well they may be far different. Many agencies across this country have lowered or “eased” their hiring standards in recent years. Many agencies in the past who had required a minimum of a two year or four-year degree are now accepting high school diploma or a GED. Some agencies are waiving educational requirements for “life or work experience”. This does not always equate to the same thing. Any way you paint this picture, the lowering of standards to fill positions today may create a catastrophic issue in the future.

As people position themselves for sergeant, lieutenant, or any command staff assignment, now there may be requirements to possess a bachelor’s degree. Some municipalities may require masters degrees. Such higher educational requirements may be required for certain investigations or forensics assignments. It is easy to predict this future log jam of unqualified candidates for promotion and choice assignments.

I will also predict since this era of personnel was hired below standards, it will create a request to lower standards at the higher levels to fill positions. You have people who are in position with time and service requirements and probably basic skill sets to be promoted, but they do not have the educational requirements. This is a disadvantage to them and those in the past who have had to struggled to get their degrees. What are the solutions? Some observers believe that the continued lowering of the standards will create a “dumbing down” of the future of police services. This is not what this country needs now.

So, what is an aspiring young patrol officer to do? If your goal is the 25-year stagnant career, then do nothing; you have arrived. Otherwise, start studying the requirements for promotions or for that choice assignment. If it states that you need to obtain a degree for this future position - better start working on it. I will tell you this, finishing up a degree while you are on the job is a truly difficult task. This will teach you time management skills for it will be the ultimate balancing act. Between “the job”, family and/or parenthood, then finding time for classes and study; this will be a true juggling act. I can tell you from my own experience the amount of effort it requires and the draining of your energy until this is completed is relentless. Still do not believe me? Seek out someone within your agency that is completing their degree while working there, listen to their tips. You might find out that this may be a little bit harder than you thought. However, some employers offer assistance to you, maybe by allowing you to switch off days for classes or labs. Some may even move you to conducive shift so you attend day or night classes. But this is going to be your dedication and often on your dime. Attention for those of you who are military veterans: make sure you enroll and get your veterans administration educational funding lined up and fully utilize your benefits. Also, ask your employer if they have any educational bonuses or matching funds. There are still a few out there who want a more educated workforce and are willing to invest in you. The next thing is there will be those who will make jest of you for this quest. While everybody else is going out to the ball game or by the bar for some camaraderie, you have classes tonight. This is a decision that you have got to make, and these are “grown-up decisions.” These decisions will shape your future, so forget about the fun of the moment.

Academy offerings

Meet with your academy staff. They offer classes other than just the mandatory in-service training courses. Should they have specialized courses that peak your interest, make sure that you find some time. This may be positioning you towards some certifications. Several states have executive, supervisory, and investigative training tracks. This curriculum recommends the prescribed classes, obtained in a logical order to prepare a future detective or a future supervisor. Now, if you have to register on your own, this investment of your time shows commitment. There was many an hour I stayed in class on my off time just to gain this particular certification or knowledge based to position myself for the future. If it requires approval through supervisors, be willing to work with them on that. I have often told people, “Do not sit there and ask for overtime to attend a class.” If this is possibly being done to help yourself invest in your future, then do it. By preparing yourself you will be ready when it is posted on the board. If you do not prepare until an opportunity is posted, you are too late to prepare and that ship has sailed.

If you have prepared, now is the time for you to submit that application. You have been working hard these past few years. You may have obtained that degree and/or those certifications that positioned you well. Promotions and assignments and Policeland are not fair. You always have to station yourself to be the best candidate at all times. When you make the first cut, be ready to have your resume ready to submit. There is a trend to have staff submit a resume with applications. Larger agencies do not know their staff as intimately as smaller agencies. This official, brief insight to you may make a difference. I always recommend you have an updated resume or a curriculum vita that you can attach. This immediately confirms that you are a professional. And if we desire to have a professional department, then we should be hiring and promoting professional people. These documents show that you are prepared and possess what knowledge, skills and abilities are sought after for this promotion. A vita is more a display of your training and background experience, but not a problem to have both at the ready. Should you have additional training outside of the police spectrum, capture it as well. Examples could be you may have attended the leadership schools or other skill building schools from prior employment. Make sure you list them, for you have got to get your head above the others and stay positioned for your future. So, when’s the best time to start for your future? I would suggest after you finish this article. I would say do some soul searching and begin now. As I said earlier, if we desire to have a professional department, then we should be hiring and promoting professional people - and that should be you.

About the Author

William L. “Bill” Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served in leadership positions including chief during a career that spanned over 40 years.

This article appeared in the March/April issue of OFFICER Magazine.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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