Industry Spotlight: Law Enforcement
Careers in law enforcement, security, and corrections run the gamut, and if you’re hankering to continue your service in a fast-paced role, this field offers job security and plenty of opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of protective service occupations is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024. This is a slower growth rate than the national average, but that doesn’t mean slim pickings. As prior military, you possess most of the skills needed to find success in this field.
“There is definitely a shortage of police officers,” said Officer Christian Camarillo, recruiter for the San Jose Police Department in California. “We’re dealing with a different generation of candidates and recruits. Young people don’t see being a police officer as the ‘cool’ thing to do anymore.”
However, just because there’s a need for officers doesn’t mean that departments have lowered their hiring standards. “We’d rather have less people than 10 mediocre people. You have to go through a thorough background check, which includes psychological testing,” Camarillo said.
The good news is that “veterans fit the bill for many of the open positions, both in law enforcement and the correctional system,” said Steven Scott, recruiter at CoreCivic. (The firm founded the private corrections management industry three decades ago.) The corrections field “is unlimited in job options,” Scott said.
“Many people first think of the Correctional Officer (CO) as the main position in a detention center, but there's much more. A detention facility is like a military base, where it's a city within a city,” Scott said. “We hire medical staff, administrative personnel, educators, maintenance, and of course we have leadership opportunities. Corrections is a growing profession that offers great benefits, competitive pay, and career advancement opportunities.”
Regardless of what you did in the military, employers in this arena consider you a viable job candidate. Sure, serving in Special Forces or as an Military Police (MP) might be helpful for background experience. “But many employers feel that given your combat experience, self-discipline, and leadership, you’re probably already capable in a crisis and have the know-how to manage a variety of dicey situations,” Camarillo said.
What to Expect
The median annual wage in 2016 for police and detectives nationwide was $61,600, according to the BLS. However, wages will vary and cost-of-living should always be taken into account.
“The salary is relative to the expenses,” said Camarillo. “And you might have to move for your job. Always do your research on the cost-of-living. Policing is a big commitment. If you move for your job, you have to be prepared.”
Likewise, in corrections, “you wouldn’t necessarily have had to serve at Fort Leavenworth to land a job as a corrections officer,” Scott said. In companies like CoreCivic, hot jobs include: correctional and detention officers. academic instructors, vocational instructors, maintenance and HVAC personnel, nurses, treatment counselors, mental health counselors, psychologists, and various corporate positions.
If you do want a job as a corrections officer, the median national pay in 2016 was $42,820, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although state and local budget constraints and prison populations will determine how many correctional officers are necessary, employment opportunities will continue, because the stress associated with the job causes many to leave the occupation each year, the BLS said.
That said, job stability in this field “is great, especially at CoreCivic,” Scott said.
“As federal, state, and local jurisdictions reach their inmate capacity, they look for ways to expand their detention resources by partnering with private organizations such as CoreCivic. We can provide the resources needed for a cost-effective solution, leaving more taxpayer dollars to be spent in other capacities,” Scott said.
Other career options in the public safety industry to consider? Private detectives and investigators offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes. The median salary for those occupations in 2016 was $48,190, according to the BLS. Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers patrol and protect property against theft, vandalism, terrorism, and illegal activity. According to the BLS, their median 2016 salary was $25,840.
Qualifications to Consider
To become a police officer or detective, education requirements range from high school diploma or college credits, to college degree. But this all depends on the police department. Conviction of a felony or drug use may disqualify you.
Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. For example, San Jose requires new hires to attend police academy, and once they’re out, they do a minimum of three years on patrol. “No exceptions,” Camarillo said. “After that, you could be anything from air support, traffic motorcycle officer, detective, or work on anything from homicide, to fraud, to sexual assaults, to missing persons.”
In some cases, you don’t need a college degree. “The San Jose PD requires a certain number of college credits to apply,” Camarillo said. “The only thing to substitute that is four years of active duty, and you have to have a DD214. You must have left the military in good standing. You can use that with four years of minimum service to apply.”
Corrections officers only need a high school diploma or an equivalent GED. But if you sign on with a firm, the requirements vary. For example, “CoreCivic has career opportunities for those that hold a high school diploma to graduate level degrees. Certifications or special licensing may be required in certain positions, such as medical or teaching professions,” said Scott. Some firms also look for specific work experience, such as teaching vocational skills.
“Remember, these are paramilitary organizations,” Camarillo said. “A lot of things that we do are organized the way the military is. You’re just switching from one uniform to another. I’ve been doing this for 19 years. The drill, the uniform, the academy comes easier for someone who has been in the military.”
By Heidi Lynn Russell