Q&A Archives




What's New

Our Team

Our Friends

Interviews

Activities

Resources

Ask Experts

Our Mission

 

Law Enforcement Careers

¨  What steps should I make to become a cop?
¨  Do I need to do my police training in the country I will work in?
¨  Will a speeding ticket affect my chances of becoming a police officer?
¨  Military police training beneficial for police force application?
¨  What math do I need to become a police officer?
¨  What's your advice in preparing for the police officer candidate test?
¨  Recommendations for joining the armed forces
¨  Is a female police officer are you allowed to wear a lot of make up?
¨  What is a typical day for a detective like?
¨  More questions about a day in the life of a detective
¨  What marks or other procedures are required to get accepted to become a cop?
¨  I have tattoos on my arm.  Will I have trouble getting hired?
¨  I got my diploma from an online service.  Will the police accept it?
¨  What level of education should police applicants have?
¨  Should I go to college before entering the police academy?
¨  What education should police applicants have?
¨  What is the process in becoming a member of a S.W.A.T. team?
¨  Do youthful indiscretions hurt a person's chance to become a police officer?
¨  Does a police detective need a degree in criminal justice and if so, what kind?
¨  Why are ethics and character so important in the field of law enforcement?
¨  Do you feel that police are more ethical today, or were they more ethical ten years ago?
¨  Why do police officers become involved in misconduct?
¨  Do you feel that there is enough training offered in ethics at the police academy level?
¨  Should ethics training be offered as an on-going process for law enforcement officers?
¨  Do you feel that education and/or training in ethics would reduce incidents of police corruption?
¨  A day in the life of a police officer

Back to Careers Index

Return to Q&A Archives

[Links provided here were valid at the time the question was answered.  If you find a broken link, please Contact Us so we can remove it.]


QUESTION:
What steps should I take to become a cop?  I really have no idea where to start and I want to get started.  How many classes and what degree do I have to earn before I can become a cop?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 28 February 2005:
Here in Virginia Beach you can be 20 when you accepted into the academy, but need to be 21 by graduation.  We use a 8-tier selection process.  Go to VBGOV.com for the city's web site.  At the bottom, look under "jobs" in small print.  We hold two academies a year, all in house.

Master Police Officer Dana Johnson
Virginia Beach Police
Virginia Beach, VA

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I am getting a BA in criminology and would like to become a police detective.  What I was wondering was I live in Canada but am not sure if I want to stay here to be a detective.  I would like to go to New Zealand or the States.  If that is possible, would I have to do my police training in that given country I chose to go?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 6 August 2005:
Although you say you live in Canada, you didn't mention if you were a U.S. citizen or not.  Most law enforcement agencies in the States require applicants to be American citizens, but some are now moving to allow those with "green cards" to apply.  But they must have applied for the citizenship process.  And yes, you would have to do your police training, not only in the country you chose to work in, but in the state and local county as well.  The laws and procedures in the U.S. are complex and vary greatly from state to state.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I suspect that in 6 years I'll begin a career in law enforcement (after attending college and getting a degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science).  I got my very first speeding ticket a few months ago.  I couldn't see the sign anywhere.  Now I wonder if that will hurt my plans for my future career?  Can you tell me anything about a career on a SWAT team, or FBI or something like that?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 15 November 2004:
The speeding ticket should not be too much of a problem, unless you were charged with reckless driving (20 mph over the posted is the norm).  Otherwise, it could be a reminder to pay just a little more attention!

The FBI is always looking for college grads.  Are you bilingual?  It does look good on an application if you speak another language.  Stop by your local FBI office and check out what they are looking for.  Try to get an interview with anyone there that covers recruiting.  You may even get a personal tour, depending on how big their facility is.  Military SWAT experience doesn't hurt.  VA Beach, for example, requires three years on the street experience before one can apply for transfer.  FBI SWAT requirements maybe similar.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I enlisted into the Marine Corps, and I am going in as an MP [military police].  Will this benefit me in any way if I plan to become a regular police officer when my service is complete?  What are the benefits of having MP experience before becoming a regular police officer?  I would also like to know what my salary would be like,if I became a police officer after being an MP.  Is it easy to find a job in the police force after coming out of the military?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 12 November 2004:
The training will most definitely benefit you.  Weapons especially.  Most people do not know how to properly handle a firearm.  As a Field Training Officer (FTO) internal disipline is something I or our academy cannot teach.  In some situations I have to depend on that to get though an event.  Such as a very heated dispute and keeping your cool.  Or arriving at a bad accident and you have to make quick decisions.

While in the Corps, try to take classes in Criminal Justice as well.  Having an Associates or Bachelors degree along with military training/MP experience looks a lot better to a police department than just the degree or just the military time.

As an MP you'll get a little better idea of how a police department works.  If possible try to get a ride-a-long with an agency where you live.  In Virginia Beach, we strongly recommend it, so the prospective applicant sees what they are getting into.  Cool stuff as well as bad.

Getting a job with a police department depends on where you go.  It could take at least six months to a year for a process to go through.  Be patient.  Big departments like LAPD, CHP, etc., are almost always hiring.  Here in Virginia Beach, we run two academies a year.  21 weeks, then 13 weeks with a FTO.  VBPD starts out at $35,600.00.  LAPD is somewhere near $60,000.00.  This does not include overtime.  The LA area is an expensive area to live.  Some officers travel 50 miles one way to work.  I drive three!

Some tips to know as you work towards joining a police department:
o Drive responsibly, no one hires you when you have moving violations like speeding, reckless driving charges on your record.  We go back five years.
o Absolutely no DUI's, no criminal arrests like tresspassing, assault, intoxicated in public.  Any drug charges will kill you.
o
Watch your finances, keep one credit card (if that).  Don't get into serious debt.
o Be a regular Dudley Do Right!

I've been a police officer 24 years and love every minute of it!  Currently I serve as a School Resource Officer at a high school with 2,400 kids.  I tell people that I am a Chief Of Police of a small town!  Because most have no idea what I do.  The world of law enforcement can be very exciting.  There's never a dull moment!  I have only worked in Virginia Beach and strongly believe we have a very good working environment here.  Everyday is different.

Master Police Officer Dana W. Johnson
Virginia Beach Police, VA Beach, VA
SRO, Kellam High School

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
What type of math do I need to become a police officer?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 7 December 2003:
That's a very good question! Most police departments do not require you to know any kind of math.  But the numbers we do use vary.  Every department uses what are called "10" codes.  Like 10-4 for "I understand you" or 10-19 for "you can disreagard responding to where I am at.  10-97 is "I am on scene of the call ", 10-98 is "I am clear for another call to go to,like a motorist whose car has broken down and is holding up traffic somewhere.  Some departments have a very long list of 10-codes.  In Virginia Beach we have a short list.  So if you hear on a police scanner " 154 (that's my unit name) Dispatcher, I'll be code 40 with 125Adam".  Code 40 means I am assisting that unit on his case.

Here are a few more of what we use and are common with other departments:

Code 10 - is for a meal break. Some departments use code 7.

Code 12 - is for a coffee break (and an occasional donut!).

Code 20 - is a traffic stop. "I'll be code 20 with Virginia tag ABC-123 at Princess Anne and Dam Neck Roads, a red and white Ford pickup."

Code 30 - is when a unit is in any one of our court buildings.

Code 60 - is used for things I find on the road like a suspicious person or a store that looks like the front door is unlocked.  Anything that is found by us and not yet called into 9-1-1.

Code 81 - is for special assignments like when I am at the middle school I work at, "I'll be code 81, Landstown Middle School".  When I'm done at the end of the day I'll say "154 dispatcher, I'll be 10-98 from code 81 and 10-7 (off duty)".

Otherwise we pretty much just use normal language on the radios instead of codes which can be confusing.

Math formulas are used in accident cases to help determine how fast a car was going based on the length of its skid marks.  How far it traveled from the beginning to the end of an accident.That is called pre-crash, crash, and post-crash.

Math tests are used when officers apply to become trained to operate a machine that tests a driver who has had too much to drink.

Dana Johnson
Police Officer
Virginia, USA

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I recently applied to become a police officer.  I understand the written exam is challenging.  Do you have any recommendations as to how I can prepare for this test?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 3 September 2002:
Get a good night's sleep.  Eat breakfast.  Read each question.  Do not read into the question.  For example, the test in Virginia Beach involves a full page with four to six questions about what was on the previous page.  You can go back to look for answers as you need to.  Some tests are mutiple choice.  This would be where you need to be careful not to read into the question, and read the question.

Departments have more than one event to go through in their process.  Ours is at least six.  The candidate must get through all of them.

So, take each phase individually, and do you best.  Good Luck!

Dana Johnson
Virginia Beach Police
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I'm interested in joining a branch of the Canadian Armed Forces but there are some complications.  Even though I'm a Canadian resident, I've been living in the US since I was 12 and I'm 20 now.  On top of that, I don't have a lot of money for traveling/living expenses and I was just wondering what you recommend.

ANSWER from Jenny Alvarez on 7 February 2006:
First you should put some research into what branch you are interested in and what your goals are for yourself.  I'd recommend looking through the Canadian Armed Forces website at http://www.dnd.ca/

Then you can move on from there by calling representatives from the branch you have selected and asking them more specific questions.  For example, did you know that the United States Army will pay for their recruits travel expenses when putting them through AIT (infantry training).

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
How long does it take to become a police officer?  Also I wanted to know if you're a female police officer are you allowed to wear a lot of make up or not?  If not, why?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 21 February 2006:
The length of time to become a police officer depends on several things.  The state in which you live regulates the amount of training (police academy) you must complete.  The individual police agency or department adds its own training programs.  And the application and selection process itself may take months to complete.  Using my agency as an example it now takes about a year from the time of application to completion of academy training and subsequent field training before you are fully "on your own" as a fully trained officer.  On top of that, most departments require a probationary period of between six to eighteen months before permanent status.

As for the make-up question.  Generally, in most departments, female officers are allowed to wear a modest amount of make-up while in uniform.  Heavy make-up such as eye shadow and false eyelashes are usually prohibited.  Earrings are usually restricted to small studs with no dangling earrings.  Hair is usually worn up so as to fit under the uniform hat.  These are safety measures that protect the officer from hair pulling or getting their ears ripped in case of physical encounters with unruly suspects.  Male officers have appearance standards too - such as no beards and neatly trimmed mustaches, hair length and no visible tattoos.  Good luck!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I'd like to get a more detailed picture of what a typical day for a detective is like.  Things like: how many cases do they handle?  What do they do when they get up in the morning, etc?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 13 March 2006:
Detectives can be assigned by specialty, such as burglary, homicide, sex crimes and forgery/fraud, or in many police departments they are assigned to a geographical police district or area where they work with Patrol and handle all crimes requiring investigative follow-up in that district.  In other words they can be specialists or generalists depending on the agency.  With new patrol flexible work schedules, detectives are often assigned by shifts and can work a traditional 8 to 5 or can work an afternoon shift, sometimes 3 to 11 PM.  Many departments now have their detectives on four 10-hour shifts and some even on three 12- hour shifts per week.  Almost all detectives carry heavy case loads.  That can mean as many as five to 60 plus open cases depending on the size of the agency.  Big city PD's are much busier than small town departments.  On a typical day the investigator will review all the new cases that he/she is assigned and decide which cases require work and which ones can wait.  A lot of the work consists of phone calls and computer checks through the many crime data bases.  Then going out into the field to interview victims, witnesses and suspects, serving warrants and making arrests takes up the rest of the day.  Detectives are usually on call 24/7 and often get called out in the wee hours to follow up on their cases when patrol officers contact suspects or come across crimes that require a detective's expertise.  Detective work is demanding, stressful and very detail oriented, but can be extremely rewarding when a complex case is closed due to "good, old fashioned detective work."

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Thank you for answering my earlier question.  As a follow-up, I'd like to ask the below:
1. When does a detective prepare a Case Report - at the end of the case?  Does this report have a specific format or template?  If so, what are the various headings/sub-headings?  Is it prepared in Word, by hand, or using some other computer program?
2. How does the DA get a copy of the Case Report -from the detective or someone else?  Is this a paper copy or electronic version?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 17 March 2006:
These are detailed questions that indicate you have some knowledge of how police investigations are handled.  Let me start with the caveat that each agency has different procedures, forms, templates and methods of transmitting investigative progress through the system and eventually to the DA.  Since I don't know what state you are from you'll have to accept differences in statutes and laws as well.  What works in Michigan can be quite different in California.

Generally a detective prepares a complete case report when the investigation is complete and the suspect is arrested.  The whole case must go to the DA quickly since the window between arrest and arraignment (formally charging the defendant)is usually 48 to 72 hours (week ends excluded).  If the suspect is not formally arraigned before the time expires, he or she must be released.  Police agencies are starting to transmit case reports to both the DA and the courts electronically, but most still do it the old fashioned way by walking a hard copy to the DA's office where the detective often has to convince a deputy DA that the elements of the crime are present and the arrestee did it.

Before the final case report is completed, the detective adds to the case file by completing supplemental reports as he/she interviews witnesses and finds additional pertinent material.  Others also complete supplemental reports such as the CSI people, the lab people and patrol officers who come up with additional information to aid the detective.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
What marks or other procedures are required to get accepted to become a cop?  What is the acceptance rate to become a cop?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 25 March 2006:
It all depends on which police or sheriff's department you are applying to.  Each one has its own hiring standards, but all departments adhere to state-wide hiring and training requirements.  Agencies don't generally rely on school grades but focus on completion.  Usually a high school diploma is mandatory but some departments accept applicants with GED certificates.  An average acceptance rate is between 10 and 20 percent of applicants.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I have about a year before I finish getting my degree in Criminal Justice.  I have visible tattoos on my arms and I have been reading some things on the Internet and I am concerned that most agencies will not hire me for this reason.  I can cover them with long sleeves, but I am a little worried.  Is this a big problem?  Thanks for your time.

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 23 June 2006:
Hello Allen.  Each law enforcement agency has its own policy on visible tattoos.  Some prohibit anyone with visible tattoos from being hired in the first place, while others require them to be covered while on duty.  If you're applying for a uniformed agency that would mean you could never wear a short-sleeved uniform shirt, which is pretty uncomfortable in the hot summer months.  Some people have visible tattoos on their necks, requiring very high t-shirts or even scarves to conceal them.  Often you'll see police officers and sheriff's deputies with visible military type tattoos or other subdued tats.  Chance are those are people who were hired before the tattoo restrictions went into effect.  Your best course of action is to check on the tattoo policy of the agency you are applying for.  Good luck!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I got my high school diploma at a online service.  Will the police accept it?

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 24 June 2006:
Did you fulfill the requirements for the diploma or simply purchase a piece of paper?  If this was a reputable program and your online diploma is from an accredited institution, it should be accepted.  I suggest you check with the agency you wish to work for.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Based on your experience, what level of education do you think police applicants should be required to possess?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 24 June 2006:
The vast majority of local law enforcement agencies require a high school diploma as a minimum educational requirement.  Federal agencies often require a community college education ot even a four-year degree.  Law enforcement agencies are now looking for people with higher education levels and critical thinking skills than they have in the past.  An applicant who intends to make law enforcement a career (and not just a job) needs at least a college degree to compete with his or her peers for promotion.  That high school diploma just gets you in the door.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I am currently a high school junior, and I really want to be a police officer but I don't know if I should go to college for criminal justice because all of the police officers I've talked to told me not to, because they teach you everything in the academy, what do you think?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 24 April 2006:
I think it is a wonderful if you have the opportunity to attend college first.  While in the academy, you'll learn all about how to be a police office, by attending college, you can learn more about criminology in general, as well as other interesting things.  For example, you can learn about forensic science, the effects of crime on society, the psychology of the criminal mind, etc.  I don't know anything about the police academy, but I think college opens up your world a whole lot.  The police academy will teach you everything to become a police officer, but college can expand your horizon to make you a better police officer when time comes for you to enter the academy.  Ask around more.  Consult police officers as well as other people involved in the field. Good luck!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Based on your experience, what level of education do you think police applicants should be required to possess?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 25 June 2006:
With today's complicated world of computers, instantaneous data transmission, and crime analysis, it's my opinion that law enforcement applicants need some college to compete for the specialization that comes after being on the force for awhile.  I see more and more agencies requiring a two-year degree from their applicants.  To promote into supervision or management a four-year degree is becoming a must.  In my agency the majority of officers competing for command positions have advanced degrees and it's not unheard of for chiefs of police and high ranking federal officers to possess doctorates.  A good 25% of officers/deputies continue their formal education while on the job.  That's why cops drink so much coffee - to stay awake studying for that next exam!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I am currently serving as a Marine in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I am very interested in becomming a part of a S.W.A.T. team after I get out of the Corps.  I am taking as many classes as I can to get a degree in Criminal Justice.  Do you think I would have time to finish my degree while in the police force?  What is the process in becoming a member of a S.W.A.T. team?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 11 July 2006:
First of all thank YOU for your service and sacrifice.  I am but one of thousands in the law enforcement community who appreciates what you are doing for this country and pray you return safely.

Your pursuing a criminal justice degree while on active duty is commendable and will certainly make your application package much stronger when you do apply for a position with a police agency.  Most agencies encourage their officers to continue their formal education off-duty and some even provide tuition assistence if the program is job related.  Criminal Justice would certainly apply for you.

Like every specialized job in a department you must first be hired at the entry level (police officer; deputy; special agent, etc.) and then complete a probationary period as an officer or deputy before being allowed to apply for a special assignment such as SWAT.  Probation averages six months to 18 months, depending on the agency.  In large agencies such as the LAPD or the FBI, SWAT assignments are a full-time job.  In small to mid-sized departments they are part-time assignments where officers train periodically and are not deployed frequently.  Each agency has its own qualification requirements and application process for SWAT assignment.  Most include excellent physical condition, discipline and a particular psychological profile.  Marksmanship and weapons skills are taught after assignment.  Your experience as a marine will help but it's not a requirement.

Thank you again for your service and good luck!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
First, and to much to my regret, I have two DUI's on my record.  I have not broken any laws since then except for one or two speeding tickets in the past five or so years.  Between the ages of 18 and 20, I got into other trouble which resulted in minor misdemeanors.  I was by no means a bad kid.  I was just young and dumb and mixed up with the wrong crowd.  Any kind of advice and help that I can get on my chances of becoming a law enforcement officer would be tremendously appreciated.

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 3 September 2006:
You don't know unless you try!!  When you apply to the department, relay what you just described in your email.  Being upfront and honest, not to mention showing documentation, helps a lot!!!!  Virginia Beach Police requirements allow a -4 on your drivers abstract.  In lots of departments, they even allow some "minor" drug use such as marijuana.  When I went through the process in 1981, I told the polygraph examiner that I tried marijuana, but did not like it.  Being up front was good.  I celebrated 25 years service on 1 September, 2006.  Many departments are hurting for good quality people and can consider "overlooking" certain things.  Showing that you have taken positive steps to be a better person can be a big plus!!  Don't let anyone tell you that you can't qualify for a position unless it is someone doing the hiring process or in a letter of refusal from that agency.  Good Luck!!!!!

Master Police Officer Dana Johnson
VBPD, First Pct
SRO- Kellam Knights
VA Beach, VA

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I want to become a police detective when I get older and I was wondering if you need a degree in criminal justice and if so, what kind?

ANSWER from Chuck Magdalena on 16 September 2006:
Just about all police agencies in the U.S. today require their detectives to first be regular uniformed police officers or deputies.  Once hired and trained at a police academy officers usually work for a year or so before moving on to detective assignments.  Of course each agency has its own policies on assigning or promoting detectives/investigators.  College degrees are usually not required but possessing a BA or even an AA certainly gives a police officer an edge over the competition when competing for assignment or promotion to detective.  Good luck!

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Why are ethics and character so important in the field of law enforcement?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
Without ethics to guide our conduct, we would be as low as the bad guys we arrest.  The public puts us on a higher pedestal of performance due to our responsibility.  So it's so important to always do the right thing.  Even if others do not like what was done.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Do you feel that police are more ethical today, or were they more ethical ten years ago?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
Interesting question.  It's hard to say.  Most departments feel that they have become better at what we do and have set higher standards for their officers than 15 years ago.  I would be of the opinion that departments have become more ethical and strive to have the best officers represent that agency.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Why do police officers become involved in misconduct?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
Unfortunately a few bad apples get through the system and do bad stuff (like burglary) within three years of being on the street.  The temptation out there can be very overwhelming.  They believe they are above the law and can do anything.  When they get caught, it makes the entire department look bad.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Do you feel that there is enough training offered in ethics at the police academy level?  If not, why is that?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
No.  It boils down to the individual officer to follow the rules of the department and be the example of a good officer.  All the extra training in the world, in some cases, will not change some individuals.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Should ethics training be offered as an on-going process for law enforcement officers?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
Yes!  We in the Virginia Beach Police Department have ethics training updates every year.  If constant reminders of how we are to conduct ourselves are not put out, we will fall apart.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
Do you feel that education and/or training in ethics would reduce incidents of police corruption?

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 18 January 2007:
Yes, there should be a fear of getting caught and the embarrassment the officer brings onto his/her department, themselves, and their family.

Return to list of questions

QUESTION:
I am 27 years old and decided to go back to school and earn my Bachelor's in Criminal Justice, which has always been a passion of mine.  I am trying to investigate what a day in the life as an officer can be like.  I know each day is different, but just some general information would be outstanding.

ANSWER from Dana Johnson on 13 February 2007:
Interesting question.  An officer/deputy can have a slow day, with a few calls for service.  Or the first case they are assigned could be to the scene of a homicide or fatal traffic crash.  An officer can just have started their shift, see a minor traffic violation and the stop turn into a subject wanted in another jurisdiction or someone who thinks the officer knows something about them and they decide to resist.  Thus turning a "routine" traffic stop into a deadly encounter.  One must be ready to deal with most anything, and have all the gear/paperwork they need so they do not have to return to headquarters or the precinct building for anything.  Their police cruiser is a "rolling office".  There is never a dull moment in this job, one never knows what is around they next corner!

Master Police Officer Dana Johnson
VA Beach Police, First Precinct

Return to list of questions

Return to Q&A Archives

 


  Español Français Português
Last Updated:
10 July 2007
 

| Home | Contact Us | Credits | Sitemap |

© 2005-2007 - Imagiverse Educational Consortium