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Ask a Cop: How do I become a cop?

By Officer Anonymous | Posted - Mar 11th, 2013 @ 11:58am



SALT LAKE CITY — How do I get a job in law enforcement?

I get asked this question now and again. I always answer the question with a question, “Are you sure you want to be a cop? Have you thought about being a fireman?” They look curiously at me and I explain. Firemen are loved by citizens, they are always posing for those adorable calenders, and they get to drive those giant red trucks everywhere. Even if your house burns down or they cut your vehicle in half rescuing you, they are still heroes. Their job is to save lives, and what is more nobler than that?

Officers save lives, but we are also the bearer of bad news. We are the enemy to some and the last guy you want at a party. We are asked to baby-sit, resolve neighbor and civil disputes, counsel and ruin people's days with citations. We are handed many hats with little training. On top of this, you will be treated differently by friends and family.

Usually when I get done with this section of my speech, I can tell whether they are serious or just thought it would be cool to chase “bad guys” down alleys, shoot cars till they explode and jump out of second-story windows before a bomb goes off. I ask them if they are sure they want to take a police car home and have it shot up by kids, which happened on March 7 in Salt Lake City. I can think of many other officers' vehicles and houses vandalized in the past two years targeted by people angry with cops.

I advise them that they will be taken for granted or have their position devalued as a job anyone can do, so be grateful you have a job. Reading all this, you are probably wondering why I continue in this job. I am on the 20-year retirement, and I love law enforcement and putting criminals in jail. However, if I wasn't on the 20-year retirement, which the Legislature did away with, I would have left long ago for better pay, more respect and less danger, even though “danger” is my middle name.

If the person asking hasn't sprinted away, I tell them that if they can, get hired by a police department that will sponsor you through the police academy while paying you a full-time salary. Off hand, I know Salt Lake City Police, West Valley Police, Highway Patrol, Salt Lake County Sheriff's and Ogden Police offer that. The stance on this changes per department based on budget as it is expensive to sponsor a new recruit through the academy. I'm sure there are other departments that sponsor and people can yell at me in the comments section about that.

Police departments like to see things like second languages spoken, college degrees, military experience or other experience related to police work. Things like being chased by cops a lot, or always calling the police should not be listed as relevant experience.

If you have no experience, Salt Lake Community College and various other colleges offer a “self-sponsored” academy class with a total cost of $4,800 in tuition, if you want to be “peace officer certified.” This does not include equipment you will need or the cost of the entrance test.

You will need to pay $30 and take the National Police Officer Selection Test first and pass it. Which is not difficult, unless you truly don't know that if Farmer Brown has nine apples and he sells three of them, he will have how many apples?

You may ask why not just get hired by one of the departments that sponsors? It can be difficult. When I was applying, I was 21, Caucasian, no family, no college and no experience to speak of. I really had nothing to offer a department, so I had to put myself through the academy. Thirty-three weeks later, I graduated and received my certification with no assurance of obtaining a job.

If you are sponsored, the academy is much shorter as it becomes your full-time job. The academy can be fun if you go in realizing it is like boot camp. Now it is not nearly as tough as boot camp, and there is not as much yelling and creative expletives, but they do want you to understand that you are getting into a para-military organization.

There will be physical training and firearms, building clearing and investigations. A lot of it can be quite fun and some really boring. I was in the best shape of my life until I got hired by a department and discovered these round pastries people are always making jokes about.

When I finished, I applied all over the Salt Lake Valley with no success. Even with the certification, I was getting passed up by individuals with more. After a year, I took a job as a reserve officer, making zero dollars at a small department. I was handed a brown paper sack with my gun, badge and my choice of any old sweaty bullet-proof vest they had in the closet. I chose one without holes in it. After three months of working for free, I was offered a full-time position. Thankfully the last officer they hired realized police work was dangerous and quit.

I had a buddy who spent the last two years attempting to get hired by a police department. He worked out and applied everywhere he could. He went from an out-of-shape, overpaid white collar worker to an in-shape, underpaid police officer for West Valley. I tried to scare him away, but with no success.

We as police try to filter out who we hire and get the best candidates we can for what we offer, but like any job, some bad eggs will get through. You have to think that with more than 550 officers on average being assaulted in Utah every year (FBI UCR 2008-2011), and on average 160 officers being killed in the line of duty every year in America, (odmp.org), that we would get less recruits. I guess there are some good eggs out there after all. Or maybe we're nuts.

This article is for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. I do not represent a specific agency or government. Please send questions to askacop@ksl.com

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