Police departments are faced with challenges of the 21st century that require fast-thinking critical analysis, strong and ethical leadership, and digital savviness. As the digital age blossoms, public-service careers like nursing and teaching, as well as the field of law enforcement, are filled with job vacancies as they struggle to recruit qualified professionals to serve and protect society. This creates ample opportunity for the educated and motivated to pursue careers in police work.
But is becoming a police officer worth it? Dr. Genea Stephens says “yes.”
"We need to show people how the law enforcement culture really is focused on all the things they are, which is being a force in the community, having a positive impact on people, engaging in our community members' lives to better them," says Dr. Stephens, chair of the Bachelor of Arts in Law Enforcement Administration degree program at the University of Arizona Global Campus.
Dr. Stephens, who previously served as a police officer for 20 years, left the job to pursue her doctoral degree. Today, she's concerned about recruiting millennials to bring police work into a new era as their boomer forebears age out and retire. We spoke with Dr. Stephens about recruiting tactics that are helping to redefine police work through the lens of public service and community.
From Dr. Stephens's perspective, a strong education in criminal justice and law enforcement creates the opportunity to join a police community devoted to shared values and honor, as well as to support the safety and flourishment of one's community at large.
Of course, the sensational 24/7 news cycle keeps combustible issues such as immigration, active shooters, and domestic terrorism in the front of people's minds at all times. While these issues are taken seriously by police, the vast majority of officers rarely engage with anything controversial - most never even fire guns in the line of duty. When officers obtain an education, coupled with the right mindset, their interactions almost always go well.
Most officers are ethical and honest servants of our communities, fostering goodwill and helping citizens get the social services they need in the course of their everyday lives. "There is a great need for the officer to see themselves in a broader perspective, as that link, connecting people to services and bridging that divide," says Dr. Stephens.
Given the complexity of the issues and the roles police officers play, it is important to understand the many benefits of becoming a police officer. Here we highlight five reasons why you should consider becoming a policer officer in 2019.
1. Public service offers a chance to protect the community in which you live
While recent media coverage has highlighted numerous incidents of crime and misbehavior perpetrated by police officers, the focus of the job is the same as it's ever been - to protect and to serve. In fact, the vast majority of police activity is dedicated to making people feel safer and bringing them closer together. Police officers are ambassadors of the public interest and "gatekeepers of the criminal justice system," says Dr. Stephens, and they have the responsibility to behave in ways that reflect the strongest values of the society they represent. Ethical police can create a wave of positivity that spreads through the community, and it starts with educated leaders.
Law enforcement may include more dramatic and adrenaline-fueled moments than the modal career. But most of this work requires softer skills, such as communication, community outreach, and attention to detail. Police officers can build these skills by directly engaging with the public as much as possible, which is why Dr. Stephens advocates for “officers to go out to the schools and have lunch in the cafeteria."
New recruitment strategies encourage the values that progressive police departments want to instill in police and in society, such as inclusion, transparency, and sincerity. Approaches such as the Austin PD’s “show us your tattoo” initiative invite potential recruits to come as they are and learn about police culture in a shared spirit of openness. Effective recruitment communicates the shifting realities of police work and the exciting new opportunities for those who thrive in these changing times.
2. Law enforcement is all about support and leadership
Police officers face uniquely intense and challenging situations, but they don't have to do it alone. They're supported by a team of fellow officers who understand and share their perspective. Each precinct is a strong and cohesive community with its own culture and social bonds that support its members throughout their careers. Funny recruiting videos from departments in Fort Worth and Danbury showcase the personalities, inside jokes, and sense of levity that help officers have fun and stick together through the distinct challenges of their work.
3. Police officers have many specialties to choose from
There's much more to police work than traffic stops, drug busts, and crosswalks. There's an array of specialties within the force. These may include:
- Federal marshal
- Highway patrol officer
- Immigration officer
- Border patrol
- Criminal investigator
- Homeland Security and terrorism prevention agent
Whether you want to investigate crime scenes or prefer to monitor our nation’s borders, there is a career option that aligns with your interests.
4. Law enforcement agencies need more diversity
Large social conversations around issues of diversity are highly relevant to police work. When departments welcome diversity as part of their recruiting strategies and cultivation of talent, they more accurately reflect the communities they serve and can help reduce tensions between citizens and police.
Change means rethinking old assumptions about who people are, what they're capable of, and what they have to contribute. About 12% of all American officers are women, and Dr. Stephens notes studies showing that "women have lower uses of force than male officers." Inviting more women into the fold of professional law enforcement - along with disadvantaged minorities, including people with disabilities - can help change the culture itself, along with public perception.
5. It's not too late to change the narrative
As Dr. Stephens suggests, it's not enough to recognize a problem when you see one - you must be able to ask, "why is that a problem?"
Attaining this knowledge can increase your ability to make more deeply informed decisions and to understand how your work impacts the justice system, the citizens you serve, and society at large. It can enhance your competitive advantage when choosing a job or angling for a promotion.
In its essence, police work is about communication. It's about asking the right questions and knowing how to listen. According to Dr. Stephens, highly qualified officers are more articulate and have stronger communication skills.
“When you're out dealing with the public, those oral communication skills are key," she notes.
If you've considered a career in law enforcement or criminal justice, this is an excellent time to explore what's available. And if you're already in the field, you can take advantage of a greater array of opportunities when you earn a degree - it could lead to promotions, leadership positions, and greater influence on what the culture of police work is to become.
When you earn a degree in criminal justice from UAGC, you give yourself an opportunity to help change the culture and the reality of police work. You strengthen your capacity for rational, critical thinking, and hone your skills as a lifelong learner, a necessary mindset for any great law enforcement officer.
Do you have the courage and curiosity to help shape the new world of law enforcement? Consider a criminal justice degree from UAGC. Contact UAGC today to learn more.