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Getting into Law Enforcement can be a lengthily and challenging process. Whether you want to become a police officer with a local agency, a state trooper, or a federal agent, knowing what to do to get your career started is vital. So we asked 15 current and former law enforcement officers from local, state, and federal agencies: What Career Advice would you have for someone going into law enforcement? These officers work in small departments agencies to larges agencies and while the each provided advice based upon their own experiences, there was some surprising similarities in the tips they provided to anyone going into law enforcement.


Quick links:

From Pro Football to Police Officer
Boston Police Chief during Marathon Bombing
Attacked by Suspect in Fight to the Death
Human Trafficking
Crime Analyst
FBI Cyber Agent
Human Trafficking
Survived a Fight to the Last One Standing
Oversaw murder investigation of 3 Muslim Students
Captain Kevin Warych
Police Analyst
Crime Scene Investigator
Sergeant Garrett TeSlaa
Homicide Investigator (Ret.)
FBI Supervisory Special Agent (Ret) Ellen Glasser


From Pro Football to Police Officer

Corporal Brooks, Arlington County Police Department, Virginia

Going into law enforcement, you don’t have to have a criminal justice background.
I take part in lot of careers fairs talking with students or people coming over from the military, and they wonder if they need to have a Criminal Justice background to be a cop.

I work with people who have English backgrounds, history backgrounds, business backgrounds, and that really helps with the people who we interact with, that it is not just one type of person working as a law enforcement officer. There is no “type” of person that becomes a great officer.

Thinking outside of working, make sure that you have hobbies outside of law enforcement.
Don’t always surround yourself with law enforcement. Spend time with friends and families and have hobbies or things that you are into, because the job can be stressful and you don’t want to bring it home with you every day. And lastly for me, I would say stay in shape. There will be times when the job can be physically demanding. You don’t want to be that officer who is out of shape, but that’s just me being the sports guy. Listen to Corporal Brooks


Boston Police Chief during Marathon Bombing

Former Chief Daniel Linskey, Boston Police Department

The takeaway from an event like the Boston Marathon Bombing is that to be a part of a career, part of a group of people, that in the middle of crisis when bombs are going off they don’t run from them as every human instinct tells them they should, they run towards the danger and they help people. The help they give can make a huge difference in people’s lives. And the things they do on a daily basis make a huge difference in people’s lives. And you do meaningful work. That makes your communities safer and better. There is no more honorable profession than to wear a badge, and stand up for your citizens against evil. I encourage everyone who is inclined to think that is something they want to do, to engage. We need the next generation of law enforcement. Listen to former Police Chief Linskey


Attacked by Suspect in Fight to the Death

Miami-Dade Police Officer Gutierrez, Public Safety Medal of Valor Recipient

You have to have a passion for law enforcement, you have to have a what I call a “cop’s heart.” You have to have that desire to help people and to serve because that’s the main thing an officer does, is he serves his community.

As an officer we are all members of the community that we live in. But we take on that burden and we choose to stand between what is evil and what’s good, and we do it willingly. Some of us lose our lives. Listen to Officer Gutierrez


Human Trafficking

Special Agent Langston, US Department of State Diplomatic Security Services

I recommend that people do as much research as possible. There are so many agencies out there. Everybody is pretty familiar with the agencies that have TV shows or that have been prominently portrayed in movies. But, there are so many more agencies.

Do research, think about what your passions are, what your interests are. If you are an account, someone who is into numbers, there are amazing agencies that deal with money laundering and financials crimes. If you are interested in going overseas, there is the Diplomatic Security Services, we can send you overseas. There are other agencies that have those positions as well.

It is like any profession, take some time to think about the impact that it might have on your personal life in terms of if the agency has a lot of travel or requires you to move a lot. I think some people glamorize certain agencies and then don’t realize some of the realities of being on call 24/7 or having to transfer or having to move, or some of the travel that is involved. Listen to Special Agent Langston


Crime Analyst

Supervising Crime Analyst Annie Mitchell, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Criminal Analysts is a law enforcement position. So, you have to be able to pass an extensive background check. You might want to look at what a background includes so that you can stay away from certain things now. Start showing an interest in the field of Crime Analysts. I’ve had people contact me, contact the Sheriff’s Department because they are thinking about going into the field and would like to sit with a Crime Analyst and see what they do. If your eventual goal is Crime Analysis, it’s a good idea to get your foot in the door and already have a position within that department, then it is easier to get hired as a Crime Analyst with that agency. Listen to Supervising Crime Analyst Mitchell


FBI Cyber Agent

Supervisory Special Agent Elvis Chan leads a Cyber Squad at the FBI San Francisco Office.

For someone interested in working in law enforcement cyber investigations, they should find a college major that they would like. Whether it is in computer science, information technology, or information management. Then, get a job in the tech sector and see how they like that. If they like their tech sector job, then they would like working as FBI Cyber Agent. Listen to Supervisory Special Agent Elvis Chan


Human Trafficking

Special Agent in Charge Ben Poller, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation

Try to get as much experience as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter what position you have in law enforcement. It doesn’t matter if you work in a jail, if you’re on patrol, get involved in as much as you can. That’s going to give you more experience and it’s going to broaden your horizons. Listen to Special Agent in Charge Poller.


Survived a Fight to the Last One Standing

Special Agent William Gray

My advice is to take your training seriously. Every single one of us raised our hand, said we want to do this job knowing full well we could get injured or give our life in the line of duty to protect one of our fellow officers or a civilian. If you are injured, whether you are cut, stabbed, beaten, don’t quit in the fight. And you certainly don’t want to quit afterwards. Listen to Special Agent William Gray.


Oversaw murder investigation of 3 Muslim Students

Chief Chris Blue, Chapel Hill Police Department

I had a couple of jobs right after college, one working at a restaurant and one in sales, which is a great way to learn about people, to learn about customer service, and how to read people. Those experiences gave me really good people skills. I think too often the traditional path into law enforcement is a first joining a Police Explorer program then getting a criminal justice degree, working security on the side. All of these things that are related to police work or at least appear to be related to police work, are actually fairly narrow in terms of breadth of experience that they provide.

So my advice would be if you’re interested in being a police officer, major in philosophy, get a job doing something that has nothing to do with police work. Find as many ways as you can to learn about people and human interaction and, I think you will be well served. We can teach you the technical parts of the law and we can teach you how to drive a police car safely. We can teach you all kinds of firearm skills and defensive tactics skills. People skills are really the skills you being with you to work. Oftentimes I think we in police work fail to think about that and instead, we encourage folks to follow a more narrowly focused path to police work which is real missed opportunity. Listen to Chief Blue


Captain Kevin Warych

Green Bay Police Department

I wish somebody would have told me prior to going to college for criminal justice that I could have gone to school for any undergraduate degree. I have a criminal justice that I use daily. But looking back if somebody would have told me that I could have got a degree in psychology social work or communications and still been a police officer that may have altered what I went to school for. There are other degrees out there that are just as applicable if not better for police officers to have in their wheelhouse so that they can be the best patrol officer that they can be here. Listen to Captain Warych


Police Analyst

Mike Winslow, Scottsdale Police Department

One of the things about my job is I get to do a lot of the investigative work alongside with our detectives. We’re literally housed in our investigations unit, our detectives are right next to us and we get to work right alongside of them. The only thing we don’t get to do is go out and make the arrest and I’m totally okay with that. But one thing that people don’t really realize about our field is it’s a great way to get in and to be able to do that investigative work without having to be an officer. For some people being sworn officer isn’t their thing. It’s a great way to get in and still be able to do that investigative work right alongside sworn detectives. Listen to Police Analyst Mike Winslow


Crime Scene Investigator

Deputy Scott Lehmann, Dane County Sheriff’s Office

I would encourage them to reach out depending on where they live if the agency in their home has a crime scene investigation unit to call up and talk to an investigator. Internships with state level crime labs or a specific law enforcement agency that has a crime scene unit would be very beneficial. Listen to Deputy Lehmann


Sergeant Garrett TeSlaa

Sheriff’s Office in Southern California, Host ofThe Squad Room” Podcast

You know the movie The Matrix. When you become a law enforcement officer you take the blue pill and everyone else takes another pill which allows them to or whatever the wanted is right where everyone else takes the pill where they get to go about their lives as if none of this really exists. And when you become a cop it’s the opposite. You know you can’t go back and you see the world differently. Your life will change. And if you are mindful, all of those changes are going to be good.

My experience is that it made me a much better person because it forced me to. I had to uphold that badge, and that honor and that oath. And that made me into a much better person. I wish I had known that earlier because I probably would’ve done it sooner. I wish I knew the variety of the work that we do. You know we are a marriage counselor we are a suicide counselor we are a counselor of a ton of different issues and it’s a huge challenge. But there is grace in that challenge that I think is just inspiring and it’s inspiring to see other officers come into the job and then fulfill that fulfill that role because we were needed. Those are the things that I know and would have liked to have known sooner. Listen to Sergeant TeSlaa


Homicide Investigator (Ret.)

Bill Hanson, Tucson Police Department

For someone that hasn’t yet started their law enforcement career, go to a least community college and try to get some experience through some of the programs they have. Talk to your police department and see if you can go in to some type of civilian program where they may have a civilian academy to learn more. See where your strengths are at. Not every cop is going to want to be a homicide investigator. But if that is where you, then go to your local or county department, or state department, and talk to them about that you would like to do this and how do I get started. Listen to Bill Hanson


FBI Supervisory Special Agent (Ret) Ellen Glasser

Spent 24 years in the FBI working white collar crime, corruption, terrorism and major violent crime.

The needs of the FBI dictate that they hire people with specialized skills. The FBI has their law program, language program, accounting program, diversified program, and a computer and engineering program. For people that are interested in working for the FBI, if you have great computer skills, are an accountant, or have language skills that the FBI needs, you will be a very attractive candidate. The diversified category is the category that most new agents are hired under. Those will be people like me who were probation and parole officers, or people who were in the military, or people that have executive complex experience of all kinds. We have an amazing workforce of diverse people, but there are some critical needs that the FBI has. Language is one of them, computer skills, and people that can help us investigative the cyber threat. Those people are very competitive as applicants.

My advice to anyone interested in joining the FBI is to be excellent at whatever they do. The FBI is going to look at your G.P.A., they are going to look at how you have done in your past employment. Rarely do FBI agents get hired right out of college. So, being really good at what you are doing is important because that is what the FBI is going to look at. Follow the path of what you are good at. If you are proficient at any languages, pursue that, as you may qualify under the language program. Listen to S/A (Ret) at Ellen Glasser

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