As humans continue to incorporate all manner of technology into their daily lives, law enforcement must also evolve at the same pace or risk becoming ineffective. This technological revolution requires public safety organizations to adapt to the unique issues that technology presents. The need for law enforcement officers with training and skills related to these challenges continues to grow at a rapid pace and many young officers are seeking out these opportunities.
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Technical jobs within policing can range from advanced accident reconstructionists, drone pilots, electronic surveillance officers, digital forensic investigators, 3D crime scene investigators, real-time crime analysts, social media researchers and many others. It can be daunting for a new officer to know where to begin when working toward being considered for one of these technical positions, especially when these types of positions are so new with few mentors.
A common misconception is that any officer who is known for being “good with computers” will make a quality officer in a technical role. While this can be true, some of the best technical officers share many of the skills we value in patrol officers such as being a self-starter and having a high drive for personal success.
Despite the difficulty in pinpointing a select group of skills that newer officers should pursue, there are a few guidelines for any young officer wanting to develop their career into one of these coveted technology-related roles:
1. Be a great street cop first
Having the experience and knowledge of a seasoned street cop is the foundation of any role in public safety, period. The absolute best officers in a highly specialized technical role were almost all exceptional street officers and had a broad range of experiences they could call upon to problem solve.
Being proactive and getting into the mix of the daily adventure of patrol is an excellent way to build the necessary soft skills that are needed for a technical role. Reaching out to supervisors and district attorneys with their recommendations for improving report writing skills and taking advantage of departmental training on various topics go far with making a well-rounded street cop.
When the time comes and a technical role presents itself, the officer who has gone the extra mile with hard work and training will have an advantage over others.
2. relentlessly protect your reputation
Law enforcement is an extremely unique profession that has a very long memory. It’s not uncommon to hear veteran officers talk about a misstep that another officer took over 30 years ago. It is 100% true that a law enforcement officer’s reputation starts the second they walk into the police academy on the first day and that reputation follows them well past their retirement date. I have personally witnessed officers who continually failed to get chosen for a specialized technical role simply due to their personal reputation despite being solid candidates on paper. Protect your reputation daily so that it becomes an asset rather than an anchor when the time comes.
3. Volunteer with the experts
While this may not be an option with smaller agencies, it’s still solid advice to reach out to others in the positions you desire, even if you have to go outside your agency.
Despite being known as a cagey profession, most law enforcement officers are happy to help guide eager young officers seeking out the knowledge and experience to better themselves. Offering to volunteer to ride out with a specialized technical officer or sit in on a shift to experience the day-to-day is a highly valuable experience.
4. Tailor your knowledge toward your goal
Having identified a specific job within the law enforcement world, it would be wise to seek out specific training and certifications related to that role. An individual wanting to work in traffic investigations can go to an accident reconstruction school. A social media research assignment would need advanced open source investigation courses.
Having a strong resume that matches the needs of the job description is an automatic advantage, but be cautious not to overstate this in an interview or it could backfire. Technical assignments in law enforcement are highly contingent on experience within the role to be proficient, and despite having a specific certification, what agencies need is someone willing and able to be trained. Stating that you are already certified and qualified for a job due to a training course poses a risk that the interviewer will see you as a know-it-all and may not be easily taught. If your prior training comes up, simply state, “I wanted to put myself in a position to be the leading candidate for this role, but despite that training, I am ready to come in and learn whatever you feel is necessary for me to be successful”
5. Handle rejection with grace and treat it as a learning experience
There is no better way to destroy any future chances of being considered for a highly specialized technical assignment than to lash out after being rejected. This will not only eliminate your future chances at that particular spot but likely any others as well.
One of the best examples I saw an officer handling rejection happened over 10 years ago. The officer emailed the entire team and wrote, “I wanted to say how much I appreciate you letting me interview to be a part of your team. I learned a lot in the interview and I wanted to ask if there were any recommendations you could all give me to put myself in a better position to be chosen the next time?” This was an outstanding way to handle rejection. There were no emotions, just a genuine desire for advice to become better. This officer was indeed chosen the next time and his response played a part in the selection. Seeing rejection as an opportunity to learn and another way to advance your reputation is a skill in and of itself.
While these five guidelines can be applied to any internal law enforcement job, they are especially true for technical assignments. These roles tend to have a higher than average learning curve that demands patience and the ability to be taught. Having the foundation of a solid street officer with an excellent reputation, mixed in with specific training tailored for the role is an excellent way to put yourself in a position to be the next great technology-based law enforcement officer.
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