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- Job Description
- Top 10
- How to Get There
If you like to solve problems, work with others and take charge of difficult situations, this may be the dream job you're after. The police are dedicated to supporting the law by detecting and arresting criminal activity and by maintaining order, peace and safety.
They work for city or state governments and are given the authority to use special methods and instruments to protect the members of their community. Police officers spend a lot of their time preventing criminals from succeeding; they often work in dangerous and chaotic conditions. For this reason, police officers must be brave, focused and reliable. To be a good police officer, you have to be a team player who takes orders well and sticks to the plan.
UNITS UNITE!: Police departments are made up of many teams, called "units," which work together to cover all aspects of crime-fighting. Though every department forms units differently, here are ten common specialties that departments have developed to stop criminals in their tracks.
CANINE: Officers in the canine unit work with police dogs to track suspects, evidence, explosives, and narcotics. Because a dog's sense of smell is much better than a human's, canine units have made "sniffing out" crime easier and more efficient than ever.
COMMUNICATIONS: Officers in the communications unit oversee dispatchers who send cops to specific locations in response to alarms, emergency calls and walk-in reports. These are the folks that you reach when you dial 911, so they're the ones who get the crime-stopping ball rolling.
CRIME-STOPPERS: This unit works with news stations and other media to encourage the public to provide information about criminal activity to the police. They supply phone numbers for anonymous and confidential reports and offer reward money for tips that lead to arrests.
EVIDENCE: This unit collects, documents, processes, and assists in the transfer of evidence. These officers are trained with special skills or equipment for fingerprinting, fingerprint comparison, photography, artistic representation, biological evidence collection, and electronic imaging. It's delicate work and requires strict adherence to rules; the handling of evidence can mean the difference between a suspect's conviction or release.
INVESTIGATIONS: The investigating officers are the cops who find witnesses, take reports and sometimes link one suspect to bigger criminal operations. They get the story straight and figure out what's missing when things don't add up. They have to possess keen intuition and good logic skills to identify leads and suspicious stories.
JUVENILE: Juvenile units specialize in working with criminal cases involving minors. These officers often work with schools to increase young people's awareness of the dangers of drinking, drugs and guns, the warning signs of illegal behavior, and practical methods of self-defense.
MOUNTAIN BIKE: Mountain bike units are fairly new to the crime-fighting scene. Officers on bikes can get through small spaces or across unusual terrain with a level of speed and stealth that's unavailable when using other modes of transport. Bikes make it easier to capture criminals in alleys, nature parks, and crowded areas like parades.
MOUNTED: These are the officers you see riding horses. The horses allow officers the benefit of speed and agility through difficult terrain, while their size makes them ideal for controlling crowds. They're also great for gaining respect, affection and cooperation from the public toward police officers, which makes it easier for officers to do their jobs.
NEGOTIATIONS: These officers are psychology specialists and are instrumental in dealing with hostage situations, barricaded individuals, and potential suicides. They attempt to talk potentially dangerous people through highly charged and risky scenarios to remove the threat of harm or death.
TRAFFIC: Traffic cops are assigned to monitor the safety of particular stretches of highway or other heavy traffic areas. They are usually found in police cars or on motorcycles.
How to Get There
- Familiarize yourself with the laws for your town or city.
- Pay attention to news stories on TV and in newspapers to get a sense of police work in action.
- A good cop is committed to the well-being of his or her community. Volunteer for crossing-guard duty. Ask your teachers for opportunities to clean up local parks. With the support of your parents or teachers, visit your local community centers, soup kitchens and parks and ask about jobs that kids can do individually or in groups.
- Keep working on your observation skills. Practice by looking at people you see in public places and by keeping a notebook in which you record their physical profiles.
- Ask your teacher to invite a cop to your school or classroom to talk about what he or she does. Think of at least five good questions to ask him or her about what you can do to prepare for a dream career in police work.
- Look on the Internet under keywords "VOLUNTEERING FOR KIDS," "PUBLIC SERVICE FOR KIDS," "POLICE FOR KIDS," and "CRIME FIGHTING FOR KIDS," for information about crime-fighting and public service in your community.
Cop To It! Police officers must be keen observers, as they often have limited time to collect details about suspected criminals. They possess strong attention to detail and a reliable memory.
With a friend, tear ten full-body photographs of different people from magazines. Each of you should take five of the photos and place them in a pile facedown in front of you.
At the same time, both of you should hold up a photograph for the other to look at for ten seconds. Count down the time out loud, then put the photograph facedown again. Next, write down a profile on a notepad. Your profiles will be physical descriptions of the people in the photographs, including as much detail as you can recall.
You might try to answer these questions:
- What was the person wearing from head to toe?
- What color was the person's hair? Was it straight or curly? How long was it?
- What color were the person's eyes?
- Was the person tall? Short? Big? Slight?
- What color was the person's skin?
- How old did the person look?
- Did the person have any noticeable scars, marks or tattoos?
Now move onto the next photograph and keep doing the exercise until you've each completed five profiles. Check your work once you've finished the piles. How many details did you remember? Were they correct or incorrect? Did you get more accurate with each picture?
Q & A
Q. What are the coolest and toughest aspects of being a woman police officer?
Nancy B., a police officer in a traffic unit in Toronto, Canada for 2 1/2 years, says:
There are a lot of both. I love the camaraderie I feel with the other officers. Because we work so closely together, we get to feeling like a little family. It's a great experience to be really treated like "one of the guys." Because police work is male-dominated, I get a great sense of strength, accomplishment and equality from proving that female officers get the job done just as well as males, if not better!
Civilians sometimes respond better to female officers because they can be less physically intimidating. And I get great opportunities to go undercover! A guy just couldn't do some of the assignments that I get.
The other side of the coin is the tough stuff. Police work is not widely considered feminine and there are male chauvinists in every line of work. As a cop, I encounter coworkers, prisoners and civilians who make sexist comments. I have to concentrate on proving my abilities more than male officers do.
I need a better performance record just to be considered an equal, and I spend a lot of time and energy asserting myself to get the car chase instead of getting stuck with paperwork. I demonstrate more often that I am as good a shot as the next guy so the officers in my unit know they can trust me with their lives.