Growing up, I have
always had the desire to help others and be involved in the community. After
going to community college for two years I felt as if I wasn’t doing enough in
my life. I wasn’t contributing enough to my country and I wasn’t contributing enough
to my community. Once that thought crossed my mind I went to my nearest
recruiting station and began the process of enlisting into the Marine Corps.

Fast-forward four years and here I am at another chapter in my life. I am due
to graduate in May 2018 and again I feel like I am not doing enough. This led
me to research where I want the next chapter of my life to head in.  To be a police officer means “To Protect and
To Serve,” pursuing a career in law enforcement aligns with my core values and
fulfills the need to give back. Police officers protect life and property, and
this will be my way of giving back to my community.

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First and foremost
to become a police officer, there are certain basic criteria that must be met.

The basic criteria are as follows: a minimum formal education requirement is
that of a high school diploma or equivalent, applicants must be at least 20
years of age (San Diego Police Department), applicants must have a clean
criminal record, pass the law enforcement entrance exam, polygraph, physical
fitness test, oral board, medical/psychological assessment, drug screening, and
attend and graduate the police academy. The police academy is where applicants
receive the most training; training is six-months long and consists of
academics and physical training. The curriculum can cover topics such as search
and seizure, criminal statues, traffic laws, firearms training driver training
and physical conditioning.

A police officer’s
main job is to protect life and property through the enforcement of laws and
ordinances. The nature of their work involves the responsibility for performing
routine police assignments that are received from police officers of higher
rank. Work consists of routine patrol, preliminary investigation and traffic
regulation, and investigation duties in designated areas on assigned shifts.

That involves an element of personal danger within itself because police
officers must be able to act without direct supervision, and use their ability
to make independent judgments in emergency situations. Police officers may also
receive special duty assignments that require special knowledge and training
that is typically acquired through experience as an officer. Other assignments
include assisting other personnel of the police department in conducting
interrogations, searches, and related duties as assigned.

The San Diego
Police Department (SDPD) typically recruits through social networking, job
postings, job referrals, advertisements, and college campus recruiting. Currently
the San Diego Police Department is not only struggling to recruit officers, but
they are also suffering from retaining officers. “Despite recent compensation
increases and stepped-up recruiting efforts, the number of officer vacancies
has increased from 170 to 207 since October” (SD Tribune). According to the San
Diego Tribune, applications are down 36 percent over the last two years and
just over 600 of the 1,832 are eligible to retire in the next five years (SD
Tribune). In 2012, the San Diego Council approved a five-year plan to increase
the number of police officers in San Diego by 300, which historically had fewer
officers per capita than the nations other larger cities. Because numbers had
only increased by 30, last year the city delayed its deadline from fiscal year
2018 to fiscal year 2021. Though historically the use of job postings, job
referrals, and advertisements have always been common, currently SDPD is
utilizing social media to advertise and are hard charging at conducting campus
recruitments. As for the future, SDPD Police Chief, Chief Zimmerman stated she
is considering hiring an outside entity to help look for solutions. The San
Diego Police Department is also partnering with Health and Sciences High School
in City Heights to groom young officers (SD Tribune).

In San Diego County,
an entry-level salary for a Police Officer I is $49, 254.40 (Salary.com). The
median local national pay for Police Officers is $52, 597 (Salary.com). Police
officer pay varies greatly by location, for example a police officer in
Mississippi makes $31,600 whereas a police officer in New Jersey can be making
$84, 930 (BLS.gov). Benefits for police officers include paid vacation, sick
leave, medical and life insurance, as well as uniform allowances. The Bureau of
Labor statistics projects job growth of 4% nationally for police officers from
2014 to 2024 (BLS.gov). The projected job growth is relatively low considering
the nature of stability within this kind of employment, but it also depends
heavily on city and state budgets. Recently, the City of San Diego offered to
boost pay up to 30 percent for San Diego Police Officers. Promotional
opportunities depend on the individual and come with time and experience.

Depending on the department, typically after a year or two a police officer may
be eligible to make a lateral move into a specialty post. To obtain a
supervisory rank, a police officer has usually put in anywhere from 5 to 10
years to become a police sergeant. Once an individual picks up sergeant
promotions may come quicker depending on the individual’s performance. Often,
only 1 year in time in grade is required in order to begin picking up in the
“middle management” ranks. Upper ranks including majors, lieutenants, and
colonels have anywhere from 15 to 20 years experience and ultimately to be
considered the highest-ranking officer an individual will need to have 20+
years of experience including several years in management and upper management
positions before even being considered (The Balance).

Most police
departments in major areas require officers to gain experience by working in
patrol before they can become eligible for transfer to specialized positions in
law enforcement. Once these requirements are met, officers are offered a wide
opportunity of choices to lateral move into such as, detective, mounted
officer, SWAT, as well as other focused units depending on the size and needs
of the department. Officers that are looking to make law enforcement a career
can also choose to seek promotion and move up in the ranks. First-line
supervisors include sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. They are responsible
for training staff, scheduling shifts, and supervising and coordinating
investigations all while ensuring procedures are being followed. Part of the
requirements to be eligible for promotion to take the competitive promotional
exam within law enforcement typically require 3 to 5 years of experience, but
it is also depending on the department. How the officer scores determines how
quickly his or her promotion will come. Another requirement for the promotion
process is an oral interview. The process continues through each promotion the
officer seeks. After an individual reaches the rank of Captain, promotions then
are based by appointment of department of chiefs as opposed to exams.

There are numerous
related professional associations and entities that aim to assists law
enforcement with policies, standards, analysis, training and education, and
technical assistance. The National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center under
the Bureau of Justice Assistance U.S. Department of Justice lists many links to
websites of organizations and entities that are relevant. For example, The
Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) was created in
1979 as a credentialing authority. The purpose of the accreditation program is
to “improve the delivery of public safety services, primarily by: maintaining a
body of standards, developed by public safety practitioners, covering a wide
range of up-to-date public safety initiatives; establishing and administering
an accreditation process; and recognizing professional excellence” (CALEA.org).

Another related professional association listed is the Internal Association of
Chiefs of Police. The association was founded in 1893 and its goals are to
“advance the science and art of police services; to develop and disseminate
improved administrative, technical and operation practices and promote their
use in police work; to foster police cooperation and the exchange of
information and experience among police administrators throughout the world; to
bring about recruitment and training in the police profession of qualified
persons; and to encourage adherence of all police officers to high professional
standards of performance and conduct” (TheIACP.org). The mission of the IACP is
“dedicated to advancing the law enforcement profession through advocacy,
outreach, education and programs” (TheIACP.org).

One issue that has
become of concern in law enforcement is the use of military style policing and
equipment in law enforcement. In Norm Stamper’s book “Breaking Rank” he says,
“Many Americans view their local PD as an occupational force—repressive,
distant, arrogant. It’s no wonder: their police department operates within the
framework of a paramilitary bureaucracy a structure that fortifies that image
and promotes that behavior ” (Stamper). People don’t want their neighborhoods
to be treated like war zones, and there is an immense blurring distinction
between the police and military institutions and between war and law
enforcement. The U.S. military handles external security through the threat of
the practice of war. The civilian police handle internal security through the
enforcement of federal and local laws. Leaders in law enforcement have to be cognizant
and wary of the implications and potential consequences of this convergence.

Failure to clearly distinguish the two results in repressiveness and lack of
democracy. The growing tendency by the police and other segments of the
criminal justice system to rely on the military/war model for formulating
crime/drug/terrorism control does not work for policing in America.

The images in the
news of police wearing helmets and masks, dawning assault rifles and riding in
mine-resistant armored vehicles are not isolated incidents, “they represent a
nationwide trend of police militarization,” states the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU). Lately, law enforcement agencies from all over the country have
been facing a lot of scrutiny and backlash on how situations have been handled.

According to an article by Tobias Winright of “Sojourners Magazine” whom is a
former reserve police officer that has taught ethics at two police academies
says, “When the think blue line resembles an occupying force, it exacerbates
racial tensions in neighborhoods and communities, making things worse for
everyone, including the police” (Winright). Because of the militarization of
the police cities are beginning to push back. In Davis, California, the city
council directed its police department to get rid of a mine-resistant ambush-protected
vehicle. Radley Balko’s book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” he says, “No one made
the decision to militarize the police in America. The change has come slowly,
the result of a generation of politicians and public officials fanning and
exploiting public fears by declaring war on abstractions like crime, drug use,
and terrorism” (Balko). The issue with police using military style equipment
and tactics is that it creates the image of the citizens being the enemy. In
turn, the likelihood of police brutality and excessive force has increased. Today,
law enforcement practices have strayed away from community oriented policing,
and it needs to be brought back. Placing police officers back into the
community to create a presence, working with citizens, and treating each other
respectfully can highly benefit society.

Currently, there
are numerous problems and issues that employees in law enforcement are facing. Dangerous
people are a threat to police, those are the people that refuse to comply. In
such circumstances, how the officer interacts with the individual will often
times determine how the encounter will play out. Then, there are people who are
out there with every intention on hurting or killing police officers. According
to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, on average 64 police officers per year
were killed by criminals between 1980 and 2014. In 2013, nearly 50,000 police
officers were assaulted, which equates to 9 out of every 100 police officers.

These statistics mean every citizen interaction can potentially pose a risk to
the officer. Traffic is also a big threat to police officers. Traffic
fatalities have been consistently the number one leading cause of death for
police officers over the past several years. Because officers spend a lot of
time driving and working from their vehicles, this naturally increases the risk
of being in an accident. Health risks also adversely affects police officers. The
non-traditional working hours produce poor sleeping habits, which then lead to
fatigue. Combine stress and the nature of work it contributes to poor eating
habits that are then associated with health issues, which are also a danger to
police officers. Stress is a major hidden factor for police officers, especially
post-traumatic stress from involvement in dangerous incidents, witnessing
death, and negative encounters with citizens. This can potentially lead to depression
and suicide. Often time’s police officers result to self-medicating with
alcohol, which then leads to even more issues such as domestic violence,
driving under the influence, and self-harm.

Traditionally the
way police department’s function is through a rigid authoritative top-down
method. This style has largely dominated the field and focuses on a management
system in which actions and policies are initiated at the highest level. In
2012, the National Institute of Justice linked the way organizations are
managed to the way they are organized. These systems are built on hierarchies,
traditions, and formal rules and procedures. There are three leadership styles
that are used in law enforcement. The first is the authoritative police
leadership style. This style is based for order and a hierarchical,
military-like approach. The authoritative model’s idea is “you do what you are
told to do”. The second is the transactional style of police leadership.

Transactional leadership resembles authoritative leadership, except that it
relies on rewards-based system to motivate subordinates. Rewards and reprimands
are based on the performance of the individual. Lastly, the third style of
police leadership is transformational. Transformational is a “people-centered
approach” that aims to inspire, empower, and motivate employees. The use of
this approach strongly focuses support towards his or her employees and
constantly asking what they can do to make the working environment better. It
also focuses on each employee’s needs, skills, and motivations.

As mentioned,
traditionally the use of transactional and authoritative leadership has
dominated law enforcement. Though, now attitudes are changing and these
approaches are slowly being moved away from and more so leaning towards a
transformational approach, there is no one approach that is more effective than
the other. The role these 3 aspects play in a particular agency or organization
is vital because you need different styles for different situations. One of the
important things is recognizing which is necessary for the type of situation.

According to former Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Sheehy, now an instructor at the
University of San Diego, he gives an example of being a mid-level commander in
charge of 5 or 10 officers that are sent out on patrol everyday. While in the
field they are going to run into certain situations and are going to need a way
to communicate with you. Ideally you would follow a transformational leadership
approach to deal with such issues by talking them through situations and
removing obstacles so they can do better at their jobs. However, if your
officers call you and there is a critical situation, you would have to switch
to an authoritative role because there is no time to talk through situations
and you have to take command of the situation. I believe this is one of the
best examples of the use of different leadership styles and how each of them
play a vital role in an organization as long as you can determine when to use
which approach.

In relations to
the wider justice system there are efforts to move away from the authoritative
approach and reintegrate to community policing. Violent confrontations between
the police and the public have since sparked conversation to closely examine
the relationship law enforcement has with its communities. State lawmaker’s are
now participating on task forces and are considering enacting laws addressing
the policy. The community policing approach law enforcement is using is aimed
to develop community partnerships and problem solving techniques to proactively
address public safety concerns instead of using the reactive approach. Rather
than using a specific set of policies, community policing will work differently
in each community and will be based off on needs of the police in each
jurisdiction. Former President Barack Obama created a Task Force on 21st
Century Policing to identify and recommend best practices for “fostering
strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the
communities they protect”. The idea is building strong relationships,
communities and police that are able to respond to and communicate during
crisis situations.

When it comes to
the relationship to the broader community it is clear the authoritative
paramilitary approach especially with recent events, the way law enforcement is
viewed in the eyes of the public is very disconcerting. For example, the events
of Ferguson and the non-indictments of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases
have shined a light on a problem that has deep roots and goes far back. On
August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police
officer in Ferguson, Missouri (NY Times). The ruling of the incident was the
police officer that fired at Brown faces no charges in a decision by the grand
jury on November 24th, 2014 (NY Times). Angry residents took to the
streets and staged the Ferguson protest. As early protest grew violent, police
responded with heavy-handed tactics that consisted of military-style weapons
and equipment. The image of a mostly white police force in a predominantly
African-American community aiming military-style weapons at protestors and
firing tear gas and rubber bullets resulted in unrest by the citizens of the
community and skyrocketed tensions between the community and local law
enforcement.

In the case of
Eric Garner, he was placed in a chokehold by police officers and suffered neck
and chest compressions during his arrest that ultimately lead to his death. On
July 17, police officers approached Garner and questioned him in belief that he
was selling untaxed cigarettes, a charge he had been arrested several times for
prior to this incident. As police officers tried to make an arrest one of the
officers placed his arm on Garner’s throat and wrestled him to the ground (LA
Times). Garner died due to the incident and the autopsy was ruled by a medical
examiner that the case was homicide by chokehold. The two officers were placed
on modified and desk duties. The President of Patrolmen’s Benevolent
Association issued a statement in support of the police officers noting that
“Garner’s poor health played a part in his death,” and that, “If he had not
resisted the lawful order this tragedy would not have occurred” (LA Times).

Because policing
has become so rigid, law enforcement has become desensitized to the public and
the way they perceive who the real enemies are. To transition from “community policing”
to giving our local law enforcement military equipment and seeing them marching
the streets in full gear induces fear and mistrust upon the public. It does not
follow the motto of “To Protect and To Serve”. This tactic creates separation
between the community and law enforcement.

Law enforcement is
a unique profession and from what I see few, if any, from the outside
understands what it’s like to be on the inside. In the Marine Corps I learned
what is was like to be apart of such a tight knit organization. Much like the
military, from research and speaking with police officers, law enforcement
builds a sense of belonging and a family that you will not find in any other
career. It’s an organization of a band of brothers. I had that in the military
and now I am seeking to pursue the same core values and mission in the civilian
sector as a law enforcement police officer.