G.I. Jobs

Protect and Serve
Veterans find new mission, similar calling in law enforcement.
by Andrea Downing Peck

Qualities that are hallmarks of today’s service members – discipline, leadership and an ability to follow orders – are attributes shared by police officers, the guardians of our nation’s communities. Not surprisingly, then, veterans are top candidates for positions in the law enforcement industry.protect-and-serve219x292

Metropolitan police departments such as Dallas and Los Angeles actively recruit veterans, as do the Pennsylvania State Police, the U.S. Capitol Police and municipalities across the country.

“This department has a long history of commitment to veterans,” said Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Capt. Joseph Mariani of the Recruitment and Employment Division. “We’re a paramilitary organization, but what we like about our military candidates is they come with an understanding of discipline, they are goal-oriented and they historically meet the criteria to become police officers.”

Marine Drawn to LAPD
Officer Adam Gross joined the LAPD in 2008 after a 22-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was drawn to the LAPD by the department’s reputation, history and record of innovation. The LAPD is credited with hiring the nation’s first black police officer, first female officer and establishing the nation’s first SWAT team.

Within the LAPD, he has found a second career that takes advantage of many of the skills he honed in the military while providing him with new challenges.

“It is very challenging for a new police officer,” Gross said. “There’s a lot of pressure put on you and I kind of like that pressure. I like the sense of responsibility that comes with being a police officer. The weight feels heavy. It’s a serious profession.”

Gross set his sights on the LAPD for the same reasons he made becoming a Marine a priority.

“When I joined the military, I knew I wanted to be a Marine because of the Marine Corps’ reputation for rigorous training and being the best,” Gross said. “I liked the LAPD for the same reasons.”

Gross said the only negative aspect of his job is due to his age. At 42, he said the physical demands of police work take a bigger toll.

“I am getting started in a job that is designed more for the young mid-20s set, so there are some physical challenges,” Gross said. “Working some of the watches, you miss sleep now and again. I like to sleep.”

New Officer Baptized by Fire
Baptism under fire is an apt description of LAPD Officer 
William Johnson’s introduction to police work. About 18 months after graduating from the police academy, Johnson was involved in a deadly police pursuit in downtown Los Angeles. The Marine staff sergeant said his military combat experience paid dividends during the intense exchange in 2009.

“Nothing really goes as planned when bullets start to fly,” Johnson said. “It was my Marine Corps training and experience that helped me deal with the shooting. I have received extensive training from the LAPD, but I still believe that the Marine in me came out the day of the shooting.”

Cultural Differences
Nonetheless, veterans who have made the transition to police work say those leaving active duty should not expect the war-fighting mission of the military to mesh perfectly with civilian law enforcement.

Trooper Matt Gibson, who joined the Pennsylvania State Police in 2009 after a nine-year career in the Army, said his military service and experiences growing up in a military family gave him “a worldly education” that has been a “tangible benefit in executing my job as a state trooper.” However, he gained the tact needed to succeed in civilian law enforcement on the job.

“In the military, the mission is destruction of the enemy,” Gibson said. “That doesn’t translate to the State Police. There is much more tact involved in dealing with the public. One of the biggest learning points I had as a new trooper was listening to civilians and engaging them in dialogue. Senior troopers will tell you the quickest way to get yourself in trouble and out of trouble is with your mouth.”

Dallas Police Officer Arturo Martinez, an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard, believes law enforcement and the military represent “two completely different cultures.”

“In the police force, everything is split-second decisions,” he said. “You have to think at the speed of light before you do anything.”

Minimum Requirements
In most jurisdictions, to become a police officer you have to be a U.S. citizen between the approximate ages of 20 and 40, with a high school degree or equivalent and roughly two years of college credits. Candidates cannot have committed a felony or Class A misdemeanor. Residency requirements vary.

Some police departments, such as Dallas and the Pennsylvania State Police, waive or reduce the college-credits requirement if a veteran has served on active duty and received an honorable discharge. However, a college degree may be necessary to advance in rank.

“Our chief has made it known if you want to move up the chain of command or ranks and get to deputy chief or assistant chief, you must have a bachelor’s [degree] from an accredited university,” said Dallas Police Sgt. George Aranda.

Lengthy Recruitment Process
Becoming a police officer is a lengthy, multi-step process. For that reason, military personnel looking for a career as a police officer may want to begin the application process prior to leaving active duty. Earning an appointment to a police academy typically involves written tests, an oral interview, a background investigation and a polygraph exam, in addition to passing physical fitness, psychological and medical exams, all of which take place prior to attending an academy.

While prior military service may help fast track the recruitment process in some departments, candidates may wait 18 months to land a spot in a training class. During the six to eight months of academy life, new officers study criminal law, investigative techniques, traffic enforcement and report writing, as well as firearms training, driving techniques and physical training. The programs are academically and physically demanding.

“You live at the academy,” said Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Leonardo Becerra, who served six years in the Army Reserve. “It is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation. You basically belong to the Pennsylvania State Police. It is somewhat like boot camp, which is one of the reasons why those with prior service adapt a lot quicker.”

After graduating from a police academy, new officers serve a probationary period, often working under the supervision of training officers for their first 
12 to 18 months on the job.

Departments Will Hire Hundreds
The Dallas Police Department, which recruits at Fort Hood, Fort Bliss and other bases throughout Texas, has filled about 80 percent of its openings the past two years with military veterans.

“We are going to hire 88 officers this year,” Aranda said. “We’re a very diverse city and a diverse police department. There are many opportunities for upward mobility. If you are in the business of getting promoted and advanced, this is the department to go to.”

The LAPD has a four-officer division whose sole responsibility is military recruitment. While the recruiters focus their attention on military bases and National Guard and Coast Guard Reserve units in Southern California, potential job applicants from outside the region can go to the department’s website for information and to apply.

Among the LAPD’s unique recruitment tools are a mentor-hiring program, oral interview seminars and a physical fitness-training program, all of which are geared toward helping applicants successfully complete the recruitment process.

The city’s fiscal crisis put the brakes on LAPD’s rapid growth. After a three-year stretch in which more than 2,300 officers were hired, the department moved to attrition-based hiring in the 2009 fiscal year, which cut annual job openings by roughly half. In the 2011 fiscal year, the LAPD expects to hire between 250 and 300 officers.

SWAT Teams to Equine Units
The wide variety of career pathways at metropolitan police departments is part of their appeal. For example, the LAPD offers more than 250 different jobs ranging from traffic investigators to divers, horseback officers, fixed-wing pilots, helicopter pilots and SWAT.

The same is true at the Pennsylvania State Police, which provides police protection for the nearly 30 percent of the state’s residents who live in municipalities without full-time police departments. Specialized positions within the force range from the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) to vehicle fraud investigators, community services officers as well as a unit that serves as bodyguards for the state’s governor. With Pennsylvania Police Stations located in every county in the Commonwealth, troopers also have the potential to relocate throughout the state.

One-Of-A-Kind Mission
Performing a unique mission is part of the allure of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP). Created by Congress in 1828, the Capitol Police originally was tasked with providing security for the U.S. Capitol building. Today, the department’s responsibilities have grown to include protecting members of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as preserving the property and the lives of those who work or visit the 47-square-block radius that encompasses the Capitol complex.

“We have a high regard for our prior service military people because the attributes of the military are very similar to our paramilitary organization within the police department,” said the Capitol Police Director of Human Resources Thomas Madigan, whose military career spanned 41 years in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. “Duty, honor and country apply pretty heavily for our positions.”

Madigan said the U.S. Capitol Police is a “full service federal law enforcement agency, comprised of a Uniformed Services Division, as well as other specialty assignments” such as patrol division, hazardous material, dignitary protection, etc.

After nearly a decade with the New York City Police Department, USCP 
Sgt. Daniel Madigan finds the protective nature of the Capitol Police department’s mission “refreshing.” Nonetheless, he said some new officers do not research the job fully before signing on.

“They get here and say, ‘This isn’t what I thought I was going to be doing. This is one of the comments you hear,” Madigan said. “Yes, you are doing security-type functions but you happen to be protecting one of the most important icons in the world, and it has been identified as the No. 1 terrorist target in the world, so it is a pretty important security mission.”

While the Capitol Police may not do as much traditional crime fighting as other departments, its officers – both rookies and veterans enjoy the opportunity to have a fixed shift with fixed days off, said Madigan, a captain in the Air National Guard. “Here at U.S. Capitol Police, officers work a five day on/two day off tour of duty.  There are times during the year such as State of the Union, presidential inaugurations and other special events when officers may be required to work additional shifts or days when Congress is in session.”

No Regrets
Gibson, 32, describes his transition from active duty to the Pennsylvania State Police as a “seamless progression.” Two years into his new job, he has no regrets over the choice he made.

“The most appealing aspect is that it wasn’t a giant leap from the military,” Gibson said. “I am able to tap into skills that were developed over an almost 10-year career in the military. It allows my military experience not to be lost. My work absolutely defines me. On my days off, I almost have trouble filling the days because I enjoy what I do so much.”

Martinez, who grew up in a high-crime neighborhood in southwest Dallas, used the Army National Guard as a steppingstone to achieving his dream of becoming a police officer. He credits the military with teaching him discipline and giving him a drive to be physically fit.

In addition to “living my dream every day,” Martinez said the best part of his job is that no two days are the same.

“It doesn’t become monotonous,” he said. “It is impossible to build up a routine as a police officer. There have been days when I went the entire day and couldn’t find anything to do. Everybody was driving perfect, nobody wanted to break into a house, nothing. Then there have been days where it seems like all the bad guys woke up and decided all together to do something.”

Freedom To Do Your Job
After graduating from the University of North Texas in 2001, Patricia Mora put her physical education major to use as a personal trainer at a fitness center. When that job required her to be more of a salesperson than a personal trainer, she decided a career change was in order. She entered the Air Force Reserve in 2003 and then joined the Dallas Police Department in 2005.

Mora did not set out to become a police officer, but her years as a Reservist in the Air Force Security Forces and her family’s affiliation with the National Latino Peace Officers Association introduced her to a new career.

As a police officer, Mora said she has the freedom to simply “go out, do your job, and if you do a good job, be rewarded for it.”

“Believe it or not, even though I am in the military, I don’t like being told what to do,” said Mora, who works in the city’s Southwest Patrol Division. “I like having my freedom. Being part of the police department, you are your own boss. You go and do what you need to do. If you need a supervisor, you call one. I don’t have anyone watching over my shoulder. I don’t have to produce numbers or meet a specific quota.”

Job Growth, Pay and Benefits
While job growth between now and 2018 at state and federal law enforcement agencies is expected to keep pace with the national outlook, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts local law enforcement job growth will be more favorable. The bureau predicts 10-percent growth in police officer and detective jobs as populations increase.

BLS statistics show police and sheriff’s patrol officers in 2009 had an average annual wage of $53,210, but most major metropolitan law enforcement agencies report higher annual salaries. For example, the starting salary for a LAPD officer with four years of military experience is $48,880, while new Pennsylvania State Police troopers earn $58,211, U.S. Capitol Police receive $55,653 and Dallas police are paid $42,890. For some departments, overtime, shift differential pay, language pay, education incentives and other special pays boost an officer’s paycheck. Uniforms may be supplied or a uniform allowance paid.

Retirement pay and benefit packages are routinely good in law enforcement. While pension plans vary, most require participants to contribute a percentage of their salary in pre-tax dollars to a pension fund. Officers often are eligible for retirement at age 50, and mandatory retirement often occurs between the ages of 57 and 60.

Dallas police officers, for example, contribute 8.5 percent of their salary to a pension fund, while the City of Dallas contributes an amount equal to 27.5 percent. At retirement, the fund pays officers up to 96 percent of the average of their highest 36 months’ salary.

Major medical insurance plans and supplemental vision and dental plans are the norm.

Los Angeles Police Department
Location: Los Angeles
Employees: 9,963 sworn
Veteran Employees: 450+ active military  approximately 2,000 veterans

LAPD offers more than 250 different 
jobs ranging from traffic investigators to divers, horseback officers, fixed-wing pilots, helicopter pilots and SWAT.

Hiring Projections: continuous 
attrition-based hiring

Average Starting Salary:
2 Years Military Experience $47,043
4 Years Military Experience $48, 880
6 Years Military Experience $51,615 Overtime, shift differential pay, language pay, education incentives and other special pays often boost an officer’s paycheck.

Did You Know?
Founded in 1853 as the Los Angeles Rangers, a volunteer force that assisted the existing county forces, the first paid force was created in 1869 when six officers were hired to serve under City Marshal William C. Warren. The LAPD is credited with hiring the nation’s first black police officer, first female officer and establishing the nation’s first SWAT team.

Pennsylvania State Police
Location: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Employees: 6,024
Veteran Employees: 4,677 enlisted Troopers; 1,476 are current or former military (32%)

Specialized positions within the force range from the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) to vehicle fraud investigators and community services officers, as well as a unit that serves as bodyguards for the state’s governor.

Hiring Projections: 290 cadets scheduled to attend training in 2011; 410 cadets 
in 2012 (contingent on passage of the 
FY 2012 state budget). 

Starting Salary: $58,211. Overtime, shift differential pay and other special pays often boost an officer’s paycheck.

Did You Know?
The Pennsylvania State Police was founded in 1905 in response to private police forces used by mine and mill owners to stop worker strikes (the Coal and Iron Police) and the inability or refusal of local police 
or sheriffs to enforce the law.

Dallas Police Department
Location: Dallas

The department has patrol, forensics 
and investigations divisions, as well as 
air, canine and mounted units. Dallas 
also fields a SWAT team.

Dallas police are paid $42,890 to start. Overtime, shift differential pay, language pay, education incentives and other special pays often boost an officer’s paycheck.

Did You Know?
Established in 1881, the Dallas Police Department lost a police officer shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Officer J. D. Tippit was gunned down about 40 minutes after Kennedy was shot when he stopped to question Lee Harvey Oswald, who was walking down the street. Oswald’s initial arrest was for Tippit’s murder, not Kennedy’s. A World War II veteran, Tippit earned a Bronze Star while serving with 
the U.S. 17th Airborne Division in Europe.

United States Capitol Police
Location: Washington, D.C.
Employees: 2,243 (includes 
both officers and civilians)
Veteran Employees: 472

The U.S. Capitol Police is a full-service federal law enforcement agency comprising a Uniformed Services Division and other specialty assignments such as patrol division, hazardous materials team, dignitary protection, intelligence operation, undercover officers, a canine unit and bomb squad.

Hiring Projections: 50

Average Starting Salary: $55,653

Did You Know?
The U.S. Capitol Police was created by Congress in 1828 following the assault on a son of John Quincy Adams in the Capitol rotunda. The original duty of the Capitol Police was to provide security for the U.S. Capitol. Its mission has expanded to provide the congressional community and its visitors with a variety of police services.