Policing is not a JOB for me, it is a vocation. It should be every human’s JOB to lookout for the welfare of others; especially those who need it most. Policing is only one of several of avenues to do this. – Bearded Cop
One frequently asked question (FAQ) I receive is “how do I become a police officer?”
Let me begin by stating that there is no one single right answer to this question. Furthermore, the following is by no means an official answer by any employer. This post is my opinion based on my professional, academic and personal experience. Having worked as a police officer for 2 major Canadian cities, I can tell you that every city has its own needs, history, community & culture. To complicate things even more, every province has its own regulations defining their police officers’ roles and responsibilities; which often includes hiring practices. For instance, in Ontario, you need an Applicant Testing Services certificate (https://www.applicanttesting.com/) in order to proceed through the hiring process. Due to the differences in technical skills and minimum application requirements for every service, this post will not focus on such specifics.
Three of the biggest myths out there are:
- You need a collegiate degree in Police Foundations or similar.
While some police services may require a Police Foundation or similar degree, I don’t know of many who do. Most services will train you themselves either through a recognized police college or learning centre upon hiring. The province of Quebec is a totally different story. My opinion is that a better educated police service is a better police service. I will expand on this a bit more below.
- You need a firearms licence.
While some civilian security jobs may require this, I haven’t heard of any police service requiring a firearms licence. The authority for police officers to carry and use their firearms comes from federal and provincial legislation. Furthermore, a firearm is a tool that is used very infrequently on the job. Proficiency with a firearm, on its own, does not make you a good police officer.
- You need to be Spartan warrior fit.
While physical fitness is important, it isn’t the be-all-end-all criteria for being a police officer. A lot of people tend to focus too much on fitness in their career preparation while neglecting to develop other important skills such as their education, life experience and volunteering.
To be sure as to what specific job requirements a police service has, visit their website and/or get in contact with their recruiting section.
Heart & Mind
I spoke of the firearm as a tool that is used very infrequently on the job. The tools that are frequently used and are of the utmost importance are your heart and mind. Being a police officer is different than most every other job since they have the lawful authority to take away a person’s freedom and use physical, sometimes lethal, force. Therefore, we can begin to understand the importance of having solid decision making skills, empathy and ethics. Speaking of ethics, courage is the most important value. I’m not talking about physical courage here, but the courage to stand up for what is right. Since it is the testing point of all your other values. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality” (Lewis, 1996).
Some of you may be thinking “Well Bearded Cop, that is all fine and dandy, but how do I develop my heart & mind?”
Great question! What I always tell people is get education, get life experience and get involved in your community by volunteering. Why am I emphasizing education? Education in any form allows you to develop critical thinking. I’ve found this to be truest at the university level. I must diverge that I do have a positive bias towards university education since I have obtained two bachelor’s degrees; the latest being an Honours in Criminology with a Minor in Psychology. My favourite subjects were abolitionism and any critical criminology fields, which would make an interesting topic for a future post. Through my university studies, I’ve been able to exercise and develop my critical thinking skills. Why is critical thinking so important in policing? As a police officer, whether it is through emergency response, traffic stops, domestic disputes etc., you are essentially conducting individual and/or community intervention. The decisions you make and the actions you take can have a positive or a devastatingly negative impact on a person, a family, a community, a sector of a population; you get the idea. Therefore, being able to self-assess your actions, biases, decisions as well as critically reflect on the potential impact of your intervention is crucial! My emphasis on the importance of education is not meant to discredit the past, present and future officers who do not have post-secondary education. Our society has many inequalities, and education is not accessible to everyone. This leads me to the next subject of life-experience.
There is no greater teacher than life! This doesn’t mean that you must have saved the world and be 45 years old (no offence to any 45 + yr olds J). What this means is that you have lived enough to experience some responsibility. Can you take care of yourself and others? Have you lived on your own outside of your parents’ home? Do you work? Do you have hobbies? Have you travelled? These are all questions that you need to take the time to reflect on. Life experience is so divergent from one person to another.
What about volunteering? To this day, I still volunteer through various roles. Why do I do this even with 11 years on the job? Because it is part of who I am as a person. Policing is not a JOB for me, it is a vocation. It’s every human’s JOB to lookout for the welfare of others; especially those who need it most. Policing is one of several avenues to do this. Another avenue to effect positive change is through volunteering. It is also a way to give back to the community in which you live.
In short, focus on being a good person, develop you heart and mind; it’s a big step in the right direction.
Your Bearded Cop