I Have to Ask: Civilians in the Police Department

Posted on July 12, 2018

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Cassie Johnson (LinkedIn & Twitter), Scottsdale (AZ) Police Department, Police Analyst II, provides a first hand account of working in a police department when you are not a police officer.

Not just a career, but an experience! Make your community a safer place. Do you enjoy a challenge?

These are all commonly used recruitment lines for policing. And all are accurate! Working in law enforcement is a rewarding and very broad experience that I would strongly recommend. But you are most likely to see these statements associated with recruitment ads for police officers. What if you don’t want to be a cop? Well, good news: there is a pretty good chance that there is still a job for you and you should totally go for it.

I’m a Senior Analyst. I have a background in psychology and public affairs with graduate work in local government/city management. My job duties include policy development, strategic planning, open data, performance management, process improvement, research and program analysis, accreditation compliance, and workload analysis just to mention a few. On occasion, I dabble in budget and personnel tasks with a dash of other “projects as assigned”. Common projects across all fields. They all just happen to have an underlying theme of public safety. I’m fortunate that I’ve had great opportunities to be involved in a wide array of projects but I’m not the only one. If you are thinking about a job in a police department here are a few things to keep in mind.

Research. Depending on your agency and applicability to Police Officer Standards and Testing (POST) requirements in your area, might I recommend making sure there are no issues with any automatic disqualifiers before beginning the process. I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie-Downer (no offense to any Debbie’s currently reading) but it’s the reality of this field. Civilians are regularly held to the same standards as a police officer for employment and you might as well not waste your own time if any of the disqualifiers apply to you. It’s not something that is up for negotiation. If there is something that seems like a gray area or you aren’t sure I would call the hiring agency and speak to their background investigators to find out what they think on the subject…it will come up eventually when you make it to a background process.

Be patient. We are all painfully aware of how long it takes to go through the employment process in government. You wait for the right job to become available, fill out the lengthy application, then wait for the application window to close, next is the review process…before you know it 6 weeks have gone by and you may have even forgotten you applied for that position! If you are lucky enough to get the interview it could still take a few weeks to get it scheduled and then hear back afterwards. Now, take that typical timeline and add a background process to it. Depending on your agency you are likely completing a very long background packet, sitting in multiple in-depth interviews that get pretty personal, a polygraph, a psychological exam and a drug test. (For reference I applied in early April and I started in late September…and I had a previous background with my hiring agency.)

Be open. The first two might have put a bit of a damper on going in to law enforcement. But here’s the truth of it all…policing is changing! Drastically, publicly, and passionately. Police departments are being asked to do more with less. Less funding, less people, more technology and more service demands. But with all of that comes so many different project opportunities. Like I mentioned in my list of duties…I am never short of a new projects. This is crucial for my overall development and feeds my inner need to be a continuous learner but I have to be willing to say “yes, I’ll figure that one out.”

Be kind. The world can get to be a pretty crummy place when you are working in the police department. And I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t impacted me. I had a brief window when I was first starting where I thought to myself that everyone else out there must have some criminal element to them…but then I opened my eyes and came back to reality. It can get overwhelming when your entire work day is consumed with crime and the worst parts of society…but here is the thing: it is such a small portion of the world that comes across your desk and they are people with their own story, too. When we lose sight of humanity and our ability to empathize, we also lose perspective of the bigger picture. On those bad days with that rough report or incident, there is an amazing support system of people around you who get it and care about you. The family-like element in policing is real and powerful. Thankfully you also get to see the many incidents where others help a stranger and you see your coworkers saving lives. And eventually you see the ripple effect of your projects in the world, making it a better place and suddenly everything is so worth it.

I’m challenged every day to learn new things and build my skills, I have had many life-changing experiences and I am making my community a safer place (even if I’m not a police officer). And if that isn’t something to go to work for every day, I don’t know what is. If you have any questions about law enforcement careers, ask. There are so many opportunities to explore!

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