CHARLOTTE – Law enforcement is certainly a noble career; however, it is challenging and can be a stressful and potentially dangerous career choice. An individual must be motivated to want to serve their community and the safety of the people. It also can be incredibly rewarding because they touch so many lives.
It’s a future in the service of others. It’s a commitment to justice and serving the greater good. It’s a vow to protect others while you gain the skills, law enforcement training, and expertise necessary to effectively and professionally perform your job. Communities trust law enforcement officers daily to maintain the law, fight crime, and protect the ideals of justice this great nation was founded upon.
Law enforcement agencies can vary as each has their own jurisdiction. It may be helpful to decide at what level you prefer to work in law enforcement first. While most candidates are interested in helping their immediate community, county, or city, others preference might be at the state or federal level.
This includes United States Department of State (https://www.state.gov/). The U.S. State Department manages American diplomacy, advocacy, and safety on the international stage. Law enforcement jobs within the agency include diplomatic security and various agent positions involved in the protection of American citizens overseas.
Another possibility is the United States Department of Justice: (https://www.justice.gov/). The DOJ handles law enforcement at the federal level; this includes the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the ATF.
Department of Homeland Security (https://www.dhs.gov/) is also at the federal level. The DHS includes the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the USCG.
Studying crimes and the systems in place to prevent them can lead an individual down various career paths. Some law enforcement careers are more focused on upholding the law (like prosecutors or paralegals), while others are geared on reacting to those who break the law (police officers or probation officers). Then there are those who work in the immediate aftermath of a crime (crime scene investigator, detectives, forensic, etc.).
The field offers many interesting, challenging and fascinating career opportunities which include ATF Agent, Border Security, CIA Agent, Corrections Officer, FBI Agent, Police Officer, State Trooper, Private Investigator, Probation Officer, Crime Scene Investigator, TSA Agent, Immigration/Customs Agent, Court Bailiff, Fraud Investigator, Forensic Science, INS Agent, K9 Officer, Sheriff, Secret Service Agent, Fish and Game Warden, Private Security, etc.
Regarding education, the type of degree you pursue is important. Usually two-year and four-year college programs, including online programs, will focus in Criminology or Criminal Justice, which is the study of the systems our society has created in reaction to crimes. Students will learn about the many arms of the criminal justice system, how they are able to enforce laws, and how they can help prevent people from breaking the law. All students enrolled in these programs can gain an in-depth understanding of what causes people to commit crimes and when they’re most likely to take place, including the circumstances that make crime.
Locally, you can attend Central Piedmont Community College, South Piedmont Community College, and York Technical College for a two-year Associate degree. You can also attend or transfer to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Gardner Webb University, or Wingate University for a four-year Bachelors degree program. Also, there are some good online programs offered by various universities depending upon your time, preference, and availability to attend class sessions on a college campus.
As a high school student interested in law enforcement, consider attending the Student Trooper program sponsored by the American Legion and local law enforcement in your community. The program allows interested youth to attend one week of exploratory training to give them some exposure to the field and see if its a good fit for their career choice. The United States Military is another great option, as each branch of service has a police force. You will receive great training, get a free education, serve your country, and have plenty of job opportunities in the field when you are discharged.
Former Mint Hill Police Chief,and current Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice at Gardner Webb University Tim W. Ledford made the following impactful statement: “I have been in law enforcement for over 40 years and retired in 2020. There seems to be a cycle every ten years or more; law enforcement personnel will experience a high level of respect from the public, and then out of nowhere, there will be a huge media event that triggers a negative reaction. For example, the tragedy of 9/11 – police officers everywhere were hailed as heroes, only to hit rock bottom a few years later in the public eye. I always explain this phenomenon to my students and encourage them to keep a positive outlook. Law enforcement is a calling, a passion, not just a career. There are so many stories where I have personally helped people, in many different situations, and I always tell my cadets not to lose focus on making a positive impact on someone’s life, a real difference that could be a life changing experience for the better.”
“Law enforcement can be a very rewarding career, not just a job,” continued Ledford. “If one does their research, it is well-documented that the American public overwhelmingly support law enforcement. A public opinion poll conducted last year indicated 85% of Americans support the men and women in blue, brown, grey – whatever color of their uniform. To all the young men and women who are considering a career in law enforcement, please take the leap and go for it. You will be rewarded in so many ways.”
“Law enforcement is an easy target for the media,” says Ledford. “The negative narrative the media portrays is not what the profession is all about. However, the way media portrays them sells air time.”
“In 2018, over 250,000 people died as a result of medical malpractice, and 2,872 lawyers were publicly disciplined for wrongdoing,” he continues. “There was not much media attention regarding these issues. While in 2018, 1000 police officers were accused of excessive force, yet less than 100 were actually charged after diligent investigations.”
“When I’m in the classroom and see the bright young cadets and students, I encourage them to hold their heads up proud and attempt to do great things as the next generation of police officers,” concludes Ledford. “The future of law enforcement will again rise to be a career young people will seek to endeavor. There are too many aspiring young minds that want to accomplish great things by helping the public.’’