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Police Officer

The Real Poop

It may come as a surprise to you that police officers don't spend all their time parked at donut shops. They actually perform a whole slew of law enforcement functions that vary with the departments or agencies that employ them. Right now, we'll keep it simple and talk about your garden-variety uniformed police officer who works in your city or town.

Pete the Patrol Officer drives through his assigned district in his standard-issue black-and-white patrol car. He looks for vehicles with aggressive drivers, broken taillights, and expired tags. Pete stops these vehicles and chats up the drivers, using his police experience and uncanny intuition to sense when the drivers are hiding something. Usually they are, and usually Pete finds it.

However, that's not all Pete does. He responds to the assistance calls his dispatcher sends his way. Sometimes he assists a driver whose vehicle has broken down; at other times, he backs up another officer trying to arrest a particularly unruly suspect. He investigates a group marching down the street without a parade permit. Finally, he works with community leaders to set up a neighborhood watch group—a type of community policing program.

If Pete works in a small town, he probably patrols alone. In a large city, he'll generally team up with another officer, who provides valuable backup and a second set of eyes on the street. Finally, no matter what else Pete does, he's a slave to the endless forms and reports that document his actions. He'll also need this documentation if he has to testify about a case in court.

That pretty much states Pete's job in a nutshell. Pretty generic, right? Well, fast-forward about five years, when Pete has racked up some good arrest and conviction stats and has taken a few specialized courses through the department. After making his way up the promotion list, Pete has now been promoted to the Canine Unit. He can't imagine a better fit, as he's a lifelong dog lover and has always wanted to be a canine patrol officer. He's been working with Axel, a handsome Belgian shepherd with a boundless desire to play...until Pete instructs him to go to work. Then he's all business. Although Pete and Axel are a relatively new team, they've made some good drug busts in the six months they've worked together.

Okay, let's say law enforcement and crime fighting hold a certain appeal, although you can't really see yourself walking (or driving) a police beat every day. You might also consider a career as a state trooper, a never-boring job that allows you to work anywhere in your state where you are needed. In fact, you might frequently assist other police departments short on their own officer coverage. In rural settings, you might help a sheriff and his deputies provide law enforcement support to citizens within a large geographic area.

Natural resources police, also known as fish and game wardens, enforce fishing, hunting, and boating laws. These water-savvy officers might also conduct search and rescue operations, and investigate sometimes nasty accidents within their jurisdiction. Finally, lawbreakers are never out of reach of federal law enforcement officers; who include the FBI, DEA, Federal Air Marshals, and Customs and Border Patrol Agents. These guys (and gals) have a pretty large jurisdiction: the entire United States.

If you'd rather not chase down lawbreakers, however, you might consider a career as a correctional officer. Your citizens are conveniently contained in their own small apartments, and you can see exactly what they're doing 24/7. Perhaps you'd like to follow up with these guys (and gals) once they get out; you know, try to make sure they stay on the straight and narrow. Consider a probation officer career if you're up to that challenge.

If you've watched a few too many cop shows, a private detective or investigator gig might interest you. Hope you have a comfortable car, though, because you'll spend many hours parked in front of your subject's house, waiting for something to happen. On the other hand, a security guard job would bring you much closer to the action. Just picture yourself strolling the mall, looking at the latest fashions or high-tech computer accessories...oh wait, you're supposed to be looking for mischief-makers.

Perhaps you might prefer a casino surveillance officer position, where you get to mingle with high rollers who drop more dough than you make in a year. However, you're supposed to be watching for world-class card cheats, pickpockets, and other master criminals who troll the land of easy pickings.

Finally, you might find yourself drawn to a career that enables you to help other people, which is certainly commendable no matter what you choose to do. You might consider a paramedic/EMT or firefighter career; or perhaps a combination of both skill sets.