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It is never too early or too late to start a career in law enforcement. The only automatic disqualifiers for a position as a police officer are felony convictions as an adult or any misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.
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Getting involved in alcohol and drugs will put you in a bad situation, regardless if you get arrested or not. The life choices you make at an early age will shape your future. Stay away from drugs and alcohol, and stay away from "friends" that do not respect your future aspirations. They will show their true colors by either being supportive of your goals, or disrespecting you by using drugs and alcohol around you and pressuring you to do the same. You are responsible for the choices you make in your life, make sure they are the right choices. If you are unsure of your direction, talk to your parents, teachers, school counselors, or an adult that you trust for guidance.
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If you have made a conscious decision to become a police officer, you need to be a law-abiding citizen NOW. People will say that your juvenile record is sealed, so it doesn't matter if you commit crimes as a juvenile. The bottom line is this, if you want to work in a career where the community demands that its officers be ethical, honest, trustworthy, hard working, and law-abiding, you must embody those qualities now.
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Your conduct on the job is a factor when the Police Department considers you for potential employment. Be professional at your job and work well with your co-workers and management. While you may not get along with everyone, staying professional can earn you the respect of your co-workers and supervisors. Even a job working in the fast food industry will help you develop interpersonal skills with the public that is necessary for a job in law enforcement. Remember, we communicate with people from all walks of life, and must maintain a professional demeanor. You can develop necessary communication skills at every job you work.
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Be responsible with your finances. Pay your bills on time and do not show irresponsibility by amassing a large debt in relation to your take-home income. A check of your credit history is conducted as a part of your background investigation. Even if you have bad credit, take the necessary steps to show that you are responsible enough to rectify the situation. (You can contact a non-profit, consumer credit counseling service to help you manage your debt.) Do not go to credit repair agencies looking for a quick fix on a bad credit report. Many of these "credit doctors" recommend illegal (felony) ways to obtain new credit and will sink you further in financial trouble. It is wise to check your credit history with the three major credit agencies to verify its authenticity. According to credit counselors, more than half of the credit reports have inaccurate information.
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The Sacramento Police Department requires potential police officer candidates to possess 60 semester or 90 quarter units from an accredited university or college. These units do not have to be focused on a Criminal Justice or Administration of Justice major. Some of the various degrees currently held by SPD officers are: Communications, Business, History, and Horticulture. Writing and comprehension of the English language are crucial for today's law enforcement officer. If you don't have the required education requirements, there is the Community Service Officer's position to consider. Many CSO's have promoted to the Police Officer position after obtaining their required college units while working as a CSO. (Click on the Community Service Officer link for more information on that position.)
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Prepare for the physical demands of the career field by keeping yourself physically fit. You must pass the physical agility test to move forward in the hiring process, in addition to preparing for the Police Academy's Physical Training regimen, if hired. As an added bonus, your body releases endorphins during physical training that elevates your mental well being in a positive manner. Exercise is a fantastic way to alleviate stress, and you will receive all the health benefits as a result of regular exercise. You don't need to belong to a health club in order to prepare for the physical agility test. Running, pushup, sit-ups, jumping rope, and jumping jacks are some of the many types of calisthenics/exercises that you can do with little to no equipment. The physical agility test is held at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento (6715 Gloria Dr., nearest cross street of Florin Rd.). You can practice on the 6-foot wall (chain link and solid fence) and the obstacle course during non-school hours at Kennedy High School; this is where the official physical agility test is held on these particular obstacles.
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What you see in the movies is not the real story. An episode of "Real-Life Stories" or "Cops" only touches one small portion of the job. Educate yourself by going on a "ride-along" with your local law enforcement agency. The Sacramento Police Department's ride-along program allows authorized participants to accompany a patrol officer in their patrol vehicle for half of their shift. You will respond to a variety of service calls with that officer. You will see and hear everything that the officer does during your ride-along. It could be a busy night and you might get exposed to a lot of different situations, or it could be a slow night, and you may get the chance to ask the officer job related questions. It would be the most realistic exposure to law enforcement. You may find yourself more excited about the prospect of becoming a police officer, or you may realize that becoming a police officer is not for you. Either way, it is a learning experience you won't soon forget.
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Getting a job in law enforcement takes time and patience once you turn in your application. We want to make sure we hire the best candidates, and besides the written, physical, and oral examinations, potential candidates must undergo a thorough background check, polygraph test, psychological exam, medical exam, and a Deputy Chief's interview prior to getting hired. If you get hired, you will be paid to go through a 23-week intensive police academy that you must adhere to the rules, regulations, and protocols of the academy. (You will also partake in a rigorous physical training regimen while in the academy, so it is strongly advisable that you make working out a part of your daily life prior to entering the academy.)
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The Sacramento Police Department has an 18-month probationary period after the academy. Once you pass the probationary period, you will become a full-fledged civil servant. After two years on patrol, you can be eligible to test for any of the specialized units in the department (as openings in those units occur.) SPD has a wide area of specialized units to transfer such as: POP (Problem Oriented Policing), Investigations: which includes Homicide, Financial Crimes, Gangs, Auto Theft, Narcotics, Vice, Robbery, Burglary, High Tech Crimes, SACA (Sexual Assaults-Child Abuse), Air Operations, SWAT, K-9, Traffic (Motors), Mounted Patrol (Horse), Bike Patrol, Marine (Boat) Unit, and Training.
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The following are tips that will help you prepare for your law enforcement oral board interview.
1. GET PROPER REST. Get a good night's sleep and arrive early. (At least 15 minutes prior to your appointment.) This will allow you time to reduce your stress and allow for traffic or parking delays.
2. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. Your oral interview is a professional job interview and you should treat it as such. Dress in a conservative manner: Males/Females: business suit, if females opt to wear a skirt, the hemlines should not be above the knee. Hairstyles should be neat and conservative. Do not over style your hair. Shine your shoes. Minimal jewelry should be worn. Don't wear cologne or perfume. Good personal hygiene is a must. Pay attention to detail; your interviewers are trained observers and they will notice certain things, even if you don't.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Research the department and the city of Sacramento regarding pertinent information useful for your interview. A great research tool is the Internet, especially the department's web site. (Ex: Who is the Chief of Police? What is the city's population? What are the current issues/operations/press releases involving that department and the public?) Go on a ride-along and see first hand what their police officers do on a shift. (This would also allow you to interview the officer regarding the position.)
4. BE HONEST! Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones to becoming a police officer. If you do not already possess these qualities, don't even bother applying.
5. SELL YOURSELF. Remember that the interviewers are also police officers, sergeants, lieutenants, or captains and they are listening intently to your responses. You are going to potentially be their co-worker and they are looking for the best candidate. They are listening to what you have to offer the department and the citizens of their city. BE ENTHUSIASTIC, BUT BE SINCERE. Be confident in your capabilities and show that you are interested in joining their department.
6. YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE IMPORTANT. Don't short sell your previous achievements. Tell them (when applicable) of your experiences with volunteer work, military service, playing on a team (sports or other function that shows teamwork), any ride-alongs with officers you attended, or anything you have done to contribute to the community.
7. ACT PROFESSIONALLY. Do not smoke cigarettes prior to the interview, or chew gum during the interview. Look your interviewer in the eyes, but don't overly stare at one another.
8. BE ASSERTIVE AND CONFIDENT. When you first meet your interviewers, give each one a firm handshake and refer to them by rank and name. (Ex: Officer Smith, Lieutenant Sweeney, Captain Daniels, etc.)
9. FOCUS ON THE INTERVIEW. Listen to the questions that you are being asked. It is acceptable to ask clarifying questions if you are unsure of what is being asked, or ask that the question to be repeated. There will be scenario questions that will ask how you will react in certain situations. There are no trick questions. The interviewers are looking for common sense answers. It would be advantageous if you understand the basic duties of your desired position.
10. FINISH STRONG. Have a closing statement to finish the interview. This would be a time to reiterate what makes you a desirable employee to the department. Stress the positive aspects of what you can bring to the department.
11. LEAVE A GOOD IMPRESSION. Before you leave the interview, be sure you thank the interviewers by name and leave with a firm handshake.
12. DON'T WORRY EXCESSIVELY. It is normal to feel nervous, especially if this is your first oral board interview. Preparing your closing statement, knowing the specifics of the job, and researching the department will decrease your nervousness.