From Military to Law Enforcement

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Many vets are already in love with the idea of transitioning into law enforcement, but not everybody who spent time in the service wants to become a police officer when they get out. Still, you might be surprised about all the similarities. Discipline, experience with safe weapons handling, policy compliance and enforcement, taking a methodical, attention-to-details approach to administrative processes… anyone who has ever served in the Armed Forces has been exposed to these things.

And they’re the exact same routine day-to-day types of tasks which law enforcement officials deal with, too. For many vets, that’s a compelling reason to take the leap into a law enforcement career! You’ve already got many of the skill sets needed. And guess what, those law enforcement agencies know this, too, and are looking for folks like you to recruit!

Nobody wants to be pigeon-holed, but let’s face it—virtually every military member receives a certain amount of training which is directly applicable to a career in law enforcement. So why not give it some serious thought? And with that in mind, let’s kick things off by reviewing the multiple types of police officers, because there are tons of career paths to choose from…

Types of Police Officers

Uniformed officers work in the community accomplishing general duties related to law enforcement, such as patrolling, responding to emergencies, conducting investigations into alleged crimes and offering general help to the public.

Apart from a high school diploma, uniformed officers typically must pass a training academy. The academy instruction will cover topics related to state and local law, constitutional law, civil rights, ethics, and also training on patrol ops, on-scene traffic management, first aid, self-defense, and of course firearms. Uniformed officers may or may not have a college degree. Having a background in military police work would certainly be useful, but not necessary.

The median income is $61,380, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Detectives specialize in investigations, and seek out evidence to determine the chain of events which occured. They interview witnesses and suspects, and carefully document everything in preparation for a possible court case.

Detectives usually start as uniformed officers to gain experience, and are promoted from there. Exams or higher ed may be required. It definitely helps give you a competitive edge if you hold a degree in criminology, criminal justice, psychology or human services. Whether you start this education while in the military, or afterwards using your GI Bill benefits, it’s an option worth considering if you want to plan ahead for a promotion to detective.

On average, detectives may earn $20,000 a year more than a patrol officer, according to BLS, putting the median income at $81,920.

Sheriffs work essentially like police chiefs, but are usually elected by their town. Their jurisdiction extends only to areas outside that of local police.

If you’ve got the personality to campaign for a public office and also serve in law enforcement, this could be your ticket! Becoming a sheriff is a perfect option for veterans with a desire to work more independently or in leadership positions. Sheriffs usually begin as uniformed officers, and may require licensure or certification, depending on the state requirements.

Incomes vary from state to state, but they tend to earn less than other uniformed officers. However, Salary.com lists reports of sheriffs holding a bachelor’s degree earning over $100,000 a year.




State police and highway patrol monitor the roads and generally aid local police in a variety of situations related to law enforcement. Many highway patrol officers ride purpose-built motorcycles in the performance of their duties, while others use sedans or SUV-style vehicles.

If you don’t mind lots of driving and lots of sitting… and have the steely nerves needed to pull over a vehicle in the middle of the night, and approach it without knowing how or what’s inside waiting for you, then a career as a highway patrol officer could be your speed!

K9 units are comprised of uniformed officers working with police dogs which ride along to respond to various traffic stops, emergencies or aid in apprehending criminal suspects.

The commitment to handling a police dog extends beyond duty hours, however. These working canines literally become part of one’s family, and must be given special attention to ensure they are healthy, taken care of and mission ready! Obviously this could be a perfect choice for any vets with prior Military Working Dog experience from their military law enforcement careers.

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams have been around since the ‘60’s, but their ranks expanded a lot during the War on Drugs, and after 9/11. These are the most “military-like” law enforcement agents, confronting hostage situations, terrorism and other high-risk situations here at home.

In addition to pistols, SWAT utilize submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns and even sniper rifles. Their vehicle fleet is also upgraded from standard uniformed officer transport. Armored Rescue Vehicles, B.E.A.R.s, Cadillac Gage Rangers, and even FV603 Alvis Saracen armoured personnel carriers can all be found in use in various cities around the nation.

According to Chron.com, SWAT members earn extra income by giving firearms training to other officers, or if they are bilingual or able to defuse bombs.

Other types of officers include transit and railroad officers, which patrol subways, trains, rail yards, and the like; and special jurisdiction police, which are assigned exclusively to act on a specified location, such as an airport or college campus.

There are also countless opportunities for federal law enforcement jobs, which differ considerably from standard police work. For instance, you may not think of them as such, but fish and game wardens are law enforcement agents out there in the field helping enforce regulations and facilitating search and rescue ops. They also look into complaints and help out during an accident, using boats, planes, horses, or good ol’ hiking to get to hard-to-reach spots! A bachelors may be needed to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service.

Other federal opportunities exist within the following agencies and organizations:

  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • The National Gallery of Art
  • NASA
  • United States Office of Personnel Management
  • United States Postal Service
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Amtrak
  • Federal Reserve System
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • National Science Foundation
  • The National Archives and Records Administration
  • Railroad Retirement Board
  • Small Business Administration
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  • General Services Administration
  • Social Security Administration
  • United States Agency for International Development
  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Executive Branch of government
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Legislative Branch of government
  • Judicial Branch of government



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