Becoming a Police Officer: Internships

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

Internships provide a way to gain first-hand knowledge about the workings of law enforcement agencies. Internships can earn high school or college credits. Most college and universities with police studies and criminal justice programs incorporate internships into their course offerings. In addition to providing you with an opportunity to further your education, these programs are very likely to help you make a career decision.

There are two sources of internships. One is directly between you and a police agency. Many, if not most, police and law enforcement agencies provide internships to qualified applicants. The number of internships at any one agency is limited, so the application process will be competitive.

The second source of internships is through your college. As mentioned previously, virtually all colleges with police studies-related majors offer internship courses. Occasionally, specialized internships are available to students in other majors, such as English, communications, behavioral sciences, and physical sciences. In some cases, internship courses are upper-level electives, which means you must be a junior (third-year student) or a senior (fourth-year student). In other cases they are part of the degree requirement. Although undergraduate internships are generally limited to third-or fourth-year students, exceptions are sometimes made for outstanding or especially-qualified students with fewer credit hours completed. Graduate programs may also incorporate field work involving internships. These, too, are sometimes electives and sometimes part of the degree requirements.

How and where internship students are assigned varies from college to college. Generally, your school will have developed a relationship with law enforcement agencies in the vicinity and will assign you to work with one. In other instances, you will be required to find an agency and make the arrangements yourself—with some guidance from your internship advisor—in order to fulfill the course requirements.

Police agencies at all levels of government provide opportunities for interns: town, village, city, county, and state police departments, as well as sheriffs' offices. Many city and state investigative agencies also provide internships, as do some special jurisdiction police agencies and some of the federal law enforcement agencies. Because of the varied nature of special jurisdiction departments, an internship in one of them will have the added benefit of introducing you to such areas as fraud investigation; enforcement of hunting and fishing laws as well as protecting fish and wildlife, natural resources, historic and archaeological sites; environmental protection agencies; parks services and departments that police parks, beaches, campgrounds and other recreational areas. There are also law enforcement agencies dedicated to transportation and campus policing, two of the growing special jurisdiction law enforcement areas.

Requirements vary, but most agencies prefer applicants who are United States citizens and who are at least 18 years old. Some may require a driver's license or that you are able to assure transportation to and from the assigned work location. You may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement or to submit to fingerprinting or be tested for drug use. There will be background checks for such things as felony criminal convictions, probation, and adult arrest records. Because interns are both attending school and working in the field, most departments prefer applicants who are not otherwise working. Few agencies that provide internships specify residency in a particular city or county. Generally your attendance at the college with which the internship arrangement exists is sufficient.

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