Becoming a Police Officer: Internships (page 2)
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.
In considering an internship, you should ask yourself: What do I expect to learn from this? Work with your professor, faculty advisor, and the coordinator or supervisor at the agency where you will be serving your internship to develop a set of learning goals. These are goals you set for yourself, not just program requirements like keeping a journal or writing a final term paper describing the experience and summarizing what you gained from being an intern.
Before you establish your learning goals, you have to evaluate yourself and your situation. This includes estimating how much time you will be spending on your internship and knowing yourself—your personality, your preferences, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Consider how many hours you will be spending at the work site and what the academic requirements of your internship are. Know your skill set, which means what you are good at. Learn about the agency's mandate and the duties you will be asked to perform to help the agency meet its goals. In some tasks you may be able to perform as competently as a rookie police officer, in many more areas you will find out how much you don't know.
Your list of learning goals should be specific rather than general. That is, instead of having a goal "to learn more about being a cop," you could have as a goal "learning the difference in duties between a police officer and the supervising lieutenant," or "how officers interact with members of the community who need assistance or who report crimes." You might want to learn more about the differences between a local and a county police department, or between a police department and a sheriff's office. These are very general goals. Once you have interned for a while, you might make your goals more specific or even more personal, such as learning what you have to do to become a canine officer or a homicide investigator. If you are good with numbers and enjoy math, you may want to pursue fraud examination involving accounting cover-ups.
Being an intern is an active experience. True, there will be a learning curve in the early stages of the internship. There will also be times when you are put in a passive role as a participant-observer. As you grow on the job, though, you will be expected to become a productive part of the team, doing real work in the job at hand.
One example of a highly specialized internship program is with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which operates the FBI Academy Law Enforcement Communication Unit Internship Program that brings volunteer interns to Quantico, Virginia, where FBI agents are trained. The FBI Academy also provides advanced training for ranking officers and supervisors from police agencies around the world. The FBI Academy Law Enforcement Communication Unit Internship Program is open to students majoring in criminal justice, English, communications, and related areas of study; majors in other areas may also be considered. The internships consist of 12 weeks of working 8 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. assisting communications staff. The communications unit is responsible for training FBI Academy attendees in interviewing and interrogation, developing informants, public speaking, media relations, and writing skills. The unit also produces the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, a monthly publication featuring articles on current issues in law enforcement written by people working in the field. Interns typically work on preparing summaries of articles, fact-checking, and other jobs related to editing and preparing the articles for publication.
This is just one type of internship program the FBI offers under it FBI Honors Internship Program. Each summer, about 50 students are brought to headquarters in Washington. Most of the students, who must have at least a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, are going into their senior year in college or have graduated and been accepted into graduate school. The FBI interns assist in administrative and analytical tasks in such areas as application processing; monitoring recruitment and training policies and procedures in personnel resources; reviewing nominations for in-service recognition and special awards for agents; and working in the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC).
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