Becoming a Police Officer: Internships (page 6)
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).
The FBI programs are highly specific. Most internships offer opportunities to survey the whole array of police activities and operations. In other cases, you may be able to spend your internship taking an in-depth look at a particular law enforcement specialty. This could include everything from recruitment and training to maintenance of records; communications or community outreach programs; criminal investigations or crime lab and property room; preparing cases and courtroom testimony; or surveillance operations. You might also be able to spend most of the internship period with a special unit, such as canine patrol, motorcycle patrol, accident reconstruction, narcotics, arson squad, or emergency response team, to name a few.
It is unlikely you will have an opportunity to answer calls for service with these units because, of course, both the agency and your school are responsible for your safety. But you may have the opportunity to work in the command center of these units and interact regularly with officers assigned to them. If you have a preference for one type of experience or the other, find out during the application process whether you have a choice in assignments or whether the privilege of being considered for an internship is the extent of your choice.
Wherever you perform you internship work, do not expect to do active police work beyond paperwork and observation. In the field, you will be limited primarily to observing what the job entails and how the others perform their duties. More likely you will be providing routine assistance to either sworn officers or civilian employees of the agency. If you violate policies meant to keep you safe and you consistently try to stretch your responsibilities into active police work, you stand a good chance of having your agency request that your school remove you from the program. You are there to learn about policing and, possibly to help the agency with some non-emergency tasks. You are not there to endanger yourself or others by taking chances and engaging in risky behavior.
Internships not only provide real world experience, they also help you develop self-directed learning. Most of your learning up to this point will have been passive—sitting in classrooms listening to lectures, reading books, and perhaps watching a few videos. With a field work internship, you will learn when there is a preferred method of performing a task or addressing a challenge, and when there are multiple approaches to problem solving, each with plusses and minuses. You will be acquiring new knowledge and probably applying some of the knowledge you have already gained.
Most students find at the end of an internship that they have acquired new skills and experienced personal development. Most important as far as career consideration goes, you will have developed an increased sense of professionalism through your first-hand involvement in real-world work.
Now that you've learned something about internships, you need to know how to go about getting one. General information on internships is available primarily from school internships coordinators and from police agency websites. Some agencies that coordinate a number of programs with more than one college might have an agency administrator. Attend seminars, job fairs, and similar events where you can talk to recruiters about internships. Particularly if you are in your senior year and will be looking for full-time employment soon, discuss with a recruiter whether an internship can lead to direct employment or if it carries extra points on a civil service exam. Because special jurisdiction agencies and some city and state investigative agencies are less likely to be covered by civil service regulations, they often have greater flexibility in hiring. In searching for an internship, do not disregard opportunities closer to home. Friends, relatives, and possibly parents of classmates who work in the field are also a good source of information.
Make sure you start early, since the application process has a series of deadlines. In some cases, the package of application materials may have to be completed as early as one year in advance of when you may want to begin your internship. This is also a good time to start lining up people to use for references and to write letters of recommendation on your behalf.
Once you have determined when and where you would like to apply, read the application requirements carefully. Some applications may have to be submitted in paper form only, sometimes parts of the application may be submitted electronically. In some cases, the entire application form may have to be completed online. First and foremost, follow instructions. This might seem to be unnecessary advice, but a major reason internship application forms are rejected is that the instructions were not followed, resulting in incorrect, inaccurate, or omitted information. Even before you begin filling out the application, read it over and over, so you know what information is being requested. After you have completed the form, read it again to make sure you have followed all the instructions. Check your spelling. Have someone else read your application; a second opinion can be helpful. Remember, too, that the experience you gain going over your internship application very, very carefully will help you do the exact same thing when you complete a police job application.
Sometimes the application process includes one or more interviews. Make sure you dress appropriately; a business suit for men and a daytime dress or business pantsuit for women. It is more important to leave a good impression than to show how fashionable and trendy your wardrobe is. After the interview—later the same day and no later than the next day—send a note to the interviewer saying how much you enjoyed the opportunity to be considered for a position. Since you know you will be sending a note and may be asked to remain in contact with the interviewer, be sure to ask for a business card so you have the person's name and title. If no business card is available, ask the person to spell out his or name, ask for the person's title, and write it down so that in your nervousness and enthusiasm you do not forget. It is better to send a handwritten note through regular mail. An e-mail note would not have the same impact, but would be better than sending no thank you note at all. A phone message or a text message is not appropriate, and perhaps would be viewed as intrusive by the interviewer.
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