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Best for Vets: Law Enforcement 2013

Oct. 22, 2012 - 09:27PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 22, 2012 - 09:27PM  |  
Marine veterans office Shawn Holmes of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department.
Marine veterans office Shawn Holmes of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department. (Courtesy of Indianapolis Metro Police Department)
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Serve your community. Follow a clear command structure. Carry a gun. Obey rules of engagement. Be ready for volatile situations.

Wear a slick uniform.

It doesn't all have to end when you get discharge papers.

A career in law enforcement could be a great choice for some people leaving the military or current reservists, officials from departments across the nation told Military Times. And such veterans often are ultravaluable members of the force.

"Veterans, they have the discipline; they have the work ethic, loyalty. All of the attributes that we are looking for, folks in the military already have," said Officer Robert Wilson of the Colorado Springs (Colo.) Police Department.

Departments and agencies that responded to our first-ever Best for Vets: Law Enforcement survey largely said they make special efforts to recruit veterans, give them hiring preference over non-vets and have built forces in which as many as one in three officers has a military background.

About half of respondents said they accept military experience in the place of required technical certification. A similar number said that vets can use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits while in the department's training academy.

And many law enforcement agencies are generous to reservists, continuing benefits and full pay while they're deployed or away for training.

Departments said many of their officers made an easy transition from military camo to P.D. blue.

While civilians struggle to meet the demands of the police academy and life in the force, some vets actually have to make the opposite adjustment.

"Law enforcement is ... less rigid than the military environment," said Sgt. Steve Saunders of the Cincinnati Police Department, a former Army reservist.

Still, Saunders said, there are many similarities between the two, particularly in large cities such as his. While not comparable to a war zone, fighting crime in the big city can lead to some similarly "intense" work, he said.

"For the military member coming out who is looking for employment ... an urban, larger city might be more appealing to them," he said.

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The Baltimore Police Department not only recruits veterans but also borrows the lessons they learn on the battlefield.

The department recently trained its officers in the "Diamond Standard," a concept brought back from the battle for Fallujah, Iraq, which dictates that the force should try to be the best possible friend to friendly members of a community and the worst possible enemy to the bad guys.

"We actually had the lieutenant, who was a Navy SEAL, come to our department and help us implement that program," said Baltimore Detective Gregory Ostrander.

Wilson, of the Colorado Springs department, listed several advantages to a career in law enforcement.

Police work can be found in almost any area of the country. And job security is strong, as long as people continue to break the law.

"It's not like next year crime will be out of style and we'll have to find something else to do," Wilson said.

But there are drawbacks to law enforcement work, too.

"Law enforcement is 24-7-365. You're not going to get every Christmas off," Ostrander said.

And much like military life, police work often doesn't resemble the high-octane adventure portrayed in movies and on TV.

"Not everything's, you know, full of action," Ostrander said.

Law enforcement isn't limited to the boys in blue. Federal agencies also have law enforcement operations, including some that might surprise you.

The Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division makes efforts to recruit vets and gives them special consideration while hiring.

Brian McCauley went from fighting Iraqi insurgents as an Army infantryman to chasing down tax cheats as a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service.

McCauley said that a Veterans Affairs Department aptitude test showed that he was skilled at math with a propensity for investigation. He used VA benefits to earn a bachelor's degree in forensic accounting and landed a job with the IRS.

"It's almost kind of like putting a puzzle together," McCauley said of his current work.

"People usually don't think of the IRS as a law enforcement agency, but it's certainly pretty interesting once you give it a look."

Service members also may want to consider joining small-town police forces.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee had one of the survey's smallest forces but also one of the largest proportions of veterans. The absence of one or two reservists can have a big impact on a 20-officer department, said Sheriff Tony King.

"It seems like every time I turn around, one of them is getting deployed somewhere," King said. "It's tough."

But it's worth it in the long run, he added.

"It seems like the ones that have military [experience] … are some of your better employees."

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