|Choosing a Police
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|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker
There are over 18,000 police departments in the
United States, and they come in three sizes – small;
medium, and large. There are no firm numbers of
sworn personnel to classify the size of a police
department in relationship to others. For example,
New York City at 37,000 can’t be compared in size
to Baltimore with 3,000; however, Baltimore is still a
large police department. The PEW Research Center
classifies a large police department with at least
2,600 police officers.
New York City has 77 police precincts; Baltimore has
9 police districts – precincts/districts are the same
things. The precincts/districts are designed as
stand -alone police stations to serve a particular
geographic area. Working in a New York precinct
will be similar to working in a Baltimore district. All
police departments are overwhelmingly similar
simply because they all have the same mission. If
you’re looking for an environment where you’ll be
very busy responding to and handling serious
incidents, a large police department would be the
logical choice. It’s just a matter of frequency since
any police officer anywhere can encounter anything.
I think most people choose police departments
based primarily on convenience. I know that most
recruits in my academy class were already residing
in the Baltimore metro area. Only a few of us
arrived from any distance away. I don’t think that
circumstance has changed much, especially since
pay scales for police officers have increased
dramatically since I became a police officer.
Aside from the obvious considerations of salary;
healthcare and retirement benefits, you should
become familiar with the organizational structure of
the police department you’re considering. This is
much more important than you might think,
because you don’t want to go through all the
trouble of getting hired to just to do it all over
again with another organization.
You now have the Internet to do your own
investigation of how a police department is
organized. Most police departments with more than
(50) sworn personnel will have a website.
Somewhere within that website will be an annual
report. Among the sworn personnel of the police
department, you want to determine the ratio of
police officer positions to supervisory (sergeants)
and management positions (lieutenant and above).
Let’s take a look at a well-organized police
department of sixty (60) sworn personnel from the
rank of police officer to Chief. The Gaithersburg,
Maryland Police Department has only five (5)
positions above the rank of sergeant – the Chief of
Police; three (3) lieutenants commanding three (3)
bureaus – Administrative; Operations; and Special
Operations. One (1) Emergency Management
Coordinator oversees a range of departmental
In any police department large or small, the
sergeant is a critically important position. The GPD
obviously recognizes the importance of the
sergeant position. The GPD has nine (9) sergeants
directly supervising forty-six (46) police officers and
corporals. There are nine (9) corporal positions.
While corporals may perform supervisory functions,
corporals normally perform the same duties as
police officers unless otherwise specified.
The GPD serves a community of over 69,000
residents. In 2018, the GPD responded to 37,710
calls for service; issued 7,062 traffic citations;
issued 7,379 traffic warnings; made 855 adult
criminal arrests, and took 34 juveniles into custody.
The point here is that the GPD does not suffer from
a top heavy command structure. Compare the GPD
to other police departments of similar size where
nearly half of their sworn numbers are designated
as captains, lieutenants and sergeants with maybe a
couple of majors thrown into the mix. In such
police departments, management ranks in particular
are usually used to provide chosen members with
higher pay grades. In reality, this practice only
ensures a sloppy chain of command; a reduction in
the prestige of ranks and it definitely reduces the
authority of the sergeants.
The GPD is a well-paid police department. Instead
of a top heavy superfluous command staff, the GPD
spreads the wealth across four (4) pay grades –
POI; POII; POIII; Corporal – for the men and women
who do the work.
The bottom line is this. You want to choose a
police department where you’ll want to complete
your police career. Look. The police department is
going to investigate you, so there’s no reason why
you shouldn’t investigate the police department to
ensure that it meets with your expectations.
"The bottom line is this. You want to choose a
police department where you’ll want to
complete your police career. Look. The police
department is going to investigate you, so
there’s no reason why you shouldn’t
investigate the police department to ensure
that it meets with your expectations."
~ Barry M. Baker