Choosing a Police Department

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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

Choosing a police department for your pursuit of a police career provides many choices. There are over 18,000 police departments in the United States, and they come in three sizes. They are small; medium, and large. There are no firm numbers of sworn personnel to classify the size of a police department. 

For example, New York City at 37,000 can’t be compared in size to Baltimore with 3,000, but 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 and Baltimore has 9 police districts. Precincts and districts are the same things, and they are designed as stand-alone police stations. The stations 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, because they all have the same mission. If you want to stay very busy handling serious incidents, choosing a large police department would be the logical choice. It’s just a matter of frequency since any police officer anywhere can encounter anything.

For Many, It’s a Matter of Convenience

I think most people primarily consider convenience when choosing a police department. 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 since pay scales for police officers have increased everywhere.

There’s more than the obvious considerations of salary, healthcare and retirement benefits. You should become familiar with the organizational structure when choosing a police department, because this is critically important. You don’t want to go through all the trouble of choosing a police department and getting hired just to do it all over again.

Choosing a Police Department with an Efficient Organizational Structure

You now have the Internet to do your own investigation of how a police department is organized. Most police departments with more than fifty 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 and management positions. When choosing a police department, the structure of that police department is a most important factor.

Let’s take a look at a well-organized police department of sixty sworn personnel from the rank of police officer to Chief. The Gaithersburg, Maryland Police Department has only five positions above the rank of sergeant. They are the Chief of Police and three lieutenants commanding three bureaus; Administrative; Operations; and Special Operations. One Emergency Management Coordinator oversees a range of departmental functions.

In any police department large or small, the sergeant is a critically important position, and the GPD obviously recognizes that fact. The GPD has nine sergeants directly supervising forty-six police officers and nine corporals. Corporals may perform supervisory functions, but corporals normally perform the same duties as police officers.

The GPD serves a community of over 69,000 residents. In 2018, the GPD responded to 37,710 calls for service. They issued 7,062 traffic citations; issued 7,379 traffic warnings and made 855 adult criminal arrests and took 34 juveniles into custody.

Avoid a Top Heavy Command Structure

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 above the rank of police officer. They 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. It reduces the prestige of ranks, and it definitely reduces the authority of the sergeants. You should put such organizations low on your list for choosing a police department.

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 below the rank of sergeant.

The bottom line is this. Choosing a police department that meets your requirements is very important. 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.

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