Diversity of Jobs in the Field
In the opening chapters you learned about the diversity that exists in law enforcement. From the most common of law enforcement agents—the uniformed police officer—to enforcement agents for the Environmental Protection Agency, law enforcement offers the widest diversity within a profession that can be found. Code enforcement officers, fire wardens, game wardens, and members of SRTs (Special Reaction Teams) share a common goal: enforcement of a set of laws. From local constables to U.S. Marshals, state police officers to FBI agents, everyone in the field is engaged in enforcing the law.
Although there is a wide array of enforcement positions throughout the country, and all of these positions have certain characteristics which they share, this does not necessarily mean that an agent can migrate easily from one type of agency to another. Law enforcement is a highly specialized profession, and each discipline within the broader field has their own set of protocols that often takes an entire career to fully comprehend. That does not mean that an agent can't move from one agency to another—many agents do start with one agency and move at some point to another, but the general rule of thumb remains that agents stay within the same type of agency that they start with.
Due to the realities faced on the job, relatively few who begin a career in law enforcement finish that career. The average length of service is roughly five years. Those who remain until eligible for retirement are a tiny fraction of those who initially apply for the job.
The desire for something bigger or better often moves agents through the ranks, but it can just as often push them into compartmentalization; channeling them into a specialty where they serve the remainder of their career. It is a matter of law enforcement management utilizing the human resources available in the most efficient manner. Sending an agent to schools that train her to do a subset of the overall tasks assigned the agency, then allowing her to transfer from that division into an area where those skills will not be used, is a waste of resources. That is why enforcement personnel often get pigeonholed at some point in their careers and are powerless to extricate themselves from their niche.
Knowing that this situation exists within law enforcement can be helpful to those who either want to mold themselves to serve in a niche, or to those who want to avoid being categorized with a specialty. There are generalists in law enforcement that can be counted on to do many chores that are beyond the reach of the average agent or officer. They are most often the older and most experienced, and their versatility comes from long years of experience and observation.
Most academies offer an overview of the various squads and resources available to agents to help agents understand the availability of the specialty. If the agent wants to work in that specialty, he needs to initiate the move into that field. However, caution should be exercised; becoming specialized in one area is often a one-way street.
Just because a police patrolman may never have been elevated in rank, or given training that would yield an assignment to a specialty squad, doesn't mean that officer's skills are sub par. An experienced uniformed police officer who is first at the scene of a major crime is the best hope that all of the specialists have for resolving the situation. SWAT units require precise intelligence before they can properly deploy. Detectives need definitive leads that are best obtained by an intelligent street officer who can direct them to witnesses and likely suspects. There is plenty of room under the law enforcement umbrella for officers that are capable of doing the heavy work without the glamour of a specialty assignment.