Interview with a ...
Montgomery County, Maryland
What is your job?
I’m a police sergeant with the Montgomery County Police Department. I currently supervise a patrol shift of about 10 patrol officers who respond to 911 calls for service and enforce traffic and criminal laws.
Describe a typical day.
My “day” covers the midnight shift, from 8:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. The officers meet at the police station at the beginning of the shift, and I hold a “roll call”: a review of recent incidents and a discussion of any topics that are pertinent to the officers’ duties that day, like recent crime trends. The officers then patrol the county and respond to 911 calls.
My job as a supervisor includes monitoring the police radio and ensuring that the shift is running smoothly. I also review and approve the officers’ police reports and do other administrative work.
I work four 10-hour shifts per week. Shifts rotate weekends and weekdays. Everyone works a permanent day, evening, or midnight shift.
What are some other activities related to your job?
Police officers engage with people in the community every day. We are involved in community events, outreach efforts, and teaching at local schools. I’m also a certified instructor and teach DUI (driving under the influence) enforcement to police recruits.
How did you get started in law enforcement?
I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a police officer, and that never changed. I interned with a police department when I was in college, where I studied criminal justice with a minor in Latin American studies. That experience solidified my desire to be a police officer.
My internship lasted about 2 years when I was a junior and senior in college. I started out working at the front desk, where I had administrative duties like answering the phone and speaking with residents who came into the station. Then, I transitioned to on-the-road interning with the Alcohol Initiatives Section, riding along with officers and helping with tasks like setting up sobriety checkpoints. I also continued doing administrative duties, such as entering statistics into a database.
What’s required to get an entry-level job as a patrol officer?
The requirements differ by agency. My police department requires that applicants have a minimum of 60 college credits and complete other requirements, like a written exam and a background investigation.
A police officer candidate, or recruit, has to successfully complete about 6 months at the police academy and another 6 months of on-the-road training.
The academy segment includes physical training and classroom instruction. You learn a variety of law-enforcement topics, such as criminal and traffic law, proper use of firearms, and how to write reports.
Talk a little bit about how an officer’s career path evolves.
The fundamental job of a police officer is to go on patrol, and every officer in this department—including me—started as a patrol officer. However, as patrol officers gain experience, they have lots of opportunities to decide on a career path.
After working as a patrol officer, I became a patrol officer supervisor. But there are many specialized units in this police department. Some examples are K9 officer (a handler of dogs that are specially trained to assist police), detective, public information officer, and traffic officer.
Also, officers are required to get training every year. And most police departments have opportunities for officers to further their education and training throughout their career.
What’s the most difficult part of your job? What do you like best?
Witnessing tragedy and, sometimes, a person’s saddest moment or experience—that’s definitely the hardest part of my job.
But at the same time, we have the ability to help people when they need it. And I like knowing that I’m contributing to my community.
What should aspiring officers know about law enforcement careers?
It’s important to enjoy engaging with people, because we interact with our community on a daily basis. Being able to communicate effectively is a critical skill.
A career in law enforcement is a commitment. We often work unusual hours, including holidays, and we can be faced with difficult and dangerous situations. But I’m in my 15th year of service, and I continue to enjoy my job.
Ryan Farrell, "Police sergeant," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2020.