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Apprentice Programs as a Recruiting Tool

In 1951, the Public Education Division of the Georgia State Patrol began the first Camp Safety Patrol in Cordele, Ga. A couple of times a year, I will have someone approach me and relate how they began their law enforcement career at the Veteran’s State Park, Camp Safety Patrol. While this program has long since closed, apprentice programs continue to be a great source for reaching out to young persons who are interested in law enforcement and attracting them to the profession.

For centuries, apprenticeships have provided young persons with the training required to master a trade. Today, law enforcement agencies across the country use these programs to attract, identify and develop young talent. In 2006, the California POST Recruitment Study found that more than 50 percent of academy students knew they wanted to be a police officer by the time they completed high school, and many as early as the ninth grade. Program supervisors can mentor individuals to develop the proper skills, values and attitudes for being an exceptional officer. At the same time, these sponsors can also guide individuals to avoid behaviors that may interfere with them joining the force.

Sponsoring agencies benefit from apprentice programs by observing individuals in a variety of situations and identifying high potential individuals. Over time, they can begin to anchor these individuals to the organization and “raise them” within the department. Three common law enforcement apprentice programs include law enforcement explorers, cadet / community service programs and internships.

Law Enforcement Explorers

The law enforcement explorer program is sponsored by the Boy Scouts to introduce teenagers (male and female) to police operations. These programs are very structured and provide individuals with opportunities to participate in a variety of supervised activities.

Cadet / Community Service Officers

Agencies across the country are using a variety of volunteer and paid programs that use participants in support functions. In some cases, the individuals may work as volunteers in administrative support positions. In other instances, agencies are using new hires in cadet programs as a way to capture good candidates until academy vacancies become available.

While working as cadets, the individuals are assigned to assist with administrative and support activities including dispatch, records and community relations. In a tight labor market, this technique helps agencies to avoid losing great officers to competing agencies. At the same time, it allows the organization to prepare the individual to succeed in the academy and field training program.

Internship Programs

By partnering with area colleges and universities, departments can establish internships to provide a more intimate relationship with a potential candidate over an academic semester. During these periods, departments provide graduating students with exposure to the practical application of the knowledge learned in the classroom. Allowing students to participate in special projects gives a unique opportunity to interact with an individual at little to no expense. During this time, leaders can observe the individual’s work habits and interpersonal skills. Many evolve internships into job offers.

When developing an apprentice program, leaders must provide the structure and organization needed to ensure success. First, individuals responsible for supervising and maintaining the program must be identified. Second, guidelines must be established and articulated that outline the program’s purpose, regulate participation, and define acceptable use of participants. Some agencies may use their apprentice program as a community outreach, while others focus on preparing interested persons for a career in law enforcement and public safety.

Depending on the type of program initiated, standards of participation may vary. With explorer programs, participation may be open to persons as young as 14, while cadet programs may be designed for older individuals. At the same time, internships may be limited to graduating college students.

Every community is different; acceptable use of apprentice program participants varies accordingly. To avoid confusion and ensure success, how individuals may be used should be thoroughly discussed and consensus developed before starting a program. Most young participants are very impressionable, so caution must be taken to avoid hyper-vigilance and sensationalizing activities.

The program must also list standards of conduct, dress code and frequency of training. Persons participating in a program are representatives of the department. The conduct of one person reflects on the entire organization. Because of this, the department must clearly articulate acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For example, use of illegal drugs, participation in criminal activity and disruptive behavior should be grounds for immediate dismissal from the program.

The department should articulate a dress code to ensure program participants are never confused as being officers. Sponsors should be careful not to assume that individuals are familiar with appropriate attire for the workplace. It may be advisable to establish standards of dress or provide uniform clothing and review the standards with individuals when they join the program.

Finally, when developing the program, a schedule of activities should be provided. A basic orientation should include an outline of the program and expectations of participants. Most programs also provide a standardized training program that includes topics such as first aid, CPR, radio procedures, crime prevention activities, etc. Over time, more advanced classes can be developed and introduced.
Before allowing participants to assist with any activity, sponsors must ensure individuals have received the necessary orientation and training. For example, if a cadet or explorer is being allowed to assist with a parade, participants must know mandatory reporting times, acceptable communications procedures, safety procedures, how to block traffic, and traffic direction techniques.

Apprentice programs are a proven technique for developing potential talent over the long term. Individuals receive training and guidance necessary for success as a police officer. Agencies benefit from having the opportunity to observe individuals’ performances and identify people with the most potential. Sponsors can then work to attract and anchor these individuals to the department.

Dwayne Orrick is the chief of the Cordele, Ga., Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a past presenter at the IACP convention. He may be reached via e-mail at

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2010

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