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Special Law Enforcement Units


Law enforcement careers offer many exciting opportunities for patrol officers after showing a few years of commitment. Police officers may eventually have the opportunity to become K-9 officers, motorcycle traffic cops, or join SWAT teams. Depending on the size of the department you are applying at, most departments have various assets or specialized units available to them. Smaller agencies may have part-time or on-call units, while larger city departments may have full-time programs.  This section will briefly describe various programs police officers can join or be involved in outside of their regular patrol duties.


K-9 Officers are very common assets that most departments, large and small, will have. K-9 officers use their dog’s sense of smell to identify narcotics, explosives, and in search-and-rescue operations. These units are also used in offensive operations, for example, to pursue and attack fugitives or suspects on the run. They are also used in situations where the risk to a police officer may be too high. K-9 units can send their dogs in first to protect the lives of other officers. K-9 officers get the opportunity to train and live with their K-9 dogs for many years and report having very rewarding careers.

Community Relations Officers are a liaison between the community and the law enforcement agency. In many situations, these officers will be in direct contact with schools, organizations, and community groups. Community relations officers give presentations and develop programs to mitigate crime and other prevalent issues that face communities. These officers may specialize in sub-areas of crime prevention and work on juvenile cases as well.

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Bomb Squad Officers are specialized and trained to identify, disarm, and eliminate explosive threats. These officers usually work in highly-skilled teams and are provided with equipment and technology to disarm bombs. Smaller departments will most likely rely on a neighboring agency for bomb squad teams. Medium to larger departments usually have bomb squad officers on call. This means that specialized patrol officers will be called or paged when a bomb threat is identified. The officers who take on this assignment usually receive higher pay due to the dangerous nature of their jobs and have great opportunities for advanced training.

Harbor Patrol/Marine Patrol perform search-and-rescue missions, recover bodies, and respond to ships or boats in distress. Some of these officers may have scuba diving certifications as well. These officers will also patrol rivers and lakes to ensure boating laws are not being violated. Only some agencies will have a marine patrol, depending on where the law enforcement agency is located and their jurisdiction.

Aviation Programs — Larger departments with the budget to support aviation units are found in either state-level law enforcement agencies, highly populated counties, and large cities. Aviation program officers are trained pilots; many will be  prior military members and already possess their pilot licenses. These units will either be helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft units. They offer support to ground units during many operations. Helicopters are extremely effective at patrol in urban areas. They assist in search-and-rescue missions, high-speed pursuits, aerial surveillance, VIP transportation, and many other functions. These officers have competitive pay structures and opportunities to log flight hours.

Mounted Police can include the use of motorcycles, ATVs, bicycles, and horses. Motorcycle and bicycle officers can go where patrol cars cannot go. As a result, they are, in many cases, the first responders to the scene of an accident or crime. These officers perform the normal duties of patrol officers in cars but have different means of transportation. Horseback officers have great opportunities to assist in crowd control in certain areas.

Tactical Units are commonly known as SWAT, Special Weapons and Tactics teams. These units will sometimes include hostage negotiators, crisis negotiators, and sniper teams. SWAT teams are usually seen at larger agencies or at midsize agencies as part of an on-call team. The officers who make up these teams must apply and try out for SWAT. They will usually be patrol officers with a few years of experience. The capabilities that SWAT provides an agency are extremely useful. They are used in emergency situations and are highly trained.

Sex Crimes Units are specialized male and female police officers. They work aggressively to prevent and deter sex crimes. They are also advocates who work with rape and sexual assault victims. In larger police departments, they may conduct operations to stop prostitution and sex trafficking.

Police Instructors/Recruiters/Trainers — After a few years of being in law enforcement, police officers may get the opportunity to become instructors for various training sections. These officers conduct classes and presentations to police recruits as well as remedial training for other officers in the department. At larger departments, there are police officers who specialize in recruiting qualified police officers for their departments. These officers may have this as either a part-time assignment or full-time depending on the size of the department. Police officer trainers may work with police recruits in the probation phase. They will supervise, mentor, and work closely with new recruits.

Traffic Officers specialize in ensuring traffic law and regulations. These officers will work together to enforce regulations in areas of high vehicular accidents and speeding. Traffic officers may be predominantly motorcycle officers. These officers can bring in a great deal of revenue to the city for ticketing moving violations.

Riot or Crowd Control — Usually, all officers at larger agencies and cities get involved in riot and crowd control. Some police officers will be designated as crowd control teams or riot officers. These officers are on call during protests and large public events held in their cities. They practice specialized crowd control techniques. At smaller agencies all police officers can perform this duty and will be crossed-trained.


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