By Scott Best
Serving your community, making your province a safer place to live, dealing with challenging situations, preventing crimes from being committed—these objectives and more can be pursued with a career in law enforcement. Jobs in this field are as varied as they are interesting. You could have a career as a police officer, correctional officer, security guard or private investigator and there are many additional jobs to choose from. Law enforcement can be demanding, but few careers provide as much satisfaction and the ability to make a difference in the community.
Police officers perform diverse duties, ranging from enforcing the law and apprehending criminals to promoting traffic safety and resolving domestic disputes. They also provide testimony in court, prepare reports, assist victims of crime and work with community groups. Because officers maintain law and order and work with a wide variety of people, honesty and integrity, ethics and good judgment, patience and intelligence, good listening and observation skills are all essential for police work, or any type of law enforcement for that matter.
In Canada, police officers work for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as provincial, municipal or First Nation police services. (They are also attached to the defence department and a few private companies, such as CN and CP railroads.)
To be considered for a job with a police force, you must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, know English or French and have a high school diploma. You may not be required to have a post-secondary degree or diploma, but education in law and security or the social sciences can increase your chance of being accepted. You must also be physically fit, meet minimum vision and hearing requirements and be in good health. You’ll likely be asked to provide character references and complete some type of psychological testing. Prospective police officers cannot have any criminal convictions or charges pending before the courts. You will also need a valid driver’s licence and a good driving record. The minimum age for applying can be anywhere from 18 to 21.
Following induction, officer recruits complete a basic training program made up of classroom lectures and field training, lasting from three to nine months. If you’re training to be an RCMP officer, you must be willing to relocate to any urban or rural detachment in Canada. With few exceptions, new RCMP officers aren’t posted to Quebec or Ontario.
A municipal police officer starts out as a patroller or constable in a mid-sized municipality, and may move to a similar position in a larger police force, and then to detective or investigative work. Extensive experience gives some police officers access to inspector, chief inspector or commissioned officer positions leading a military unit.
The outlook for this occupation over the next few years varies depending on the province. The number of jobs being created is below average in British Columbia, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces, well above average in Saskatchewan, good for Manitoba and the Yukon Territory (which means the forces are actively recruiting officers) and average for Ontario and Quebec. On a national level, turnover is expected to increase over the next few years, especially for the RCMP, as members of the baby boom generation retire.
Correctional officers guard prisoners or detainees and keep order in correctional institutions. If you have the type of character that’s well suited for police work, you may also do well in this type of position.
Correctional officers in Canada are employed by the provincial and federal governments. To work in corrections for the federal government, you must have a valid driver’s license, pass a medical exam — the correctional officer physical abilities test — as well as security clearance requirements, such as fingerprinting. You’ll also need a high school diploma, along with CPR, automated external defibrillator, and first aid certification. Post-secondary education in correctional services, criminal justice, police studies or the social sciences is recommended, and work experience with people in crisis is considered an asset.
When you apply, your skills and abilities are assessed in an interview. If it’s felt that a correctional officer position is right for you, you’re invited to attend Correctional Services Canada’s correctional training program. You will usually be required as well to complete a basic training course to work for provincial or territorial institutions.
Correctional officers are in particularly high demand in British Columbia because new jobs are being created as new facilities are being built and there’s a shortage of officers in the northern part of the province.
Security guards and private investigators
Security guards protect property against theft or vandalism, control access to businesses, maintain order and enforce regulations at public events and businesses. They are hired by private security agencies, retail stores, museums, industrial facilities and other organizations. Private investigators conduct investigations to find missing persons, obtain information, for use in civil or criminal courts or for other purposes. They may also conduct polygraph — lie detector — tests for clients.
To work as a security guard in any province, or the Yukon Territory, you must be licensed by the department of justice and, in most provinces, complete a training course. You will also need a licence to carry firearms if that is part of your job. Employers usually require a high school diploma and may want a college diploma in law and security or police technology.The licensing process for private investigators is often the same or similar to that which prospective security guards must go through. Private investigators are employed by investigation companies and security agencies, which must be licensed by the provincial justice department. Some investigators start their own agencies and must apply for both business and individual licences.
In recent years, electronic surveillance equipment has replaced traditional security jobs, but there is more demand for security personnel in areas such as public transportation, shopping centres, parking lots and foot patrol, in larger urban centres. Security guards and private investigators are both high-turnover occupations. Job opportunities become available as current employees leave for other jobs, self-employment or retirement.