Lateral Department Transfers for Police

Police officer writing a ticket
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A lateral transfer involves moving from one law enforcement agency to another at the same pay grade. Police recruiters are often asked about the possibility of lateral transfers from one agency to another. Recruits want to know if police officers, corrections officers, and other certified officers can easily move jobs between departments, jurisdictions, or even from one state to another.

The idea seems simple enough. Plenty of people can find another position in their chosen field in the private sector with relative ease. Workers can easily get hired in new cities, counties, states, or sometimes even countries for most government jobs as well, simply by establishing that they’re the best candidate for the job.

It's not quite that simple with law enforcement, however.

The Challenges of Lateral Moves

Like doctors, lawyers, and other regulated industries, policing is considered a profession. And like any other profession, officers must be trained and certified to perform their jobs.

Certification requirements for criminal justice workers often differ slightly from state to state, so law enforcement or corrections certificates don't easily transfer. Minimum age and other basic requirements can be different as well. Just because you’re eligible to be certified in one state, this doesn't necessarily mean that you can get certified in another.

You'll probably have to receive more training and pass that state’s officer certification exam to be eligible to work.

Many certifying entities offer equivalency-of-training programs that allow you to demonstrate proficiencies in the high-liability areas of Defensive Tactics, Firearms, First Aid, and Vehicle Operations. You can then take the state officer certification exam after attending the program. But some jurisdictions or agencies might require that you attend an entire police academy all over again.

In-State Transfers

Moving to a new department is somewhat easier in state, if only because you won’t have to get recertified. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a seamless transfer.

There are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States as of 2019, and each department has its own set of rules and policies. You'll have to be trained in these policies. You can expect to go through the same stringent hiring process and background investigations that you experienced the first time you got hired before you can even get to that point, however.

Each agency has its own hiring standards as well, so some issues in your past might prevent you from being hired by another department, even if your current employer is okay with them.

Transferring to the United States

Dual citizenship can be a requirement if you’re thinking about transferring to the U.S. from another country. You’ll be required to be a U.S. citizen in most cases to work in certified criminal justice careers, so you’ll have to spend some time in the country working at another job and toward naturalization before you can be eligible to get certified.

Back to the Beginning

One more major consideration is the fact that you’ll be starting back at the bottom more often than not. Historically, most lateral vacancies have been for entry level positions.

You’ll probably have to give up your rank, assuming you have rank in your current position, although the landscape is changing somewhat as more and more baby boomer officers "age out" of the profession and retire. More agencies are depending on transfers to fill the resulting personnel holes.

The same goes for seniority, which means a great deal in criminal justice careers. Among other things, seniority is often used to award shift preferences, new equipment, and other perks. You’ll still be considered a veteran law enforcement officer, but you shouldn’t expect to get the same treatment as someone who has worked for your new department for years.

Making the Right Decision

You might want to transfer your criminal justice job to another state or jurisdiction because of issues like better pay, different working conditions, or family considerations, but it's not something to be taken lightly. Make sure that transferring to another department is the right decision for you and your family, and do your homework.

Talk to talk to officers who currently work in the jurisdiction you're considering, if possible. Gauge their job satisfaction. And research the benefits package being offered. Make sure you really are going to come out ahead if you make a change.