Q&A with Chief David Hiller, Director of Public Safety
CriminalJusticePrograms.com recently spoke with Chief David Hiller, the Director of Public Safety for Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan and the National Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Police, the country's largest professional police organization.
Below he shares his thoughts on a career in law enforcement and what's needed for the job.
Q: How did you get started in law enforcement?
I started my career over 40 years ago at the Detroit Police Department, and then moved one town over to Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. At the time, we had a separate police and fire department. Now, we merged police and fire and are a fully consolidated public safety department that does both jobs. My undergraduate degree was in criminal justice and my master's was in public administration.
Q: How important is a degree in advancing someone's career in law enforcement?
Now a degree is critical to being hired. Agencies today require, at minimum, a two-year degree. Most require four year degrees. I teach college courses and I tell my students "Don't even think about [law enforcement] unless you have a four-year degree."
We have lost a number of officers to attrition and budget cutbacks. We need the absolute best that's out there.
Q: Is there a particular training/educational background that would help someone get his or her foot in the door?
The main reason we want you to go to college is that it teaches you discipline and self-responsibility. Once you graduate from college with a four-year degree, you've earned it. I tell students, "You need to do this on your own-set your work schedule, life schedule, etc. "
If you have a young person that's had his eye on a criminal justice career since high school, he is probably going to gear his college curriculum to a criminal justice program. There are a number of colleges in Michigan, for example, that let you graduate with a four-year degree and take the state certification test. They work in conjunction with our state licensing agency. People come into the job not so much because of their degree, but because of an interest in the criminal justice field.
Q: In general, are there any specific traits that work well in this career?
Not everybody can do law enforcement. You may think you can, but it takes a certain breed of individual, male or female. People ask me, "What is the most favorable trait that I want in a candidate?" It's common sense. The law is black and white, but enforcing the law is not black and white.
You also need to develop a tremendous ability to listen, especially if you're going into a specialized area like interviewing and interrogation. Listen to what people are actually saying. You need dedication and commitment to the job.
Q: Given the economy and the tough job market for police officers, is there anything applicants can do to stand out?
We're going to give you a test and do an interview. You can have all the stuff on paper that makes you look like a whiz, but then you open your mouth, and prove who you really are. We want someone who is dedicated and has common sense. You need to have a great understanding of what you're getting into.
Q: What can students expect as they start in law enforcement?
It's a learning experience from day one. You graduate from the academy, and you may think you know everything. You have not even begun to learn. What they have in the book is not the way it is in real life. Your training with a field training officer is going to run about three months. Learn, listen and pay attention. You don't have to be a chief to be the best cop. You have to learn the basics. It's not television. You start out as a street cop, working nights, holidays, in the snow and rain etc. We refer to the job as 95-5. By that, I mean that 95 percent of the job is absolute, utter boredom, but the other five percent is enough to make you come back to work every single day.
Q: What is an average day for a police officer like?
You might be driving around issuing parking tickets or helping someone with a burglar alarm. The very next minute, you're involved in a high speed pursuit. There is no set day-the day you think there won't be anything could be the day all hell breaks loose.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in the field?
The biggest challenge today is that we have to do the same job with far less people. There have been some tremendous advances in technology, which have probably been a lifesaver for us.
Q: How has law enforcement changed over the years?
Technology. Now there are in-car cameras and microphones. We can track cars. We have tasers-a lot of that technology has made our job more professional. Tasers have eliminated a tremendous amount of resistance of arrest. Because of cutbacks, most agencies have one-man cars. When you stop somebody, you're all by yourself until back-up gets there. If it's going to get ugly, you have to be ready.
Q: What do you see for the future of law enforcement careers?
I think there will be more handheld capability-for example, I think you will be able to take fingerprints or do a simple DNA test on the street. All of those things are designed to eliminate error. I can remember when I first started, it was two guys in one car and one radio. Now everyone has his or her own radio. There are computer programs being developed to assist officers in high-speed chases. It's only going to get more technical. We need to be on board with technology if we're going to keep doing a professional job.
Q: Any other particular recommendations for aspiring police officers?
Never stop learning. If you think you know everything, you're going to get hurt, or someone else is going to get hurt. It's been a great career. If I didn't think it was the best job in the world, I wouldn't still be doing it.