By Dr. Donald R. Munday

“Transferability” is a term that has been used for years in the law enforcement community. What does this mean? In many law enforcement agencies across the nation, police officers and deputies have the ability to “transfer” from a patrol assignment (beat, field services, etc.) to a specialty assignment within the department. However, questions come forth: What makes a police officer or deputy transferrable? What attributes qualify one’s transferability? We know that attributes such as critical thinking and communication skills, which can be developed and refined by engaging in higher education, are just a few of the traits agencies value when it comes to transferability.

In today’s law enforcement community, both chiefs of police and sheriffs have experienced an unprecedented need to trim their budgets due to the economic downturn. To illustrate this, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published a 2011 research study of hundreds of law enforcement agencies, which indicated that 85 percent of agencies were forced to reduce operating budgets. Nearly half of these agencies reported that they were forced to reduce staff or furlough them.[1] Even with these budget issues, law enforcement executives have continued to strive to reduce the occurrence of all types of crime and create partnerships throughout the community to enhance the level of service. This has created a need for police and sheriff departments to do more with less. Therefore, law enforcement executives are continually looking at ways to maximize the use of sworn personnel to expand needed services.

In response to the need to expand law-enforcement-related services to the community, chiefs of police and sheriffs have created specialty programs such as community policing, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), field training officer, drug interdiction, gang unit, school resource officer, SWAT teams and special community action teams, just to name a few. Due to budget cuts and the lack of federal or state funding, the question surfaces: How will these programs be staffed and the staffing level maintained? The answer is better utilization of sworn personnel, such as transferring the best and brightest police officer or deputy from patrol functions to a specialty program assignment. This is usually a volunteer transfer and, in most departments, a competitive one. Depending on the size of the agency, the specialty position opening should be relayed to all police officers and deputies in patrol or field services. This ensures that the eligible sworn personnel have an opportunity to submit a letter of transfer to a supervisor. This is when an officer’s attributes of transferability start to come into play.

Each special program position typically has specific skill set requirements. However, there are some skills that are uniform across specialty positions. This is when the term “transferability” enters the picture. What are the attributes supervisors and commanders seem to be looking for in a police officer or deputy to assign him or her to a new or existing specialty assignment or program? These skills have been identified by law enforcement executives to be 1) decision making and critical thinking, 2) interpersonal skills and 3) written communication.[2] By inference, one may say that a police officer and deputy can develop these skills through time on the street. However, it can also be argued that by attending college or university courses a person will not only develop these skills, but also be working toward a degree that will assist in upward mobility for promotions.

During a law enforcement leadership roundtable, one chief of police said, “Officers who earn degrees made the effort to advance themselves and better themselves, an effort that should be rewarded.”[3] So, does this executive’s opinion carry over into the selection process for individuals at the rank of police officer and deputy who want to transfer to specialty assignments or programs? Absolutely. It may not be a requirement for the new position or transfer; however, having college hours or a degree does make a positive impact on supervisors in the selection process.

To illustrate an example of transferability, let’s look at a realistic scenario where the chief of police has decided to start a school resource officer (SRO) program. This program will have 10 police officers assigned to it who are dedicated solely to SRO activities. The duties include working with school administrators, teachers, students, parents, parent-teacher organizations, booster clubs and student government. The SRO program is an extension of the community policing program and philosophy. Therefore, the SRO works with all stakeholders to problem-solve and serve as a role model to the student body. The officers selected to be SROs will serve in counselor, enforcer, mentor and teacher roles. So, what are some of the unique skills needed for a SRO? According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services in 2005, it was identified that potential school resource officers should 1) like kids, 2) have people skills, 3) be experienced patrol officers or road deputies, 4) have above average integrity, 5) be willing to work hard, 6) be exceptionally dependable, 7) have teaching ability and 8) have the ability to work independently.[4] Additionally, the report recommended that during the SRO candidate screening process, “extra points” should be given to candidates who are familiar with juvenile law, write excellent reports, have some college experience and have local ties to the community.[5] This knowledge of the unique skills needed to be an SRO gave chiefs of police the framework for advertising the new program and the need for police officers to apply on a voluntary basis, noting the minimum qualifications and required, unique skill set.

Once an officer has decided this specialty position is a good fit, he or she will typically examine their transferability factor. Do they have the unique skills to be a successful in this specialized position? What will catapult them to the front of the selection process? As discussed earlier, the skills that supervisors and law enforcement executives are looking for are 1) decision making and critical thinking, 2) interpersonal skills and 3) written communication, which are competencies that are enriched or obtained by attending college or university classes. Once an officer decides that his or her transferability factor is positive, he or she will request to be part of the selection process. Once the officer has shown interest by becoming part of the selection process, supervisors will review work history, awards and educational background. As mentioned before, supervisors are looking for the best and brightest to assign to specialty programs or units. In this realistic scenario, the officer who meets the basic qualifications plus added college or university experience will be interviewed and have a very good chance of being selected for the SRO position. The higher education experience gives the officer added and advanced knowledge and skills that are not usually part of basic recruit school or yearly mandatory in-service training. These skills, especially critical thinking and interpersonal communications, will assist the officer in the interview process.

In today’s law enforcement community, it is common for police officers and deputies to compete not only for promotions to higher ranks, but also for special assignments. Therefore, these law enforcement professionals need to take proactive steps to set themselves apart from their colleagues. In other words, they need to enhance their transferability. One positive step toward this is attaining higher education to build needed skills in critical thinking, interpersonal communication and writing. These are skills that police officers and deputies need now and throughout their professional careers.

About the Author

Dr. Donald Munday is the assistant dean for the College of Criminal Justice and Security at University of Phoenix. He has served in a number of leadership roles at higher education institutions, including community college e-learning center director and campus college chair for all undergraduate and graduate programs in Criminal Justice and Security at University of Phoenix, Wichita Campus.

Prior to his career in education, Munday worked as a law enforcement officer for more than 22 years. He served with the Wichita Police Department for 20 years before becoming chief of police for the City of Bel Aire, Kansas. During that time, Munday worked in units such as patrol, crime prevention, vice/organized crime, bunco, fatal accident follow-up, exploited and missing children, community policing, honor guard, critical incident debriefing team, personnel development/recruitment and planning/research. As a police officer, he was awarded the prestigious Devore Foundation Excellence in Public Service award, a Bronze Wreath of Valor, two Bronze Wreaths of Meritorious Service and Civic Achievement Award, along with many other departmental commendations. He is a Kansas FOP Wichita Lodge #5 life member. During his time as an active member, he was the chairman for the Ident-a-Child program.


[1] International Chiefs of Police (IACP). “Policing in the 21st Century: Preliminary Survey Results.” Alexandria, Virginia, April 2011.

[2] University of Phoenix. “Building a Better Law Enforcement Workforce: Findings From the Arizona Law Enforcement Leadership Roundtable on Training and Education.” Fall 2012, page 5.

[3] “Building a Better Law Enforcement Workforce,” page 6.

[4] U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. “A Guide to Developing, Maintaining, and Succeeding With Your School Resource Officer Program.” June 2005, page 5.

[5] “A Guide to Developing, Maintaining, and Succeeding With Your School Resource Officer Program,” page 6.

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