Law Enforcement Internship Programs: Insights from an FBI Honors Intern

By Lees, Matthew B. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Law Enforcement Internship Programs: Insights from an FBI Honors Intern


Lees, Matthew B., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Few people can say that they have assisted in serial murder investigations, attended top secret briefings involving issues of national security, or worked inside covert government compounds. However, participants in law enforcement internship programs can do just that. And, many will have these opportunities before graduating from college.

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The appeal of such programs to students seems obvious. They jump from tedious book work and routine assignments as regular college students into a world that impacts the issues they watch on the national news. But, the value of internship programs is not one-sided by any means. They can provide distinct benefits to all involved parties. (1)

BENEFITS OF AN INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

Aspects of a law enforcement internship program will vary depending on the participating students and the structure of the respective venture. However, any college student, as well as agencies of all functions, sizes, and budgets, can expect to derive a variety of benefits.

Law Enforcement Agencies

One of the most enticing elements of an internship program to many law enforcement organizations is the fact that interns often work for free. Several reasons account for this phenomenon. First, interns generally receive college credit for their time and appreciate that sponsoring agencies are doing them a favor by facilitating participation. In addition, many internships, especially for first-time participants, are designed as exploratory experiences, meaning that students play an observatory role and contribute little to the actual "work" of the agency. However, it may prove necessary to compensate interns in certain cases, such as where students complete tasks normally delegated to paid employees or possess certain critical skills desired by the host organization or in those programs with a highly competitive selection process.

Internship programs also function as a partnership between academic institutions and law enforcement agencies. As such, they often provide the foundation for the host organization to network within the academic community. Academic institutions can frequently provide advanced education and training opportunities for law enforcement officials, as well as access to and participation in important research that impacts police practices. Such partnerships inevitably enhance career opportunities for officers and scholars.

Finally, the programs allow law enforcement agencies to identify students who have an interest in their organizations; evaluate their potential as prospective employees; and determine if, and in what capacity, they may later fit into the departments. By providing interns with an unbiased, firsthand experience, both the student and the agency can decide if future employment would be in their respective interests. Internships also serve as an exceptional resource because participants tend to promote the law enforcement agency through informal channels upon returning to their academic institutions. By discussing their experiences with peers and colleagues, interns provide a unique avenue to share insights about an organization with a large segment of potential applicants.

College Students

Many college and university undergraduate degree programs view an internship as the hallmark experience of a student's curriculum. Internships provide students with an unparalleled real-world experience and allow them to more effectively explore and formulate career goals. Students also can apply what they have learned in the classroom and discover the interplay of academic knowledge and practical application. In the case of law enforcement internships, students in degree programs, such as criminal justice, criminology, sociology, forensic science, or related disciplines, may apply theory and research to an agency's investigative work.

Similar to the way organizations employ internship programs to forge partnerships with academic institutions, interns can use the experience to network, both formally and informally, with law enforcement professionals. …

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