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Establishing a Career Pipeline in Public Schools

By Paul A. Cappitelli, Executive Director, California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST Commission); and Greg Kyritsis, Senior Consultant, California POST Commission, and Program Manager, School-Based Public Safety Program, California POST Commission

or the past several years, the California POST Commission has committed resources to an array of symposiums and publications focused on the identification of best practices for recruiting peace officers. Even with these efforts, far too many applicants fail to make it through the entry-level selection process. Although actual attrition during the selection process will vary widely from one agency to the next, experience suggests that as many as 100 applicants may be needed to yield just a few successful entry-level peace officers.

It is not unusual for at least 10 percent of the initial applicants to be dropped prior to any testing (for example, “no-shows” for the testing and applicants who do not, on the face of the application, meet established minimum qualifications). From the remaining 90 applicants, as many as one-third are likely to be unsuccessful during the reading and writing examinations required for the position, and another 10 percent to 15 percent of the remaining 60 may not pass job-relevant physical agility tests. Oral appraisal interviews can decimate the roughly 50 remaining candidates by more than half, either as a result of failing scores or scores that place them so low on an eligibility list that they are unlikely to be further considered. The surviving 25 (or so) candidates will be faced with a department head interview, practical skills testing, prebackground screening, and perhaps a prebackground “detection of deception” examination (that is, a polygraph or voice stress analysis). A thorough background investigation may weed out 50 percent to 90 percent of those who have survived the process to this point.1

The incidence of failure by applicants is often traceable to their adolescence, in the form of deficiencies in academics, in particular weak reading and writing skills; subpar fitness levels; and character deficits. School-based public safety programs have been reputed to be effective in cultivating the attributes that lead to success in gaining employment in law enforcement. In recognition of this, the POST Commission in 2008 adopted a strategic plan objective to study the feasibility of creating a template for a model school program that could be replicated statewide, with the intention of enabling early preparedness for public safety careers.2

Research Supporting School-Based Programs

During 2009, POST staff, along with subject matter representatives, initiated research of a number of well-established school-based public safety programs in California. Analysis revealed that the public safety high school program students performed better academically than the average high school student3 and that their dropout rate was almost nonexistent compared to a statewide average estimated at more than 20 percent.4 Further examination of the dropout rate percentage disclosed that it was higher for Hispanics and African Americans—precisely the groups underrepresented in law enforcement ranks.

A broadened examination of statistics and literature further illuminated the value of a public safety–oriented curriculum, especially one starting in middle school, and its potential for preventing the emergence of behaviors capable of undermining preparation for a career in law enforcement. Staff revisited the data from a 2005 POST survey of 14 academies in the state of 513 recruits who were hired by a law enforcement agency. Recruits were asked when they became interested in a law enforcement career, and half responded that their interest emerged by the time of their high school graduations.5

Reanalysis reinforced that agencies should consider seizing opportunities that expose youth to peace officer responsibilities and selection requirements early on. POST Command College research illuminated the renewed focus on high school–level career courses and that public safety careers require specific skills and preparation that are well suited for teaching at the secondary educational level.6 Moreover, in early 2011, the California Senate introduced legislation to enable the state’s university systems to help prospective high school teachers develop career-oriented courses and train them in teaching material with real-world application. 7 Even if youth choose not to pursue careers in law enforcement, nurturing positive values in young children can minimize the likelihood of future criminal behavior.8

The Career Pipeline Concept

The concept of law enforcement working in partnership with local school programs to enhance a student’s awareness and eventual pursuit of a law enforcement career is not new, and there are a variety of such programs currently in operation in California and around the United States. The focus of the career pipeline concept is to involve students in a program early and then place them in an educational system (a pipeline) that can continue to reinforce the public safety concepts throughout their educational cycle. Getting students interested in public safety careers in elementary school, and then allowing them to pursue enrollment in a public safety middle school program becomes a vehicle that can be used to develop a stronger foundation in character development that will inspire and motivate them to commit to performing at their best academically, physically, and morally. Students then may continue this commitment into a public safety high school program, which also could lead to participation in an explorer or cadet program, and then into college. Ideally, a student’s college would be affiliated with the career pipeline concept and would continue to reinforce character development and regular review of the selection process.

Another enhancement to the college component would be involvement in an agencyaffiliated internship program; upon college graduation, the student could be considered for selection with the affiliated agency.

POST-Produced Resources

POST’s role with regard to the school-based public safety program concept is focused on creation of resources to assist law enforcement agencies in developing their own career pipelines. POST resources include a program guide (currently being finalized) that provides comprehensive guidance to agencies for implementing a career pipeline. A POST-produced DVD accompanies the program guide.9 The table of contents for the program guide is as follows:

  1. Purpose of the Program Guide
  2. In-Depth Review of the California Peace Officer Selection Process
  3. Selection Process Items that are Causing Candidate Failures
  4. Using the State Educational System to Grow a Candidate Pool
  5. Developing a Defined Career Pipeline to Enhance the Future Candidate Pool
  6. Funding Strategies in Support of the Career Pipeline Components
  7. Role of the Law Enforcement Agency and/or County Law Enforcement Executives Association in Developing a Career Pipeline for its Region
  8. Developing Partnerships with the Educational Components
  9. Developing Partnerships with Other Public Safety Professions to Assist in the Delivery of School Programs
  10. Sample Curriculum Resources for Use in Existing or New Public Safety School Programs
    Note: Curriculum examples will assist in weaving public safety topics into core state educational curricula to enhance students’ understanding of how core topics fit into career situations. Curriculum focus will also be on topics related to what is causing most candidates to fail the law enforcement selection process.
  11. Benefits of Affiliation with Regional POST-Certified Basic Academy Programs
  12. Developing Partnerships with the Local Business Community
  13. Program Examples and Resources for the Development of a Career Pipeline
    1. Elementary School Component
    2. Middle School Component
    3. High School Component
    4. Explorer or Cadet Component
    5. College Component
    6. Internship Component
    7. Student Reference Guide—Detailed Guide to the POST Selection Process
  14. Tracking Students’ Progress through the Career Pipeline
  15. POST DVD Resource
  16. Referrals to Model Career Pipeline Programs

The DVD accompanying the program guide is viewable in segments to address the needs of a variety of audiences (for example, prospective students, city or county government officials, school administrators, parent groups, members of the local chamber of commerce, service clubs, and so on). Promotional clips at the end of the DVD are motivational segments for use by law enforcement staff when making presentations encouraging adoption of a school-based public safety curriculum.

Program Format Options

In practice, school-based public safety programs can vary in terms of their format. The ultimate goal is for an agency to facilitate development of a pipeline that extends from elementary school through high school. POST reviewed the four major formats currently being used to deliver school-based public safety (primarily law enforcement) programs. These are the magnet school, the California Partnership Academy (CPA), the Regional Occupational Program, and the charter school.

The magnet school model offers a segment of the school population a specialized school component in public safety or law enforcement. Magnet programs can be incorporated in middle and high schools. Their curriculum can be designed to meet state standards and still have a strong focus on law enforcement or public safety, and this themed curriculum can usually be woven through core curriculum requirements. For example, English classes may incorporate police report writing concepts, and math classes may review formulas related to traffic accident investigations. Staff facilitating these programs comprises credentialed teachers, some of whom have been involved in law enforcement careers previously. Agencies may assign peace officers as guest presenters, either full time or part time, to assist in delivering specific activities or exercises related to law enforcement. Some of these school programs have the option of using noncredentialed instructors as teachers, provided they obtain a certificate of clearance from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The CPA format is slightly different from the magnet program. This type of program usually focuses on grades 10–12. The CPA picks a specific career theme—in this case, law enforcement—and allows students to apply for the program. The major difference in a CPA program is that it receives state grants to enhance its operation. Grants assist in a number of ways, including funding equipment acquisition and field trips to public safety facilities.

Regional Occupational Programs enable delivery of specialized programs in a variety of career paths. Most programs offer one or two school periods to high school students, usually in their junior or senior year of school. Offerings are usually stand-alone courses on criminal justice. A career focus is not usually woven into the students’ other courses.

The charter school program stands out above the others because the charter program can dedicate its entire school campus to the specific career theme of instruction. The charter school still has to meet the state’s mandatory curriculum standards, but it has the latitude to weave public safety concepts throughout its curriculum. The charter school reviewed by POST was dedicated to public safety and incorporated law enforcement and fire prevention into its school curriculum for grades 6 through 12. This format appears to be the most effective because the staff has the ability to immerse the students in a full range of public safety experiences. The students are also held to a student code of conduct, and the school culture and environment are dedicated to a structured character development program. This school format appears to be well received by students who appreciate the structured discipline and being held accountable to high standards.

The California Department of Education offers a listing of model curriculum standards that can be adopted by a school to enhance students’ knowledge of certain career paths. This format is known as the California Career Technical Education (CCTE) system and has identified 15 industry sectors, or groupings, of interrelated occupations and broad industries. Each sector has two or more career pathways. The sector that applies to public safety (law enforcement) falls under “public services,” and the curriculum standards are detailed under the career pathway of “protective services.” 10 POST staff recently participated in the statewide workshop to update the CCTE standards. Many of the public school models that POST has reviewed have incorporated the CCTE standards.

Several public safety programs have also adopted California’s “a–g” curriculum requirements. The “a–g” courses are more rigorous than the regular mandatory school curriculum, and they fulfill the “a–g” subject requirements for freshman admission to the public universities of California.11

Emphasis on Character Development

POST advocates embedding a character development component into school-based public safety programs. POST has worked with the Josephson Institute of Ethics in a number of POST law enforcement programs since 2005. The institute’s Character Counts! program is based on six core ethical values known as the Six Pillars of Character. They are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.12 Concentration on character development is intended to instill in students an understanding of the importance of making choices that will enhance their moral character development and, ultimately, enhance their ability to pass the character requirements of the law enforcement selection process. The Character Counts! program has attained exemplary results in its application at the Public SafetyAcademy charter school in San Bernardino, California (grades 6–12).

Subject matter representatives recommend that the law enforcement selection process be reviewed with students on a regular basis, preferably every school quarter or semester and throughout the career pipeline. Merely informing students to “stay out of trouble or you won’t pass the selection process” is insufficient. One effective way of influencing understanding of the process is to present students with local agencies’ personal history forms. Having an actual background investigator go through the materials packet item by item can be an eye-opener for students in revealing how their actions will be scrutinized in an application process.


Implementation of a school-based public safety curriculum offers significant value, especially when comprising a pipeline that will keep students focused on what will make them successful in passing a law enforcement selection process and entering the profession at a higher level of career readiness. Achieving maximum benefit from a career pipeline resides in the ability of each segment to articulate with the other—that is, to form a cohesive pipeline that facilitates the flow of interested students from elementary schools into middle schools’ structured programs, and then through similarly tailored high school curricula. The pipeline needs to be augmented through Explorer or Cadet programs (usually for ages 14–21); college internships with law enforcement agencies; and with affiliated college programs. Ultimately, the pipeline program encourages students to continue to perform at a higher standard in the areas of academics, fitness, and character development in order to enhance their abilities to meet the entry-level requirements.

Inculcating students early on with the character attributes that discourage behaviors that can prove disqualifying when seeking positions as peace officers can yield benefits beyond those accruing to position applicants. Schools can realize a gain in overall academic achievement. The school–law enforcement partnership can improve communications in all matters of mutual concern. The community can benefit from a reduction in the type of offenses that might have been perpetrated by youth had they not been exposed to a public safety curriculum and the stake in conforming to societal behavioral standards. ■

Paul Cappitelli has been the executive director of the California POST Commission since 2007. Previously, he completed 29 years of service with the San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff’s Department, attaining the rank of captain.

Greg Kyritsis has been a senior consultant for the California POST Commission since 2005 and is currently manager of the School-Based Public Safety Program project. He is a 31-year veteran of the San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff’s Department, attaining the rank of captain.


1Sid Smith, email message to author, August 4, 2011. Sid Smith is a former chief of police in Boys Town, Nebraska, and Belvedere, California. He began teaching public safety background investigations in 1979 and has offered background training across the United States.
2California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, “Objective B.8.08, Study the Feasibility of a Model School-Based Program That Can Be Replicated Statewide,” Strategic Plan—2008, revised April 12, 2011, (accessed September 27, 2011).
3Minutes from a meeting convening public safety high schools’ representatives, September 22–24, 2009, recorded by Greg Kyritsis. The meeting was conducted under the auspices of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
4California Department of Education, Educational Demographics Unit, Dropouts by Ethnic Designation by Grade, State of California for the Year 2008–09 (Reported and Adjusted), (accessed September 27, 2011).
5California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, Recruitment and Retention: Best Practices Update (April 2006), 40, (accessed September 27, 2011).
6Michael P. Cook, Developing Police Officers in High School, Law Enforcement Command College Futures Study Project, California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (2009), (accessed September 28, 2011).
7California Senate Education Committee, “SB 611-Postsecondary Education: Instructional Strategies,” April 27, 2011, (accessed September 29, 2011).
8Nancy M. Ritter, “Preparing for the Future: Criminal Justice in 2040,” National Institute of Justice Journal, no. 255 (November 2006): 9, (accessed September 28, 2011).
9Building a Career Pipeline (Sacramento, CA: California POST Commission, 2011), DVD.
10California Department of Education, California Career Technical Education Model Curriculum Standards, Grades Seven through Twelve, adopted by the California State Board of Education (May 2005), (accessed September 28, 2011).
11University of California, “Search a–g Guide,” (accessed September 28, 2011).
12Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, “Character Counts!” (accessed September 28, 2011).

Please cite as:

Paul A. Cappitelli and Greg Kyritsis, "Establishing a Career Pipeline in Public Schools," The Police Chief 78 (November 2011): 24–27.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 11, November 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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