in focus: police department internships

Every college student knows that getting a job after graduation is challenging. To help, many students seek internships to network and gain experience. For decades the Mt. Lebanon Police Department has been offering an internship that exposes students to the reality of a law enforcement career while entrusting them with confidential information and sometimes thrusting them into risky situations.

“There’s so much teaching going on there. I’m just a sponge. I absorb so much,” says former intern Alex Taylor of Parkway Drive. She spent 40 hours a week for seven weeks this summer during her internship.

Throughout the year, the police department receives six to eight internship applications. The program only accepts one intern at a time to make sure the student receives the best training while not overwhelming the department. The timetable is specific for each intern’s schedule. Some shadow for only a few days while others are mentored for a couple of months. However, even when the internship ends, if an exciting or interesting scenario arises, the department will invite past interns to observe.

“We hope this [experience] continues beyond the formal internship,” says Cpl. James Hughes, of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department Crime Prevention Unit and head of the internship program. The internship process tests the candidate’s intentions, commitment and enthusiasm. The candidate must write to the chief of police explaining his or her interest. Then the department does an authorized background check on the candidate before asking for an interview.

Once accepted, the intern is introduced to every aspect of the police department. “We don’t look at this as a glorified ride along,” Hughes says. Although considered small with 44 officers, the Mt. Lebanon department has many areas of specialization, including firearm instructors, bicycle patrol officers and evidence technicians. During the internship, the student goes to the firing range, assists in lecturing at schools and watches department training, among other experiences.

DUIIn law enforcement, dangerous situations arise and confidential information is discussed. During the internship, the intern is right in the middle of everything, soaking in the reality of the career. On the first day, the mentor lectures the intern on safety and confidentially and asks the intern to sign a waiver of liability. “Ultimately we do everything we can to limit their exposure to danger but they’re seeing police work as it is,” Hughes says. In addition to the lesson on safety, the intern is required to wear a bulletproof vest whenever on patrol and is not allowed to approach a scene until the mentor says it is safe. Whenever necessary, the officer asks the victim for approval before the intern can observe the situation.

By observing the different scenarios, the intern has a career advantage because of the knowledge gained and the connections made. The intern has the actual practical background to pair with the material learned at school. “It’s one thing to sit there [in class] and say if you do this process, [but] to actually see it and hands-on and do it, I think it drives that lesson home,” Hughes says. The department reveals the students to the reality of the career and makes them question their future. “There are a lot of myths that are shattered,” Hughes says. For Taylor, the internship solidified her decision to go into law enforcement but Hughes says that in the past interns have lost their passion for the career. “If I didn’t love it, I shouldn’t be trying to do this the rest of my life,” Taylor says.

The internship doesn’t only benefit the intern. With this opportunity, police are able to highlight the excellence of Mt. Lebanon law enforcement within the community. Many students in search of an internship think the only worthy experiences are with bigger police departments like the NYPD. “Policing is essentially the same, it doesn’t matter if you’re working in the city of Pittsburgh or if you’re working in Mt. Lebanon. We have some of the same people, some of same problems, some of the same crimes,” Hughes says. But many bigger departments see interns as a burden and don’t give them the chance to participate, Hughes says. The Mt. Lebanon department gives the intern an active and open experience. “[The internship] is better for the profession of policing but additionally the interns get exposure to a police department running as a police department should,” Hughes says.

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