Law enforcement careers are highlighted with ventures and adventures.  How do you parlay them into a secondary career as expert? In looking into this phenomenon, many police cops think they are experts just because they have been a police officer for their entire careers.   Becoming an expert takes time, money, persistence, and more than just being a police officer.

An expert is generally defined as someone who has more knowledge than the average person.   A law enforcement position does not guarantee expertise in all areas. For example,  a CLEO might not be an expert in the use of force, but could be about policy development.

In Writing and Defending Your Expert Report by Babitsky and Mangraviti, the authors suggest that an expert should be prepared to provide the following: a resume, statement of qualifications as well as information regarding all degrees and certifications.

How can one maintain or increase one’s skill level in a particular area to become a Subject Matter Expert (SME)? Enrolling in appropriate training and seminars, presenting at conferences, and writing scholarly articles all provide depth to the resume.

The statement of qualifications is a bit trickier.  In this document, the expert needs to clearly articulate why they have the expertise to formulate opinions in a court of law. In gaining further expertise in this area, writing articles will be helpful as well as participating in certification programs vs. attending training with a certificate presented at the end.  Each court will review the expert’s material based on the same standard, however the interpretation may be different.

Specifically, Federal Rule 26 states:

Except as otherwise stipulated or directed by the court, this disclosure shall, with respect to a witness who is retained or specially employed to provide expert testimony in the case or whose duties as an employee of the party regularly involve giving expert testimony, be accompanied by a written report prepared and signed by the witness. The report shall contain a complete statement of all opinions to be expressed and the basis and reasons therefore; the data or other information considered by the witness in forming the opinions; any exhibits to be used as a summary of or support for the opinions; the qualifications of the witnessincluding a list of all publications authored by the witness within the preceding ten years; the compensation to be paid for the study and testimony; and a listing of any other cases in which the witness has testified as an expert at trial or by deposition within the preceding four years.

As one can see, the court needs to be provided with information that clearly demonstrates that the testifying/ report writing individual is an expert. In reviewing the highlighted areas, if one has never testified in a court or been deposed as an expert how is that nut cracked?  Certain attorneys hire expert consultants who can be used at certain points in preparation for trial or investigation. This pre-trial work for attorneys can be a stepping stone to actually testifying as an expert witness.

A variety of things can expand one’s expertise. As mentioned in the online magazine Entrepreneur’s article “12 Ways to Become a Recognized Expert,” Donald Todrin makes some recommendations which I have adapted for law enforcement:

Investigate what is currently important in law enforcement and learn everything you can about it.  Choose something that fascinates you such as predictive policing, geo-tagging, touch DNA, or victimology, and study the issue intently.  You can do this by attending yearly conferences, watching podcasts, reviewing periodicals or attending research conferences.  Some expert groups to approach include the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Midwestern Criminal Justice Association Conference, American Society of Criminology Conference.  If you cannot attend, look through the conference program, locate topics that have been presented and ask for a review copy of the material.

Consider writing an article.  How many of you reading this article or other online news magazines have thought about writing and publishing?  Why haven’t you?

Volunteer as a speaker at a college or seminar. State, regional, and national conferences are always looking for qualified fresh presentations and presenters. I recently participated on a board that was creating an agenda for a conference.  Other members mentioned that the same “frequent fliers” were submitting similar material.  Look to be that fresh voice and new person with a new idea or a twist on an old one.

Join professional associations.  My suggestions of those organizations with the best “bang for your buck” include ILEETA,  IACP,  NSA, The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences,  American Society of Criminology , regional criminal justice association, and Toastmasters.  Not everyone is eligible for all of these organizations, but check into them to see where you will fit in.

Finding a mentor who is a little further along in his or her criminal justice career can be extremely helpful    A mentor can be found within one’s work structure, at a professional association, at a training or seminar or as in a college-level or graduate education experience.  A mentor may need assistance with a large project from which you can gain experience.  He or she can provide career advice and other support to you in your career and in becoming a recognized expert.

Recently I have asked some people I respect to provide guidance for me.  There’s only one way to say it, get out of your comfort zone and ask for the help.  Most people will be pleased to be asked.

Without asking, the professional will falter.  The history, experiences, and knowledge of the mentor will be lost if you don’t ask. To find a mentor start close to home, but the Internet is just a click away. A phone call now is relatively cheap. Think about the area that is the main focus of your expertise and find people/mentors who have done similar work. If court room expertise is the goal, contact area attorneys and determine what they are looking for.  If your interest is in being a media expert, contact some people who have been on national shows or local shows.  Saturday and Sunday are slow news days, traditionally.  Write up a press release about your area of expertise and fax it in late on Friday.

It is your career.  Decide what you want to do and go after it. If I have learned nothing from television and movies like Walking Dead, Zombieland, and 2012, the world is coming to an end.  Decide what you want while you’re still on this planet. Get out of the chair and get into the game.

Learn more about this article here:

Babitsky, S & Mangraviti, J. (2002) Writing and Defending Your Expert Report. Sneak Inc. ISBN 1-892904-21-7

Viator, R. and Dalton, D. (2011) Eight ways to expand your mentoring network. Journal of Accountancy; Oct2011, Vol. 212 Issue 4, p44-47, 4p Retrieved on January 11, 2012 from Ebscohost

Matt Stiehm was born and raised in Minnesota. He has served as a police officer in three states (CA, MN and NE) and keeps current on law enforcement trends. He received a Doctorate in Education from Argosy University, where the focus of his research was campus safety and security. He has a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice from Central Missouri State University, with his final paper focusing on the investigation of child abuse.  He currently is a member of ILEETA, MN Infragard, FBI LEEDS, an Associate Member of the IACP and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association. Contact Matt at [email protected]