Detective Jim Hamilton picked up his coffee and took another sip. He needed to get back to work—he had a long list of witnesses to interview—but outside, the wind roared and the snow was beginning to pile up. “I’m sick of winter,” he aid.
His partner, Detective Maria Soto, shrugged. “It’s only January, dude. You’ve got a lot of winter left to go.”
“No, I mean I’m sick of it in general, not just for this year.”
“Minneapolis. Comes with the territory.”
He sighed. “Yeah. You know what? I think I’m gonna move. They’re hiring in Phoenix and Honolulu and LA. No—San Diego. I’m gonna get a job with the SDPD.”
When a police officer moves from one department to another, it’s called a lateral transfer. Unfortunately for Jim, it’s not an easy thing.
To begin with, the officer is going to lose all seniority. It’s probably taken Jim years to work up to detective, but if he leaves Minneapolis, he’s going to be ranked with brand-new rookies. That alone might be enough to dissuade him, but he’s also going to have to start fresh with a brand-new retirement system.
In addition, training requirements for police vary across jurisdictions. While some places might hire him as is, others could require additional training or certification. Some, like California, will make him go through the entire police academy process again (although many police departments may be willing to pay his salary while he’s doing so).
The difficulty of lateral transfers is one thing that distinguishes the US police structure from most other countries. The majority of countries do most of their policing at the federal level, and it’s relatively easy for employees to transfer. The same is true of employees of American federal agencies such as the FBI and the ATF. But the vast majority of American police officers work for local agencies, and they will usually find it hard to move. Looks like poor Jim’s going to have to tough it out until retirement.