I am a 14yr LE Officer. I have been with my current Dept for almost 12 yrs. I have been in patrol the entire 12yrs, and just had the first opening for SGT come up(will find out next month). I have 3.5 yrs college(GHPD hired me out of college, and I have not finished, probably dumb on my part but work gets in the way). Be prepared for long hours, bad days off, no selection of your shift, and lots of political infighting.
The pay is not bad, where I work, my wife stays at home and raises two kids, and we are not starving, we have two nice cars, a boat and I can still buy my toys. Pay does start at around 37K for us and goes to a top of 57K before the percs after 3yrs. The percs include holiday pay, longevity after 5 yrs, good pension(10%of pay goes to it from your check), good benefits, and knowing you have the chance to make a difference in peoples lives, even if they dont know it at the time.
As far as SWAT goes, at CPD most guys have about 20yrs on before they get there. At my DEPT I have been pushing for a limited SRT and Sniper program for about 7yrs, and it is just now starting to get going. I love LE work, and would recomend it to anyone who is willing to put up with the BS that goes with it, but all jobs have that.
Just like with any job really look hard before you leap. I sold everything I could, to pay for my first academy, and then worked for free for 18 Mo. It was worth it, since it got me where I am now, but you must decide for yourself how bad you want it.
Know your enemy and yourself and you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles-SunTzu
Practice does not make perfect, PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT-OSP Drill Instructor