Are you interested in making your community a better place to live? If so, a law enforcement career as a police officer may be a good fit for you.
What does a police officer do?
Responds to both emergency and non-emergency calls for assistance.
Patrols a specific area to enforce laws, conduct traffic stops and perform other duties as needed.
Completes administrative tasks such as obtaining warrants, filing reports and preparing cases for trial.
- Investigates criminal cases by collecting evidence, conducting interviews and observing suspects.
Where do police officers work?
Police officers may work at the local, state or federal level, and their jobs may vary depending upon their rank.
- Detectives and criminal investigators work within law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes. In larger departments, these professionals may focus on a particular type of crime such as homicide or narcotics.
- Police and sheriff's patrol officers are entrusted with general support duties for a community. They may conduct traffic enforcement, patrol streets and respond to calls for assistance.
- Fish and game wardens have a specialized career in law enforcement. They may patrol rivers, lakes and wildlife areas to investigate complaints and enforce fishing, boating and hunting laws.
- Transit and railroad police work exclusively in railroad yards and transit stations to protect people and property from crime.
How to Become a Police Officer
There are several paths you can take to become a police officer, and each state and agency may have its own requirements for job applicants. However, here's a general overview of the steps taken by many people who are seeking law enforcement careers.
- Earn a high school diploma or GED: In addition to completing high school, you'll need to be at least 21 years old for most police officer careers.
- Become a cadet: For those who aren't old enough to become police officers, some departments have cadet programs that allow interested people to do administrative work and take classes in law enforcement.
- Enroll in a police academy: These academies provide the standard police officer education required by many local and state law enforcement agencies.
- Complete a police officer degree program: If you want to work for a federal agency, you will likely need a bachelor's degree. It may be possible to earn some degrees by taking online courses.
- Pass physical and written exams: Police officers may need to pass vision, hearing, strength, agility and written exams before starting their jobs. A background check is also required.
- Career advancement for police officers: Law enforcement officers usually have an initial probationary period, but after that, they can advance in rank based upon written exams and/or their job performance.
Important Skills and Abilities for Police Officers
Successful law enforcement careers often require officers to have the following skills and abilities.
- Negotiation: Police officers may be required to mediate differences between two parties.
- Social Perceptiveness: Officers come in contact with people from a variety of backgrounds and must be able to understand what motivates their actions and reactions.
- Service Orientation: Community service is at the core of all police officer careers.
- Problem Sensitivity: Law enforcement professionals must be able to anticipate when something might go wrong.
- Reaction Time: Not only do police officers need to think quickly, they also have to act quickly to protect people or diffuse a situation.
Police Officer Salary and Career Outlook
There will always be a need for law enforcement professionals although employment in the field is dependent on factors such as government funding. Here's a look at the current estimates for what police officers can expect in terms of job growth and income in the years to come:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Fish and Game Wardens||6,800||$57,690||1.7%|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||665,280||$67,600||5%|
Professional Organizations for Police Officers
The following are a few of the organizations that support the work of law enforcement professionals nationwide.
- American Probation and Parole Association: International association that provides education, training, collaboration and other resources for individuals working in probation and parole roles.
- Fraternal Order of Police: World's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers.
- National Sheriff's Association: Provides professional development, information, advocacy and other opportunities for sheriffs and other law enforcement professionals.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives, Accessed August 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
Police Patrol Officers, O*Net Online, Accessed August 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3051.01