Working as a police officer can be rewarding, both personally and financially. Find out how much you can expect to earn and what the job prospects are for this career in law enforcement.

Police Officer

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.

Police officers may work at the local, state or federal level, and their jobs may vary depending upon their rank. The following are among the typical duties for police officers:

Patrolling a specific area to enforce laws, conduct traffic stops and respond to emergency and non-emergency calls, as needed.

Administrative tasks may include obtaining warrants, completing reports and preparing cases for trial.

Investigating criminal cases by collecting evidence, conducting interviews and observing suspects.

Some duties, such as investigating, are limited to officers who have risen in the ranks to become detectives. Other police officers may perform specialized duties as members of SWAT teams, canine corps or railroad police.

Regardless of the roles they fill, all police officers share a common goal of improving community safety and ensuring laws are enforced quickly and correctly.

How Much do Police Officers Make?

Many police officers make a nice living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for police and sheriff's patrol officers in the United States as of May 2014 was $59,560, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $33,030 and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $92,450.

Industry can affect pay as a police officer. According to the BLS, the top-paying industries in America for police and sheriff's patrol officers as of May 2014 were:

  • State government (OES Designation): $65,270 annual mean wage
  • Local government (OES Designation): $59,430 annual mean wage
  • Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals: $55,730 annual mean wage

Location may also factor in to pay. According to the BLS, the top-paying American states for police and sheriff's patrol officers as of May 2014 were:

  • New Jersey: $88,530 annual mean wage
  • California: $87,520 annual mean wage
  • Alaska: $75,670 annual mean wage

And the top-paying metropolitan areas in America for police and sheriff's patrol officers as of May 2014, according to the BLS, were:

  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division: $101,400 annual mean wage
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $99,700 annual mean wage
  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division: $99,200 annual mean wage

Occupational Requirements and Job Types for Police Officers

Some police officer jobs may be open to those with only a high school diploma while other agencies may prefer to hire those with a degree in criminal justice or a related field.

In addition, most officers must graduate from a police training academy. Larger police departments may have their own training program while smaller police forces may send recruits to a regional or state academy. These programs typically include a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on experience, such as firearms training and first aid application. To graduate, students might have to pass both physical and written exams.

Specific requirements may depend on the type of job an individual plans to pursue. The following are a few of the common positions and jobs types pursued by police officers:

  • Uniformed police officers
  • State troopers or highway patrol officers
  • Transit and railroad police
  • Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs
  • Detectives and criminal investigators
  • Fish and game wardens
  • Federal agents

Across all these job types, if they want to be successful, officers must have excellent leadership, communication and judgement skills as well as physical stamina and emotional stability.

What's the Job Outlook Like for Police Officers?

According to the BLS, employment of police and detectives is expected to grow by five percent between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the average of all occupations, but growth nonetheless. That comes out to 41,400 new jobs.

Job growth varies by location. According to Projections Central, the states where police and sheriff's patrol officers are expected to have the highest percentage change are:

  • Utah: 19.4 percent change
  • Oklahoma: 15.8 percent change
  • Mississippi: 10.2 percent change
  • Arkansas: 9.8 percent change
  • Louisiana: 9.6 percent change

And the states with the highest projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, according to Projections Central, are:

  • California: 4,600 projected new jobs
  • Oklahoma: 1,340 projected new jobs
  • Louisiana: 1,120 projected new jobs
  • Utah: 1,020 projected new jobs
  • Colorado: 850 projected new jobs

Despite the lower than average job growth, things are looking up for police officers, who get to enforce justice and protect citizens as part of their financially sustainable career. First, school and training. Next, making the world a better and safer place.


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1. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-2
2. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
3. Projections Central Employment Statistics, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm