The common image of a police officer is of one who works for a city. But officers also serve with numerous state and federal agencies, as well as in campus police departments at colleges and universities nationwide.
The primary responsibility of a police officer is to protect people and property. Within a police department, job titles and duties vary.
Patrol officers typically respond to emergency calls and can find themselves involved with a variety of situations, from issuing tickets for traffic violations to pursuing suspects and resolving domestic disputes. They also are responsible for completing incident reports and often are called to testify in court about traffic and criminal cases.
Detectives investigate crimes, collecting and cataloguing evidence that can be used to arrest a suspect and build a criminal case. They interview suspects, victims and witnesses as part of their investigative work. Like patrol officers, they are tasked with filing detailed reports and testifying in court about the evidence they have collected.
Within larger departments, officers may be assigned to specific areas of investigation, such as street crime, vice, narcotics, robbery or homicide. Others work in special units, such as SWAT or hostage negotiation. An officer’s duties may also include community relations and crime prevention training.
The average annual pay for police and sheriff’s patrol officers nationally was about $56,000 in May 2011, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On average, wages were higher for officers employed by state government agencies ($60,650), followed by those working for local government agencies ($56,160).
As in any profession, salary and employment opportunities for police officers may vary based on market conditions and a candidate’s educational background and work history.
There were more than 636,000 officers working in the United States in May 2011, the BLS reported. As expected, the states with the most police officers were those with the largest populations, including California, Texas, New York and Florida.
From 2010 to 2020, the number of jobs for police officers nationwide is expected to grow 7%, according to the BLS. Although fluctuating levels of government spending will affect hiring trends, steady demand for public safety services and turnover within law enforcement agencies will continue to produce job opportunities for qualified candidates.
Increasingly, law enforcement agencies require police officers to have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as criminal justice. Recruits typically must complete a department’s police academy in order to become an officer. They also receive training in specific areas, such as weapons use, safe driving, self-defense, interviewing techniques and traffic control. Police officers must also be knowledgeable about city and state laws, as well as the civil rights of suspects, including the right to remain silent.
Typically, police officers should possess a series of core competencies, including:
The BLS reported that it’s also common for police departments and other law enforcement agencies to require that an applicant be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen, as well as pass a drug test and not have any felony convictions.