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Police Officer Career Guide

A career as a police officer is one that offers the opportunity to work as part of a cohesive team, protect society and to progress with relative ease into senior positions. To become a police officer, you do not need a degree and extensive training is offered on the job.

The duties of an officer are the safety, honor, and welfare of your country first; the honor, welfare, and comfort of the men in your command second; and the officer's own ease, comfort, and safety last.

George S Patton

Police Officer Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Police Officer Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Police Officer field.
IDJob TitleGenderAgeEarningsCity & StateDate
33823Federal OfficerMale27 $46,000Columbus, OH01/01/2010
33794Patrol Dispatch OfficerMale29 $40,000Lafayette, IN01/01/2010
33637Detention DeputyMale56 $30,000Jay, NY01/01/2010
33621Crime Scene TechnicianFemale45 $50,000san diego, CA01/01/2010
33440Criminal Intelligence AnalystMale25 $42,000Oklahoma City, OK01/01/2010

Overview

What a police officer actually does

A police officer has the responsibility of protecting people and property. Police officers are present at crime scenes, assist motorists involved in car accidents, arrest individuals who are in the wrong, respond to an array of 911 calls, make traffic stops, and enforce laws within their assigned areas.

There are several different types of police officers. For example, uniformed police officers are assigned general law enforcement duties within a particular area, whereas special jurisdiction police officers have unique geographic jurisdictions, such as for colleges and universities. Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs handle matters at the county level, and finally state police officers handle the arrests of criminals and enforce motor vehicle laws on the highways.

However, regarding on the type of police officer, their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Deterring crimes and assuring community protection through high-visibility policing
  • Fostering good public relationships and liaising with community groups or individuals
  • Patrolling areas and monitoring activities to protect people/property
  • Investigating crimes and apprehending suspected law violators
  • Observing and responding to various situations or emergencies
  • Producing internal reports and providing feedback on case status
  • Dealing with case paperwork and administrative procedures
  • Coordinating operations and working closely with other emergency services
  • Attending and providing evidence in court where necessary

Why they are needed

Fair and well-trained police officers are a crucial part of any modern society as they protect civilians, and their belongings, and ensure that rules are followed and that laws are fairly enforced. Without the police, society would struggle to thrive as there would be no authoritative figure to help play a role in protecting society and to ensure that justice is served, leading to chaos.

Pros and cons of a career as a police officer:

Pros:

  • Helping protect members of society is incredibly rewarding, meaning that being a police officer is a career with high job satisfaction
  • Police officers are always learning and developing their skills
  • Police officers work in teams, where they form close and trusting relationships with their colleagues, making it an enjoyable and welcoming working environment
  • Police officers who work fairly and show strong leadership skills will have many opportunities for promotion and recognition

Cons:

  • As some police officers do not work fairly, all police officers are often under scrutiny and sometimes disrespected, which can make it very frustrating for those officers who follow the correct protocol
  • As police officers may often come into contact with unpredictable criminals or emergency situations, it can be a very dangerous job, with death or injury not being unreasonable to expect
  • Being a police officer is incredibly challenging, draining and emotionally taxing
  • Police officers normally work shifts, which are often long hours and overtime is expected
  • Like most jobs, there are mundane administration and paperwork tasks to be carried out

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

This increased employment growth is dependent on local and state budgets and will vary by location. However, employment growth is expected overall as there is still a continued demand for police services to maintain and improve public safety.

Career paths

Police officers must have at least a high school diploma in order to get entry-level positions. Normally, aspiring candidates will attend a training academy before becoming an officer. This training includes classroom instruction in state and local laws and constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Aspiring police officers will also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defence, first aid, and emergency response.

However, it is an advantage for career progression to have a degree. Many community colleges and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice.

Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after their probationary period. These promotions are normally to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain position, and are made according to scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. In large departments, promotion may enable a police officers to become a detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles.

There is often competition for jobs in the police force because there is a relatively low rate of turnover. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree and law enforcement or military experience, as well as those who speak more than one language, should have the best job opportunities.

Example Job Titles for Police Officer

Below is a list of common job titles in the Police Officer field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for police and detectives in the United States was $65,170 in 2019, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $37,710, and the highest 10 percent earning more than $109,620.

Police detectives and criminal investigators earned the highest salary, with a median pay of $83,170 per year. This is closely followed by transit and railroad police, who earned an average salary of $71,820 per year. The top paying industry was federal government, with a median salary of $88,060 per annum.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Police officers are often supervised and managed by superiors, meaning that autonomy can be low. Similarly, due to the shift work patterns that police officers work, flexible working is unlikely in the police force, meaning that flexibility is low.

Locations and commute

Because the level of government spending determines the level of employment for police in certain states, the number of job opportunities can vary from year to year and from place to place. According to Zippa, the best states to be a police officer, which is where the annual pay is the highest and the number of job opportunities are the highest, are: Illinois, California, Texas, Delaware and New Jersey. The worst states, based on salary and job opportunities, are Maine, Vermont and Hawaii.

Work environment

77% of police officers work for the local government, excluding education and hospitals. Most police officers work shifts and their hours equate to full time work, however overtime is common.

Being a police officer can be a physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous job and therefore requires officers to be alert at all times and to work in teams to protect each other.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Police Officer careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Police Officer career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Police Officer.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There has been some exploration as to the personality types of police officers, with one study finding that police recruits scored higher than firefighters on gregariousness, a facet of Extraversion, and on dutifulness and deliberation, facets of Conscientiousness. The same study also found that compared to the normal population, police officers scored higher on excitement-seeking which is a facet of Extraversion. Similarly, another study found that police applicants reported low levels of neuroticism and high levels of extraversion and conscientiousness.

Accomplishment and mastery

As police officers receive extensive on the job training, which teaches them all the skills they need to be a successful officers, there is a high level of accomplishment and mastery for police officers. Also, when police officers fairly protect society and implement justice, there is a high sense of accomplishment.

Meaning and contribution

It goes without saying that the work of a police officer is incredibly meaningful. They make a huge contribution to society by ensuring civilians are kept safe, laws are enforced and that justice is served.

Life fit

Most police officers work full time hours (over 40 per week). Police officers work shift work, which can mean unpredictable hours that are hard to fit into normal family life. Police officers are often expected to work overtime too, which means working antisocial hours and having to miss social events.

Who will thrive in this career?

To thrive as a police officer, and therefore be a good police officer, you must want to help others, care about the general public and have a genuine passion for making a difference to the community.

Police officers will also thrive in the profession if they can work well under pressure and can work as part of a reputable and efficient team. There are lots of progression opportunities with the police force, however in order to thrive and progress to these positions, police officers much have the desire to grow and improve themselves.

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who are not passionate on helping others or focused on promoting justice will struggle as a police officer, as this is the primary focus of the role. Those who cannot work well as part of a team or remain calm under pressure will struggle with the team-focused and high pressured environment of the police force.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Police officers must be in good physical shape, both to pass required tests for entry into the field, and to keep up with the daily rigor of the job. As well as being physically fit, and having a genuine passion for helping people and ensuring justice is served, police officers will need the following skills:

  • Empathy, as police officers need to be able to understand the perspectives of a wide range of people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds
  • Leadership skills as police officers must be comfortable with being a highly visible member of their community, as the public looks to them for assistance in emergency situations
  • Decision making skills are essential as police officers must be able to quickly determine the best way to solve a wide array of problems
  • Communication skills, as police officers must be able to speak with people when gathering facts about a crime. Written communication skills are also essential for writing up cases and maintaining documents

Education

Police officers must have at least a high school diploma in order to get entry-level positions and aspiring candidates will attend a training academy before becoming an officer. In order to increase your chances of getting accepted into entry-level positions, it will be helpful to have experience as a police cadet.

It is also an advantage to have a degree and many community colleges and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Having a degree will offer more skills and knowledge and will offer more career progression opportunities, such as to detective positions.

Certifications

Certification and licensing requirements change drastically from state to state.

How to Become

Summary

A career as a police officer is one that offers the opportunity to work as part of a cohesive team, protect society and to progress with relative ease into senior positions.

Immediate action

If becoming a police officer appeals to you, then we recommend enrolling in your local police cadets to gain valuable experience.

Education and learning

Police officers must have at least a high school diploma in order to get entry-level positions and aspiring candidates will attend a training academy before becoming an officer. It is also an advantage, but by no means a necessity, to have a degree as this will offer more career progression opportunities in the future.

Skill development

Police officers will attend a training academy before becoming a qualified officer. This training includes classroom instruction in state and local laws and constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Aspiring police officers will also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defence, first aid, and emergency response.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Police Officer careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

IDJob TitleGenderAgeEarningsCity & StateDate
33823Federal OfficerMale27 $46,000Columbus, OH01/01/2010
33794Patrol Dispatch OfficerMale29 $40,000Lafayette, IN01/01/2010
33637Detention DeputyMale56 $30,000Jay, NY01/01/2010
33621Crime Scene TechnicianFemale45 $50,000san diego, CA01/01/2010
33440Criminal Intelligence AnalystMale25 $42,000Oklahoma City, OK01/01/2010

Resources