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Police Officer Career

Career Description

Police officers pursue and apprehend individuals who break the law and then issue citations or give warnings. A large proportion of their time is spent writing reports and maintaining records of incidents they encounter. Most police officers patrol their jurisdictions and investigate any suspicious activity they notice.

Common Work Tasks

  • Maintain regular patrols and responding to calls for service
  • Write reports and maintain meticulous records
  • Builds relationships with the citizens of local neighborhoods and mobilizes the public to help fight crime
  • Identify, pursue, and arrest suspected criminals
  • Patrol highways and busy roads to enforce motor vehicle laws and regulations
  • Issue traffic citations to motorists
  • Direct traffic, give first aid, and call for emergency equipment
  • Perform court-related duties
  • Resolve problems within the community

Other Job Titles

Police Officers are also known by other titles, including:

  • Correctional Officer
  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Highway Patrol Officer
  • State Trooper
  • Sheriff’s Deputy

Education, Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  Applicants usually must have at least a high school education, and some departments require 1 or 2 years of college coursework or, in some cases, a college degree.  Many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to work toward degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration of justice, or public administration and pay higher salaries to those who earn such a degree.

Before their first assignments,  officers usually go through a period of training. In State and large local police departments, recruits get training in their agency’s police academy,  often for 12 to 14 weeks. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional or State academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional law and civil rights, State laws and local ordinances, and accident investigation.  Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in patrol, traffic control, the use of firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.  Police departments in some large cities hire high school graduates who are still in their teens as police cadets or trainees. They do clerical work and attend classes, usually for 1 to 2 years, until they reach the minimum age requirement and can be appointed to the regular force.

  Law enforcement agencies encourage applicants to take courses or training related to law enforcement subjects after high school. Many entry-level applicants for police jobs have completed some formal postsecondary education, and a significant number are college graduates. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or administration of justice.

Physical education classes and participating in sports are also helpful in developing the competitiveness,  stamina, and agility needed for many law enforcement positions. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many Federal agencies and urban departments.

Other Qualifications
  Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and detectives in most States, large municipalities, and special police agencies, as well as in many smaller jurisdictions. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 20 years old, and must meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.  Physical examinations for entrance into law enforcement often include tests of vision, hearing, strength, and agility. Eligibility for appointment usually depends on performance in competitive written examinations and previous education and experience.


The median annual salary for Police Officers is $49,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $75,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $28,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of police officers are:

  • Local Government - $50,330
  • State Government - $55,780
  • Federal Executive Branch - $47,970
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $44,010
  • Junior Colleges - $43,240

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  11%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 70,000
  • Employment 2006 : 654,000
  • Employment 2016:  724,000
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