Becoming a Cop: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a cop? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a cop is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cop

Cops, also known as police officers, help keep places and people safe, ensuring that laws are followed and crimes are investigated. You can learn about the ups and downs of becoming a cop by reading below.

PROS of Becoming a Cop
Higher than average salary ($56,810 median yearly income)*
Early retirement options and extensive benefits*
Flexible scheduling options based on seniority*
Paid overtime and promotion opportunities through a ranking system*

CONS of Becoming a Cop
High rate for job-related fatalities and injuries*
Stress from dealing with threatening scenarios like armed assailants*
Weekend, night and holiday assignments can be scheduled due to cops being needed at all times*
At the federal level, travel requirements can occur on short notice*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Vocational Information

Job Description

The duties of a police officer vary from day to day and are dependent upon your position in the law enforcement hierarchy. If you're a uniformed police officer at the local or state level, you'll normally patrol one area during your shift and respond to emergency calls. If you suspect any criminal activity while on your shift, you'll investigate the matter and perform arrests or searches as necessary. By becoming a detective, your assignments consist of investigating criminal cases. This requires you to perform interviews, watch suspects and examine crime scenes. If you work at the federal level, you'll generally focus in a specific area of law enforcement like drugs or border patrol.

Salary Information

During May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that police officers earned a median yearly income of $56,810. Cops that were in the top ten percentile of wage estimates made upwards of $92,450, while those that were in the lowest ten percentile made less than $33,030.

Job Outlook

The BLS from 2012 to 2022 is expecting a job growth of around 5% for police and detectives. When compared to other vocations' growth during this period, employment growth for cops is considered slower than the average. The best job opportunities are expected with local law enforcement departments. However, competition is common at both the federal and the state levels. The employment of cops is generally tied to government spending.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education and Training

You must possess a high school diploma or GED before becoming a cop. From there, you must enter and complete a program at a police officer training school. In order to apply to a training academy, you must be a U.S. citizen who is 21 years of age or older. You also must have the appropriate agility, vision, strength and hearing necessary to become a cop. These requirements are typically tested through an examination. At your police academy, you'll have the opportunity to learn about state laws, civil rights, police ethics, local ordinances and constitutional law. You'll also receive supervised experience in training exercises related to firearm use, first aid, emergency response, patrol duties and traffic control.

What Do Employers Want?

Empathetic personalities are preferred by many employers due to regular interaction with cops and public parties from different backgrounds. Depending on the community, an employer may look for cops that are bilingual. For example, if you work in a Hispanic community, it would be beneficial to speak Spanish. As you continue to read onward, you can learn what some real employers were looking for in cops. This information was taken from November 2012 job advertisements.

  • In Wisconsin, an associate's degree or bachelor's degree is preferred in applicants to a police department.
  • A police officer opening in New York requires applicants to take physical, psychological and medical examinations.
  • A New Hampshire town wants police officer applicants to complete an extensive background check.
  • A position in California prefers applicants that already possess a certificate of completion from a police academy.

How to Stand Out as a Cop

Postsecondary education is one route you can take when it comes to standing out as a cop. This is especially true if you're planning on working at the federal level where a bachelor's degree is often required. Generally, you'll want your major to be in criminal science or something similar. Another technique to standing out is keeping physically fit due to the stamina and strength requirements associated with being a cop. Demonstrating leadership skills and accumulating work experience can help lead to promotions. Military experience is also often seen as a plus for cops.

Alternative Career Options

If you're interested in working in the private sector, you might want to consider becoming a private investigator. These professionals are hired to look into financial, personal or legal matters. Some examples of what a private investigator does includes proving infidelity of an individual or performing a background check on an applicant prior to employment. You'll typically collect information through interviews, research or surveillance. The BLS predicted a 21% growth in employment for private investigators during the 2010-2020 decade, which is considered faster than average. The BLS also reported that as of May 2011, private investigators earned an average of about $49,000 annually.

If you're more comfortable working in a single location instead of working out in the field and still want to work in law enforcement, you may want to look into being a correctional officer. These individuals oversee prisoners kept in a jail. You'll ensure that all the rules are being followed by the inmates as well as work at preventing security risks. Correctional officers earned roughly $43,000 on average in a year according to the BLS in May 2011. However, the BLS projected a 5% growth in employment for correctional officers from 2010 to 2020. This is considered to be a slower-than-average job growth during this period, so job opportunities may not be as favorable as in other occupations.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MSCJ: Leadership & Executive Management
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
      • MSCJ: Corrections
      • MSCJ: Global Issues in Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
      • BS in Corrections
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
      • BSCJ: Homeland Security
      • BSCJ: Juvenile Justice
      • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement and Corrections Administration
      • MS-Criminal Justice
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Law Enforcement Adminsitration
      • B.A. - International Business
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Strayer University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Admin Concentration
      • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Emergency Management Concentration
      • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Computer Security and Forensics Concentration
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Crime Mapping and Data Analysis
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Crime and Criminal Behavior
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice with Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS - Criminal Justice with Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Capella University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD: Criminal Justice
      • DEM - Emergency Management
      • PhD: Emergency Management
    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • Master: Emergency Management
      • MS in Digital Forensics
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
      • BS in Justice Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    9. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    10. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • MS/Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement and Corrections Administration
  • MS-Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Law Enforcement Adminsitration
  • B.A. - International Business

What is your highest level of education?

Strayer University

  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Admin Concentration
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Emergency Management Concentration
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Computer Security and Forensics Concentration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice with Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • Certificate - Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Capella University

  • PhD: Criminal Justice
  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • BS in Justice Studies

What is your highest level of education?