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. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. 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
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
      • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
    Master's
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
      • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Fraud Prevention and Detection
    Certificate
      • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate
      • Cyber Network Defense Certificate
      • Financial Crimes Investigator Certificate
      • Financial Crime and Compliance Operations Cert
      • Monitoring, Surveillance, and Intelligence Operations Cert
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Behavior Management Track
    Certificate
      • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

Featured Schools

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

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?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?