Law Enforcement Official Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A law enforcement official's median annual salary is around $57,000, but is it worth the health risks? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a law enforcement official is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Law Enforcement Official Career

Law enforcement officials promote safety and enforce laws and regulations in a variety of settings. Check out the pros and cons below to see what else to expect if you're considering a job as a law enforcement official.

Pros of a Law Enforcement Career
Only requires a high school diploma for most local, entry-level openings*
Great potential for advancement and specialization (narcotics, gang crime, SWAT)*
Can be a rewarding career for someone interested in helping their community*
Cadet programs may be available to provide training prior to becoming a law official*

Cons of a Law Enforcement Career
Can be dangerous*
Stressful work, both physically and mentally*
Shift work, including nights, overnights, weekends and holidays*
Officers on patrol work eight hour shifts on their feet in many different weather conditions*

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

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A law enforcement official can work in a variety of settings, such as city, town or state police departments. Law enforcement officials working in a local setting may start with patrolling the streets, either by vehicle or foot to protect the general public and their property. The everyday duties for this job include enforcing laws, responding to calls from citizens, making traffic stops, arresting people suspected of crimes and filing reports and other paperwork as required. No matter what level or department an official works in, detailed reports and other paperwork is a required, and in many cases officials will need to testify in court.

Law enforcement jobs can also be found in specific areas, such as transit or fish and gaming. Transit police enforce laws on railways or in transit stations. Fish and gaming wardens protect wildlife by enforcing fishing and hunting laws. Other examples of law enforcement officials include investigators and detectives. Investigators and detectives are generally plainclothes law enforcement officials that work in special departments or areas of crime, such as homicide, burglary, fraud, narcotics, gangs or internal investigations.

Salary and Job Growth Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police and sheriff patrol officials earned an average annual salary of about $60,000 as of May 2014, while transit and railroad police earned an average of about $53,000 and fish and game wardens also earned an average about $53,000 during the same period. Detectives and criminal investigators saw the highest average annual wage as of May 2014, with an average annual salary of about $81,000. These figures do not include overtime, which is very common in police work.

The BLS also reported that the job outlook for law enforcement officials is low, with only 5% projected growth during the 2012-2022 decade for police and detectives. Growth at the local level will be highest, due to constant demand for public safety and the high turnover rate for this position. The high turnover rate can be attributed to the low salary and high stress that comes with the job. State and federal jobs will have the slowest growth and most competition.

What Are the Requirements?

All law enforcement officials are required to have a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least 21 years old. Both officials and detectives have to complete their agency's training academy and a period of on-the-job training. Along with education and training, officials must meet tough physical and psychological testing requirements. Most academies require a written test and full background check as part of the application process.

Police academies also typically require completion of a standardized physical test which has a set number of criteria that have to be met in order to gain acceptance into the academy. The test is made up of six stations that must be completed in four minutes and twenty seconds without stopping.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings for law enforcement officials stress the same basic requirements: 18 years of age to enter training, 21 years of age by graduation, a high school diploma and excellent physical fitness. There are a few major metropolitan areas that require a minimum of 60 college credits or two years of active military service. Below are a few examples of job postings from employers in June 2012:

  • A police department in Virginia is looking for new officers. A written and physical exam is both required for training. Responsibilities will include enforcing state and local laws, arresting anyone suspected of breaking the laws, responding to calls for service, patrolling the area to ensure safety and completing all required paperwork, reports and documents.
  • A police department in Maryland is seeking experienced and recently trained officers to patrol assigned areas and enforce all laws, including traffic regulations. Officials will provide crowd and traffic control for assigned events, which includes emergencies, like fires and crimes.
  • A major metropolitan area is hiring a full-time transit police officer responsible for protecting the life and property of the transit, its patrons and employees. A high school diploma or its equivalent is required. The daily routine includes patrolling facilities and enforcing all laws as well as safety and transportation regulations.

Top Skills for Law Enforcement Officials

A law enforcement official should have good communication skills, both written and oral. Written skills are important when it comes to outlining details in case reports and investigations. As a law enforcement official, you will need to interact daily with a variety of different people making communication invaluable. Employers are also looking for someone who can multi-task, working well in both mentally and physically stressful situations on a regular basis. Good judgment, leadership and empathy are also very important in law enforcement work.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Keep Your Body in Top Shape

A police enforcement official needs to be in shape in order to meet the everyday challenges and stress of a position as a police official. Applicants are tested rigorously - both physically and mentally - throughout training.

Education Options

Even though many police departments do not require education past high school before applying for the academy, some police departments are starting to seek candidates with higher education. These employers are looking an associate degree in criminal justice to improve your experience before you begin your training.

Many local colleges and police departments have partnerships that lead to entry-level careers in law enforcement or entry into the police academy after graduation. Some programs can be completed entirely online.

Alternative Career Paths

It's understandable that you may not be too keen on the health risks involved with a law enforcement career, but there are still similar career paths you can choose that are similar to law enforcement.

Correctional Officer

A correctional officer works in city, county, or state correctional facilities supervising individuals that have been arrested and are awaiting arraignment, trial or have been convicted of and sentenced for a crime they committed. Like a police official's career, this job can be dangerous and stressful. Correctional officers are trained much like police officials, through training facilities or on-the-job training.

According to the BLS, the average annual median salary for a correctional officer was around $43,000 as of May 2011. The job outlook is expected to be slow, at around a 5% growth during the 2010-2020 decade.

Probation Officer

A probation officer career requires a bachelor's degree in a social science, such as social work, criminal justice, psychology or a related field. In some cases, this job may require a minimum of a master's degree for candidates with no practical experience. A probation officer's duties are part of the rehabilitation process after a person has been convicted of a crime. A probation officer's job is to monitor the offender and make sure they have and follow a treatment plan and do not commit any other crimes during their probation.

According to the BLS, the average annual salary of a probation officer was around $52,000 as of May 2011. The job growth for probation officers is about as fast as average with all other occupations, at 18% growth expected during the 2010-2020 decade.

Private Detective

A private detective career is one outside of government service. A private detective is hired by individuals or groups to investigate matters that the police cannot or will not investigate such as personal financial problems or adultery. The work involves researching, conducting interviews, surveillance, collecting evidence and testifying in court. There are no specific education requirements, but many detectives have completed some college courses. Job growth for private detectives is higher than average, with 21% growth during the 2010-2020 decade. The average annual salary according to the BLS was around $49,000 as of May 2011.

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. 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
    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
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

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?

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?

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?