Police Officer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a police officer career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a police officer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Working as a Police Officer

Police officers protect the property and lives of citizens, and they investigate crimes and apprehend those who commit crimes. Below are listed several pros and cons associated with this career choice to help you decide if becoming a police officer is right for you.

PROS of a Career as a Police Officer
Job opportunities expected to be favorable (steady interest in public safety)*
High demand for bilingual police officers*
Opportunity to help keep people and property safe*
Ability to retire after 20 years of service*

CONS of a Career as a Police Officer
Job is extremely dangerous and stressful*
High competition for state and federal jobs*
Slower than average employment growth is expected (5% increase between 2012 and 2022)*
Job may affect an officer's private life*
High turnover rate*

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

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Police officers serve and protect the community where they work. Whether they work for a local, state or federal agency, they arrest citizens that break the law and investigate criminal activity. Officers are sometimes expected to collect evidence at a crime scene, take statements from witnesses and conduct interviews with suspects. Additionally, officers respond to calls from individuals who have either been victims of crime or have witnessed a crime. They are also expected to write reports, keep careful documentation of their activities and often have to testify at criminal trials.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job opportunities for police officer jobs will experience 5% growth between 2012 and 2022. Assuming a candidate can meet the psychological and physical requirements, they should be able to acquire a position at a local police agency. The BLS also notes that there is more competition for state and federal jobs. According to research conducted in May of 2014, the BLS determined that police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a median annual salary of approximately $56,810.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Police officers are required to have a minimum of a high school diploma; however, most departments also seek applicants with at least one or two years of college. Officers that have college degrees often study criminal justice, public administration or police science. In addition to a college background, most officers are also required to attend police academy, where they undergo additional training for 12-14 weeks before they are able to start working.

Skills

In addition to rigorous training, evaluations and background checks, according to the BLS, there are a handful of attributes and qualifications that police agencies expect job candidates to have. Examples include a genuine desire to help and work with people, honesty and integrity and be in good physical condition. Most departments also look for candidates with leadership abilities, good judgment skills and the ability to anticipate risk and the way another person will react in a dangerous situation.

Real Job Listings

You will find that most police departments have a very specific set of requirements for new officers. Typically, you will need to be at least 20 or 21 years old, be a U.S. citizen, have a high school diploma and a clean criminal record.

  • A local police department in Wisconsin is seeking entry-level police officers. They are looking for applications to be submitted by candidates who live within 15 miles of Greenfield, are at least 21 years old and have a clean criminal record. Applicants are also required to have at least 60 college credits.
  • The police department in Atlanta is seeking police officers to perform tasks like crime detection, patrolling and investigation to ensure crime prevention, general law enforcement and public safety. The Department requires applicants to be U.S. citizens, have a valid driver's license and be over 20 years old.
  • A local police department in Pennsylvania is looking for part-time police officers. In order to be eligible to work as a police officer, you must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, have no criminal record and be available to work flexible hours.

How Can I Stand Out in This Field?

Once you are on the job, you may have opportunities to continue your training in other areas of police work. You can improve your skills in self-defense, handling a firearm or communication. Sharpening your skill set and expanding your abilities might help you advance into supervisory positions within the department.

Previous Work Experience and Additional Skills

If you have experience working with the police, you might have an easier time obtaining a police officer job. Additionally, many departments also view previous military experience as an asset in their recruits. Although it is not typically required, previous college experience is often a plus, and being fluent in a foreign language can also help your chances of standing out in a department that is located in a bilingual or multilingual area.

Alternate Career Options

Because of the level of training and the amount of risk involved, you might decide that a career as a police officer is not for you. There are a handful of alternate careers that might appeal to you.

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers work in prisoners and detention facilities and oversee incarcerated individuals. The BLS projected that job opportunities for correctional officers will increase by 5% between 2010 and 2020. Correctional officers earned a median annual salary of around $39,000 in May 2011.

Private Detective

Private detectives investigate clues to discover information of a personal or legal matter for their clients. In May of 2011, the BLS reported that private detectives earned a median annual salary of close to $44,000. The agency also projected that professional opportunities for private detectives would increase by 21% between 2010 and 2020.

Security Guard

Security guards patrol private property and protect it from thievery, vandalism and other violations. They typically call police for help if a serious situation occurs. Security guards earned a median annual salary of approximately $24,000 in 2011. The BLS projected a 18% increase in job opportunities for security guards between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
    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. 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
    3. 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
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. 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
    5. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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
    8. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus
  • 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. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

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?

Northcentral University

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

What is your highest level of education completed?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)

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?

Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

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