Police Officer: Career Summary, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for police officers. Get the facts about education and training requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Police Officer?

A police officer is a representative and enforcer of law and order whose job it is to serve and protect the citizens. Police officers respond to emergency calls, make arrests, patrol neighborhoods and roads, and ensure the safety of the community. Each police officer is assigned to a jurisdiction where they work. There are also different types of police officers, so the duties can vary.

The following chart gives you an overview of a career as a police officer.

Degree Required High school diploma, associate's degree
Training Required Police academy training is generally required
Education Field of Study Criminal justice or related field
Key Responsibilities Respond to non-emergency and emergency calls in patrol area; obtain and serve warrants and make arrests; perform traffic stops and write traffic tickets; prepare detailed police reports and testify in court
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all police and detectives
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $61,270 for police and sheriff's patrol officers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Police Officers Do?

If you're interested in becoming a police officer, among the things you'll learn is how to identify and arrest individuals who are suspected of committing crimes. You'll build relationships within the community as part of crime prevention efforts, investigate crimes that occur in your patrol area and respond to 911 calls for assistance. Other duties that you may perform include enforcing motor vehicle and traffic laws.

As a police officer, you'll write reports about incidents and investigations. If you are working within a larger police department, you may specialize in areas such as firearms training or chemical analysis. Or, upon additional qualification, work as a member of special weapons and tactics teams (SWAT).

As you advance in your career, you may be assigned to more management and leadership positions. You could become a detective, an instructor at the police academy or specialize in an area of law enforcement. This may include working with juveniles or with drug awareness programs in schools.

Projected Job Outlook for Police Officers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, from 2014 to 2024, police officer jobs were expected to increase by four percent during that period, with job growth directly related to government budget allocations for public safety at the state and local levels.

You can increase your employment opportunities by obtaining undergraduate degrees in law enforcement, criminal justice or a similar major. Prior military service is also an advantage. If you were a police officer who worked in local government in 2015, you would have earned a mean annual salary of $61,210. If you worked in state government, your pay would have been $67,190 a year, according to the BLS. Many police officers worked a significant amount of overtime, resulting in increased take-home pay.

What Education Requirements Should I Fulfill?

To become a police officer, you'll typically need college study. Some police departments require at least an associate's degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. While much of your practical police training will occur at a peace officer or police training academy, your educational training can be obtained at community colleges and universities. Possessing at least an associate's degree can enhance your job prospects and earn you a higher pay.

An associate's degree program in law enforcement may include courses such as criminal justice, state and local government, the criminal court system, crime investigation and law enforcement leadership. If you choose to obtain a bachelor's degree in law enforcement, you'll take additional classes such as law enforcement management, organizational communication, social and natural sciences, civil law and research methods in criminal justice.

Each police department has specific hiring requirements, but most usually state the applicant must be at least 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen and be in good physical condition to pass rigorous physical tests. You'll also undergo personality and psychological examinations as well as a background check. Stringent written examinations are also given.

Before full acceptance into a police department, you'll first need to successfully complete a training program or police academy that will last for several months. This training teaches you the procedures, protocol, techniques and knowledge needed to work as a police officer. You'll learn various topics such as firearms use, first aid, emergency procedures, evidence collection, crowd control, defensive driving, arrest procedures and self-defense techniques. Upon graduation, you'll be hired as an officer for your sponsoring police department, where you will continue to train while on the job.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Correctional officers and bailiffs are other job options, which require at least a high school education. Correctional officers typically go through extensive on-the-job training or a training academy. These professionals supervise convicts in detention centers, while bailiffs work in courtrooms to monitor public safety. Security guards patrol properties and detain offenders. They need a high school diploma, and their training is usually shorter and less comprehensive than that of police officers. Their authoritative power is also limited.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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