Police Officer

Municipal and state police officers are assigned general police duties. Police officers respond to emergencies and patrol regular routes watching for suspicious activity. They also spend a lot of time assisting citizens and completing paperwork. Additional duties include directing traffic at public events and automobile accidents, administering first aid to injured people, and investigating robberies. In big city departments, police officers are typically given specific duties.

Police departments in big cities participate heavily in community policing, a method whereby police officers develop personal relationships with local residents, so they can feel comfortable approaching officers when they notice suspicious activity or become crime victims.

Police departments usually assign patrol officers to specific geographic zones. Officers assigned to a large zone typically patrol it with partners. They familiarize themselves with their zones to easily recognize suspicious activities. Police officers are dispatched to calls from people living in their assigned zone and investigate unusual activities. When patrolling their zones, police officers question and arrest suspected criminals, cite people for traffic violations, and respond to family or spousal fights.

Many police officers are assigned to monitor college campuses, train stations, high schools, and other public facilities. Most police officers within special agencies wear uniforms.

Police officers often specialize in firearms training, fingerprint identification, chemical analysis, and various other specialties. Many are assigned to special units, which include drug sniffing dog, harbor patrol, special weapons and tactics (SWAT), motorcycle, horseback, or bicycle units. Police officers from municipal departments often provide courtroom security, work in jails, and perform various administrative duties.

Education and Training
Police officer and sheriff training requirements differ by city. Big city police departments typically require police officers to hold criminal justice bachelor's degrees, while departments within small cities sometimes only require officers to hold high school degrees. However, many cities now mandate that police officers hold an associate's degree at a minimum. Most police trainees complete formal training in criminal law and investigation, community relations, administration, and corrections. State or federal law enforcement officers complete supplementary training once hired.

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Required Skills
Police officers must be excellent listeners and communicators, exercise restraint when necessary, and make smart choices. They must also have good writing skills, so their reports are comprehendible in court. Additionally, police officers must be physically fit and possess basic computer, administrative, and accounting skills.

Salary and Benefits
Rookie police officers typically make between $25,000 - 45,000 a year, and in certain cities, rookie officers make $18,000 a year. After acquiring 6 years of work experience, police officers can make $50,000 a year. Police departments typically provide officers with extensive benefits.

The International City-County Management Association reported in 2012 that salaries for police officers averaged:

  • Police corporal - $49,421 to $62,173
  • Police sergeant - $58,739 to $73,349
  • Police lieutenant - $65,688 to $81,268
  • Police captain - $72,761 to $92,178
  • Deputy chief - $74,834 to $97,209
  • Police chief - $90,570 to $113,930

Police officers are typically provided with health and life insurance, sick leave, pensions, paid vacation, and uniform allowances. Many police officers with 20 years of experience retire with half their annual pay, while officers with 30 years of experience qualify for generous retirement pensions.

Working Conditions
Police officers can respond to any emergency or call within their assigned jurisdictions. In addition to law enforcement responsibilities, police officers are assigned administrative duties, patrol neighborhoods, transport suspected criminals to jail, and visit schools to educate children about the consequences of drug abuse.

Job Outlook
With crime rates on the rise nationwide, demand for qualified police officers will remain high. However, city and state budget cuts are decreasing police jobs.

Police officers with unblemished personal conduct records and proven job improvement performance frequently get promoted within their departments. Many experienced police officers pursue opportunities with the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Police Detectives
Police detectives retrieve evidence and conduct criminal investigations. Some are members of interagency task forces responsible for investigating fraud, homicide, and other specific crimes. They review records, interview witnesses, and arrest suspects. Police detectives investigate crimes on a rotating basis and do not discontinue investigations until someone is convicted or the case closes.

Police detectives often work long days, encounter demanding prosecutors and other investigators, and follow dead-end leads. However, detective work can be satisfying and exciting. Detectives typically specialize in fraud, sex crimes, homicide, burglary, and numerous other crimes. Police detectives work tirelessly until a case is solved or closed.

Premier police detectives are often assigned to task forces by federal law enforcement agencies. One such task force, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Unit (VICAP), is made up of FBI special agents and profilers, forensic pathologists, and police detectives. The VICAP is notified when violent federal crimes are committed.

Most police detectives begin their careers as patrol officers. Before qualifying for a police detective position, patrol officers must acquire some experience and complete specialized training. When detective positions open, patrol officers are permitted to apply. Many police departments permit patrol officers to test for open detective positions after obtaining 2-3 years of work experience. However, some departments only allow police officers with 5 years of experience to apply. It typically takes some time to qualify for a detective job. Police departments in big cities require police detective applicants to hold an associate's degree or complete 60 college credits. Departments in smaller cities often permit non-college educated police officers to apply for detective positions, but officers with college degrees have a better chance of becoming detectives.

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