Police officers are responsible for maintaining the peace and safety of the communities they serve. They are often the first responders to emergencies, dealing with everything from car accidents to criminal activity. When danger strikes, police officers are the ones who leap into action to protect citizens, property and public safety.
Police officers commonly work within a specific jurisdiction or area of responsibility (such as a city or county). They may be assigned to patrol their designated area on foot, in a vehicle, or using various other methods of transportation. Their duties may also include responding to calls for service, investigating crimes and accidents, managing traffic, and working with other agencies to keep their community safe and secure.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a police officer and what it takes to become one yourself.
Police Officer Job Duties
Police officers are responsible for the following duties:
- Ensuring the safety of citizens and other first responders by enforcing laws, investigating accidents, responding to reports of crime, and writing reports
- Patrolling assigned areas to identify potential problems and take appropriate action
- Performing traffic control at accident scenes or during large public events to keep pedestrians and vehicles safe
- Using training and judgment to determine the appropriate response to emergencies such as natural disasters or criminal acts
- Investigating suspected crimes such as burglaries, theft, assaults, vandalism, narcotics violations, and hit and run accidents
- Responding to emergency calls including fires, shootings, stabbings and suicides
- Interviewing witnesses, victims, suspects and other people involved with cases—if one is an investigator of serious crimes such as homicide or rape
Police Officer Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for police officers is $67,936. The highest earners in this profession bring in over $103,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work in large metropolitan areas.
The employment of police officers is projected to grow faster than average over the next decade. This growth is due to the increasing need for public safety services as the population grows and becomes more urbanized.
Police Officer Job Requirements
The education, training, and licensing requirements for police officers are as follows:
Education: A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement for this job. However, many police departments prefer candidates to have earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement.
Training: Police officers must complete training in a police academy or related school. This training can take between 6-12 months to finish and includes courses in areas like law, crime scene investigation, firearms, patrol, traffic control, and public speaking. Some police academies may also require students to pass a physical training test.
Certifications & Licenses: Nearly every state requires police officers to hold a state-issued police officer license. This license is required to allow them to carry a firearm and enforce the law.
Police Officer Skills
Police officers are required to have certain skills.
Excellent communication skills: Police officers must be able to write clear reports and give clear directions to the public.
Physical strength: The job requires that police officers have physical strength in order to subdue criminals, control crowds, and restrain suspects.
Interpersonal skills: Officers must be able to communicate well with others, especially victims of crime.
Decision-making skills: Police officers must make decisions quickly under pressure. They must also be able to follow through on those decisions even when they are unpopular or may draw criticism from others.
Ability to remain calm under stress: A police officer’s job is stressful because he or she must deal with dangerous situations on a regular basis.
Respect for authority: An ability to respect authority figures is important for an officer who must take orders from superiors as part of his or her job duties.
Police Officer Work Environment
Police officers are required to work long shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Many police departments have limited vacation time during the year, so they tend to take most of their leave time at once at the beginning or end of the year. Police officers who work in inner cities often work amid traffic, noise, bright lights, crowds, and danger.
Police Officers must maintain a calm demeanor and be able to handle stressful situations. When dealing with potentially dangerous situations, they may be spit on, punched, bitten, kicked, stabbed, shot, or threatened with weapons. The job is mentally tiring as well because it is not unusual for them to encounter victims of violent crimes. It can be emotionally draining for police officers when called upon to help people deal with serious emotional problems.
Police Officer Career Path
Police work is not a job for everyone. It is most suited to people who enjoy an active, fast-paced life with opportunities for promotion and great public recognition. You must enjoy working with the public and have the ability to defuse tense situations. Most police officers spend their first three years on patrol, where they learn how to handle emergencies and traffic problems. Patrol officers must develop their own set of skills and solve problems while under pressure.
Five Years On The Job
The first five years are difficult for police officers; they are scrutinized by their peers and superiors alike. After that period of intense scrutiny (and training), they begin to feel more comfortable in their jobs. They may be assigned to a specialized division or even promoted to sergeant or lieutenant. More experienced officers become eligible for specialized training that can lead to supervisory posts at the precinct level.
Ten Years On The Job
Officers at ten years have gained significant experience on the street and have made many contacts with community leaders and members of the media. They know what is going on within their departments and within their cities. The majority of police officers who make it this far stay on until retirement because of the sense of camaraderie among fellow officers and the feeling that their work is important. Police work has become more specialized as departments concentrate on fighting crime more effectively. The hours can be long but many people find satisfaction in knowing that they help keep communities safe and secure.
Police Officer Trends
Here are three trends influencing how police officers work. Police Officers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
The Growth of Drones
Drones have been touted as a technology that will change law enforcement forever, as they can be used to track suspects from the air, provide real-time video surveillance of an area, and even deploy chemical or other weapons on targets.
In addition, some experts have suggested that drones may be used to monitor large protests and monitor crime hot spots for increased efficiency.
Increasing Importance of Interpersonal Skills
While police officers are traditionally known for their physical skills, they are increasingly being recognized for their interpersonal skills.
Police officers are often tasked with defusing tense situations involving people who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so being able to manage these situations is vital to ensure that they do not escalate into more serious incidents.
For example, police in some countries have started using creative tactics like humor to disarm people who may be high on drugs or prone to violence.
Rise of Body Cameras
Body cameras are being used by law enforcement to record encounters with the public, including traffic stops and arrest situations. This has led to a decrease in use-of-force incidents for police officers, as well as increased trust among the community they serve.
With the continued rise of smartphones and video cameras, this trend is likely to continue into the future as more communities embrace body cameras as a way to ensure transparency among police officers.
How to Become a Police Officer
1. Planning Your Career
If you’re considering a career as a police officer, think about what matters most to you: Are you willing to give up some freedom and spontaneity? Do you have a strong desire to help others? Do you have a steady temperament that will allow you to remain calm under pressure? These questions will help determine whether or not this is the right career path for you.
You should consider the unique demands of this position. Police officers must be physically fit and emotionally resilient to handle stressful situations. It is also important to understand the legal system, so that you can act accordingly during your time on the job.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for police officers emphasize their ability to communicate effectively, work well with others, and respond quickly to emergencies. Make sure you include any awards or recognitions you have received for your ability to deal with stressful situations. You could also highlight past work experience that shows how you were able to resolve conflicts or provide assistance in an emergency situation. Another great way to highlight your strong qualities is to list community service or volunteer activities that show your commitment to making a difference in the world.
3. Applying for Jobs
The best way to find a job as a police officer is to be an active participant in the law enforcement community. Ask other people who are working as police officers how they found their jobs, and share your experiences with others. You can also contact nearby police departments directly and ask them if they have any hiring programs or entry-level opportunities. Many organizations will offer internships, so try and get your foot in the door through one of these.
4. Ace the Interview
During the interview, you will likely be asked a lot of questions about your character, integrity, and work ethic. Before the interview, take time to determine what qualities are most important to the department you are applying to. It is also important to show that you are able to think critically on your feet. You should be prepared to answer hypothetical situations that the police force might encounter.
When it comes to body language, try to appear confident, even if you’re not feeling particularly at ease. Your interviewer will pick up on any signs of anxiety, so try to stay relaxed, stand up straight, and avoid looking at the floor or at the ceiling. Keep your hands still, maintain eye contact, and speak clearly and confidently.