Career Development

What Does a Police Officer Do?

Find out what a police officer does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a police officer.

Police officers are responsible for ensuring the safety of our communities by enforcing laws and maintaining order. They spend their days patrolling streets, responding to calls for service, investigating crimes, and interacting with members of the community.

Police officers must be able to handle a wide range of situations—from dealing with minor traffic violations to managing violent criminals or even natural disasters. This requires them to have a diverse set of skills and knowledge in areas such as problem solving, communication, leadership, and critical thinking.

Police Officer Job Duties

Police officers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Ensuring the safety of citizens and enforcing laws by investigating crimes and interviewing witnesses
  • Patrolling neighborhoods on foot, in vehicles, or on bicycles to ensure public safety and enforce laws
  • Collecting evidence at crime scenes and interviewing witnesses to gather facts about a case
  • Arresting suspects who violate laws, using necessary force when appropriate
  • Patrolling inside police stations or other facilities to monitor security, investigate complaints, and provide security services
  • Serve as first responders to emergencies, investigating crime scenes, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and documenting cases for trial
  • Conducting investigations to detect and deter crime through patrols, surveillance, undercover work, community outreach, and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies
  • Responding to calls from citizens who need assistance with non-emergency situations such as disputes between neighbors or minor car accidents
  • Performing community outreach activities such as teaching crime prevention techniques to schoolchildren or participating in neighborhood watch programs

Police Officer Salary & Outlook

Police officers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of police department they work for.

  • Median Annual Salary: $52,500 ($25.24/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,000 ($58.65/hour)

The employment of police officers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

The need to address issues related to crime and social disorder will help drive demand for police services. However, budget constraints may limit the number of new police officers hired by some local governments.

Related: In-Depth Police Officer Salary Guide

Police Officer Job Requirements

A police officer typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Police officers are typically required to have at least a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED). Some police departments prefer to hire candidates who have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Many aspiring police officers take courses in criminal justice, law enforcement, and police science. These courses provide aspiring officers with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their law enforcement careers.

Training & Experience: Police officers receive most of their training through the police academy. The academy is a competitive program that requires candidates to pass a physical fitness test, a swimming test and a firearms test. The program also includes classroom instruction on topics such as criminal law, first aid, self-defense and firearms.

After being hired, police officers receive on-the-job training from their supervisors. This training covers topics such as local laws, department policies and procedures and the use of force.

Certifications & Licenses: Candidates acquire most certifications during academy training, such as a license to carry a firearm. There is also a wide range of post-academy certifications that police officers can pursue.

Police Officer Skills

Police officers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication skills: Effective communication skills allow a police officer to relay information to the public, suspects and other law enforcement officials. They also use these skills to explain laws and regulations to members of the public and suspects. Communication skills are also important for interacting with other officers and suspects during investigations.

Physical fitness: Physical fitness refers to a person’s ability to perform physical activities. Police officers need to be in good physical shape to perform their duties, which often involve running, lifting and climbing.

Problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills are necessary for police officers as they regularly encounter situations where they need to find solutions to problems. For example, if a suspect is resisting arrest, a police officer needs to be able to find a way to get them into custody without harming them.

Critical thinking skills: Critical thinking is the ability to make quick decisions based on the information you have. Police officers use critical thinking skills to make quick decisions about how to handle dangerous situations, how to approach suspects and how to gather evidence.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. Police officers use empathy to help members of the public who are upset or angry. For example, if a person is pulled over for speeding and the officer explains that they may be ticketed, the person may become angry or emotional. The officer’s empathy can help them calm the person down and diffuse the situation.

Police Officer Work Environment

Police officers work in a variety of settings, including patrol cars, police stations, and other public places. They may be assigned to foot patrol, bicycle patrol, or motorcycle patrol. They may also work in undercover units, on SWAT teams, or as detectives. Police officers typically work shifts of 10 to 12 hours, although some departments have eight-hour shifts. They may work nights, weekends, and holidays. Overtime is often required, and officers may be called back to work on their days off. Police work can be dangerous and stressful, and officers must be able to handle high-pressure situations.

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.

Community Policing Will Become More Important

As community policing becomes more important, police officers will need to develop new skills and strategies in order to effectively work with the communities they serve.

Police officers who are able to build trust and relationships with members of their community will be better equipped to solve crimes and prevent future ones from occurring. In addition, they will be better prepared to handle emergency situations that may arise.

Technology Will Play a Greater Role in Law Enforcement

The role of technology in law enforcement is growing rapidly as police departments adopt new technologies to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

Police officers who are able to utilize technology will be more successful in their careers, as they will be able to access information quickly and easily. They will also be able to communicate with other officers and civilians more easily, which will make them more effective at solving crimes and keeping the public safe.

More Collaboration Between Police and Community Members

As police officers become more involved in the community, there will be an increased need for collaboration between police and community members.

This trend is already being seen in many cities, where police officers are working with community members to create programs and initiatives that promote safety and reduce crime. By collaborating with police officers, community members can have a greater impact on the policies and practices that affect their lives.

How to Become a Police Officer

A career as a police officer can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider all the aspects of this job before making a decision. One of the most important things to think about is if you are willing and able to handle the physical demands of the job. Police officers must be in excellent physical condition and have the ability to run long distances, climb stairs, and lift heavy objects. They also need to be able to work long hours and be on call 24 hours a day.

Another important factor to consider is if you are willing and able to enforce the law. As a police officer, you will be required to make tough decisions that could affect people’s lives. You will also be required to deal with dangerous situations and potentially dangerous criminals.

If you are willing and able to meet these requirements, then a career as a police officer may be right for you.

Related: How to Write a Police Officer Resume

Advancement Prospects

The most common way to advance in this career is to move up through the ranks of the police force. Most police departments have a rank structure that starts with police officer and goes up through sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and so on. To be eligible for promotion, officers generally must have a certain amount of time in service and must pass written and oral examinations. Some departments also require that officers have a college degree.

In addition to moving up through the ranks, some police officers move into specialized units within the force. For example, an officer might start out as a patrol officer and then move into a detective unit, a SWAT team, or a narcotics unit. Some officers also become instructors at police academies or in-service training programs.

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