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Police Officer Job Description, Career as a Police Officer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus training

Salary Median—$45,210 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Police officers protect the lives and property of citizens. They maintain order, catch lawbreakers, and work to prevent crimes. In small towns they perform many duties. Larger cities have a more structured division of responsibility. Police officers may patrol the streets on foot or in squad cars; control traffic; or work as detectives investigating crimes. At the police station officers may be assigned to work in the crime laboratory or the records department. All officers file reports of incidents, and many testify at trials and hearings.

Police officers are supervised by senior officers. The chain of command is modeled after that of the armed services. In larger cities sergeants, lieutenants, and captains direct the work of squads or companies of officers. Ranking officers

Police officers in large cities may work as patrol officers assigned to either traffic control or crime prevention, as detectives who investigate crimes, or as officers in the crime laboratory. (AP Images.)

generally report to police chiefs or commissioners. In small towns the chief of police may be the only ranking officer.

Education and Training Requirements

Many police departments require that applicants be high school graduates; an increasing number expect some college education. Applicants usually must be at least twenty-one years of age and U.S. citizens. In many communities, applicants must meet minimum requirements for height, weight, eyesight, and hearing.

Because most police departments fall under civil service regulations, applicants must pass written tests that measure their analytical skills. Rigorous physical examinations and background checks are also required. Senior officers screen applicants.

New recruits often participate in formal classroom training in police academies. After graduating they continue to train on the job with experienced officers for three to twelve months. In small communities there may be no formal training program. Officers are usually encouraged to continue their education by taking college courses in criminal justice.

Getting the Job

Those who want to be police officers must first take the civil service test. Many departments allow high school graduates and college students studying criminal justice to start out as cadets or trainees while still in their teens. If they meet all the requirements, cadets may be appointed to regular police work when they turn twenty-one.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

For promotion to higher rank, officers must take civil service tests. Good work records and special honors help officers get ahead. Police officers who have investigation abilities may advance to detective. Other positions include sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and inspector.

The employment of police officers is expected to grow as fast the average for all jobs through 2014. Openings will depend on government funding and the number of experienced officers who retire or leave the profession. Competition for jobs will be stiff. The best opportunities will be found in urban areas.

Working Conditions

Police work can be dangerous and stressful. Officers often deal with violent criminals and may be injured or killed. They must make quick decisions while on duty, yet be tactful and patient with people who are in trouble or have been victims of terrible crimes and abuse.

Police protection is provided twenty-four hours a day, so officers may work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Work shifts are usually rotated; however, officers are on call at all times for emergencies. Overtime may be required. Most police departments provide uniforms or uniform allowances. Many officers belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary, depending on location. In 2004 the median salary for police officers was $45,210 per year. As officers advanced through the ranks, wages increased. The average minimum salary for police sergeants was $49,895 per year, while the average minimum for lieutenants was $56,115 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

The Federal Officer's Coalition of the Fraternal Order of Police
PO Box 2681
Vineland, NJ 08362-2681

National Association of Police Organizations
750 First St. NE, Ste. 920
Washington, DC, 20002
(202) 842-4420

National Fraternal Order of Police
1410 Donelson Pike, Ste. A-17
Nashville, TN 37217-2933
(800) 451-2711

Benefits include paid health and life insurance, sick days, and vacations. Many officers are covered by pension plans that allow them to retire at half their pay after twenty or twenty-five years of service.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service