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How to Become a Police Officer

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Use Your Career to Serve and Protect Your Community

If you enjoy adventure and love serving others and keeping people safe, law enforcement could be a rewarding career pursuit. Police officers help protect lives and calm people during the most intense moments of their lives. Benefits are good, but the hours can be unpredictable. Additionally, the work can be risky, so quality childcare and a good support system for you and your children help make this career choice compatible with family life.

Job Description

Police officers respond to both emergency and non-emergency calls, conduct traffic stops, patrol areas to keep them safe, obtain warrants, arrest suspects in a crime, write reports, testify in court, and work with computers to conduct searches and other office-related tasks. Paperwork is extremely important in law enforcement to properly document every interaction with the public and suspects. Most law enforcement agents must wear protective garments and carry a gun, handcuffs, flashlight and other tools of the trade. Hours can be unpredictable and long, and they can involve holidays, evenings and weekends.

Education Requirements

Police officers must obtain a high school diploma or the equivalent, and some employers also require a two- or four-year college degree, preferably in law enforcement or criminal justice. You must also graduate from your police department's police academy prior to on-the-job training and regular employment. You must pass a background check and be at least 21 years old. Additionally, you need to be physically and psychologically fit for a demanding and high-stress work environment.

The median pay for police officers is $61,600 per year, which means that half of all officers earn more than this, while the other half earns less. The top 10 percent earned more than $102,750 in the most recent evaluation, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $34,970. Detectives and criminal investigators typically earn more than others in the field, with a median income of $78,120 per year.

About the Industry

Some 78 percent of all police officers are employed by the local government and work in area police departments. The rest find work with state and federal governments, with a few working in educational settings. While some officers hold desk jobs, the majority work with the public in a variety of settings that are physically demanding and stressful. Work environments can vary from day to day and include neighborhoods, event venues, busy traffic areas, hotels and more. Police officers respond to calls in every area of the community.

Years of Experience

Police officers work hard for their income, but they usually also receive full benefits. Compensation increases with years on the job and experience that lead to promotion and advancement. One prediction of income looks like this:

  •          Entry-Level: $30,538‒$65,575
  •          Mid-Career:  $34,733‒$86,228
  •          Experienced: $35,425‒$96,001
  •          Late Career:  $40,397‒$110,330

Job Growth Trend

Job opportunities for police officers are expected to grow by seven percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as in other industries. Competition for positions can be steep. To stand out among your peers, stay fit, learn one or two additional languages, take some criminal justice classes, consider military experience and gain investigative experience.