A career in law enforcement provides the opportunity to detect and prevent crimes, while maintaining order and safety. It’s neither the most glamorous profession nor the most highly paid field, and it often involves long hours and hard work. On the other hand, law enforcement officials are generally well-respected and can earn above-average salaries.
Law enforcement is an intricate network of local, state and federal agencies that offers a variety of career choices. Local and state agencies hire uniformed police officers; state troopers, also known as highway patrol officers; sheriffs and deputy sheriffs; and detectives and criminal investigators. Other types of law enforcement include fish and game wardens, and transit and railroad police. On the federal level, you may work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, the Secret Service and many other agencies.
While a career in law enforcement is not the path to riches, the pay is decent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2012, police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned an annual mean salary of $57,770. Detectives and criminal investigators made $77,860 a year; fish and game wardens earned $49,400 a year; and transit and railroad police made $57,880 a year. Newly assigned FBI special agents can earn $43,441 a year, plus locality and availability pay, while the salary for U.S. Secret Service officers ranges from $43,964 to $74,891 a year.
While chasing criminals isn't for everyone, law enforcement agents never have to wonder if they are making a difference. In a society without law and order, miscreants would run rampant and troublemakers would wreak havoc. The law enforcement community has been described as the “thin blue line” that separates order from chaos. Whether on a local, state or national level, agents protect lives and property while apprehending criminals, which provides a sense of fulfillment and can also be an adrenaline rush.
Individuals who consider it important to work in a respectable career field have reason to choose law enforcement. According to a Gallup survey, law enforcement ranks high among professions that are considered honorable and respectable. The December 2012 Gallup poll asked participants to rank the honesty and ethics of 22 professions. Police officers ranked No. 6 of the 22 professions, placing higher than college professors, journalists and even clergy.