careertrend article image
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Police Officer Duties & Responsibilities

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Police officer duties can be summed up as protecting people and property. On a daily basis the responsibility of a police officer can include investigating a bomb threat, confronting an armed shooter, or comforting someone whose spouse just died. No matter what the world throws at them, a cop's duty is to handle it. If you like the same routine, day after day, a police officer career may not be right for you.

Who Can Be a Cop?

Police officers are hired by cities and counties all across the country. Each department gets to set its own requirements, but some are near universal:

  • You're a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, or will be by the time you finish your training.
  • You do not have any felony convictions. Some departments rule applicants out for misdemeanors too; others will deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
  • You have a driver's license and you're not barred from driving.
  • You aren't prohibited from carrying firearms.
  • Police officers need to be in top physical condition. If you're blind, deaf or overweight, you won't make the cut. Untreated mental problems, such as PTSD, may disqualify you.
  • You pass a drug test.
  • You meet the police academy's educational requirements. In some states, that's as much as 60 hours of college credit.
  • Speaking a foreign language fluently is an asset.

If you meet the basic requirements, you can apply to the police academy in your community. If they accept you, then you have to pass a written exam. Then comes 12 to 14 weeks of intensive academy training before you start your police officer career.

Because law-enforcement officer duties involve helping and protecting their community, their personal ethics and integrity are vital. You have to interact with a wide range of people of different races, faiths and attitudes. Every one of them is entitled to professional treatment and objective judgment. If things go south and become stressful or dangerous, you need the strength to handle events without losing your cool.

Police Officer Job Description

A police officer's day can range from numbing boredom to deadly danger. Typical tasks include patrolling assigned areas, responding to emergencies and answering nonemergency calls for help. Officers conduct traffic stops, issue citations, search for vehicle records, arrest suspects and write detailed reports. They may have to engage in gun play or hand-to-hand combat, but it's a lot rarer in real life than on TV or in the movies.

Protecting citizens involves more than just stopping robberies or tackling muggers. Police officers often provide security in non-emergency situations. For example a business owner might ask an officer to accompany him to his car late at night, or to the bank when making a late-night deposit. If you're concerned about a family member, such as an elderly parent, you can ask the police to make a welfare check. Police officers are usually willing to provide directions on how to start a neighborhood watch.

Police officers also devote time to education. They appear at town halls or other community events making presentations on safety, crime-prevention, new programs and other activities. Officers often visit schools educating students on various topics such as gang resistance and avoiding drugs. These programs also help build trust between teenagers and police officers.

Then there are the wild cards cops may encounter over the course of a police officer career.

  • Transporting a human organ to a hospital for transplant.
  • Talking a suicidal person out of pulling the trigger.
  • Carrying groceries after a homeowner slips and injures himself as he returns from the store.
  • Delivering a baby when a woman goes into labor in an isolated area.

The responsibility of a police officer faced with the unexpected is to help in any way that the officer can.