What Interests and Abilities Do You Need to Become a Cop?
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Law enforcement officers protect the lives, safety and property of those around them. This requires an interest in protecting and serving your community or the area where you are assigned. The numerous skills and abilities that are part of a police, or law enforcement, officer's daily job requirements include physical, mental and emotional components.
Law enforcement often exposes officers to risk of personal injury and other threats. You must have enough interest in protecting others that you are willing to place yourself at risk to help those around you, even if you don't know them or even personally dislike them.
Police officers must have basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, as well as analytical thinking and analysis skills, which allow them to quickly assess high-tension situations. Most law-enforcement training programs require entrants to have a high school diploma or GED. If you plan to move up to detective status within the police force, training in basic forensic science is useful, although requirements vary according to individual police departments. Problem-solving skills in general, whether gained through formal or informal education, are part of being a police officer, and keen observational skills give you a better chance of success.
Police officers must not only be able to use weapons, such as guns and nightsticks, but understand when to use them. Solid judgment regarding how much physical force to use is necessary whether you are armed or not, and the ability to rationally make these decisions quickly in stressful situations is essential. Self-defense training and martial-arts skills can enhance your ability to perform police duties.
A large part of police work requires writing and reviewing reports, so computer skills, typing skills and the ability to communicate accurately and concisely are a must. Organization skills are also important in keeping track of reports, following up on paperwork and locating necessary documents if they are needed later.
The ability to remain loyal and honest and perform your work with integrity under adverse conditions can play a large role in long-term success as an officer. Getting along with others also plays a key role in this work, as police work is team-oriented, and your co-workers' lives may periodically depend on your actions, which requires great trust between officers. Good health, physical fitness and the ability to work various shifts are all important to police work.
An interest in the law in general is useful for entering the law-enforcement field, as it will make keeping up with changing laws less of a chore. If you plan to work up to a detective position, an interest in solving mysteries becomes necessary.
Making a Living
Police officers in the United States earned an average of $55,620 per year as of May 2010, with state patrol officers earning slightly more than local patrol officers according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Detectives earn significantly more, averaging $73,010 per year. When considering law enforcement as a career, you must determine whether these wages are adequate for the amount of work and personal risk expected on the job.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition -- Police and Detectives
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police Officer
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment and Wages -- Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers; May 2010
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment and Wages -- Detectives and Criminal Investigators; May 2010
Anne Hirsh has been writing and editing for over 10 years. She has hands-on experience in cooking, visual arts and theater as well as writing experience covering wellness and animal-related topics. She also has extensive research experience in marketing, small business, Web development and SEO. Hirsh has a bachelor's degree in technical theater and English and post-baccalaureate training in writing and computer software.