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Career ProfilePolice Officer

What They Do

To serve as a police officer is to accept a rewarding, yet sometimes dangerous, career path. A police officer’s primary duty is to offer protection over lives and property by enforcing the law. The vast majority carry radios, handcuffs and guns. Specific daily responsibilities include:

• Responding to emergency and non-emergency calls
• Patrolling assigned areas (officers assigned to large jurisdictions typically have a partner)
• Conducting traffic stops and issuing citations
• Obtaining warrants and arresting suspects
• Writing detailed reports and filling out forms
• Preparing cases and testifying in court

Additional responsibilities might include investigating suspicious activity and giving first aid to accident victims. Those interested in becoming police officers should note that job functions can vary if an officer works within a specialty unit, like canine, horseback, narcotics or special weapons and tactics (SWAT). A policeman or woman typically has to be employed successfully as a patrol officer for a certain amount of time before they can be assigned to a special unit.

Work Environment

A police officer’s job can be stressful, dangerous and physically demanding. Officers must be alert and prepared to respond quickly at all times. It is a routine part of an officer’s job to work at accident scenes and crime scenes. This is why they must learn to process being exposed to death and tragedy. However, the vast majority of police officers report feeling they have a rewarding career helping their communities.

Because the protection of the public must be guaranteed, police departments run on a shift schedule. It’s common for an officer to receive paid overtime. The longer an officer works for a department, their night, weekend and holiday work will decrease.

Career Growth and Salary Potential

Salary for police officers will vary depending upon location, experience, the size of his or her employer and other factors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for police officers is $56,980. This job is projected to grow five percent by 2022. The growing need for public safety will ensure the need for a qualified, dedicated police force.

Police officers typically are entitled to a promotion after a certain amount of time on the force. Promotions to sergeant, corporal, lieutenant and captain are given based on an officer’s performance. In some departments, moving up from a police officer may allow a person to become a detective or specialize in an area of police work that interests them.

Special Skills and Qualifications

The following skills will aid in an officer’s success:

• Strong communication skills
• Empathy
• Solid judgment
• Leadership skills
• Perceptiveness/intuition
• Physical strength/stamina

Education Required

While entry-level positions require only a high school diploma or GED and graduation from a training academy, having a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a master’s degree in criminal justice leadership will increase career and earning potential for police officers. Further, those with military experience and those who are bilingual will have the greatest number of career options. Candidates must be U.S. citizens and be able to meet staunch qualifications (both physical and mental).