A career as a police officer can be fast-paced, exciting and very rewarding. It’s a high-profile job where you will be protecting the community at large and making a difference in people’s lives. Whether you enjoy the energy of an urban city or the slower pace of rural life, there are a number of areas in law enforcement where you can contribute as a police officer.

Job Outlook for Police Officers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for police officers are expected to grow 10% through 2018. Cities with large population growth will see the greatest demand for police services, as well as departments that need to replace officers who are retiring. The BLS notes that candidates may find it easiest to land police officer jobs in local police departments that offer lower-than-average salaries, or in high-crime urban areas. Those who are bilingual, have military experience or completed a criminal justice degree may have an advantage in securing positions in local and state departments. Unlike other professions, police officers experience few layoffs as retiring officers make way for new ones.

Job Duties

A police officer’s job duties can run the gamut from performing routine office and desk work, patrolling a specific beat, responding to calls for assistance and directing traffic at accident scenes, to chasing criminals, making arrests, booking suspects and appearing in court. Police officers also need to write thorough reports and keep records relating to the incidents they encounter while working.

Job Environment

No two days are alike for a police officer, so those seeking a routine 9-to-5 job need not apply. Generally, police officers work long and often physically draining hours. They work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and may be on duty nights, weekends and holidays. Those working more than 40 hours will typically receive overtime pay. The pressure can be significant, depending on department, shift and assignments.

Given all the responsibilities of protecting and serving the public, police officer jobs can be a dangerous, high-stress occupation. The most successful police officers have the ability to think on their feet, react calmly and professionally in tense situations, and effectively manage different personalities.

Police Officer Salary Potential

The BLS reports that the average annual earnings for sheriff’s patrol and police officers were $55,180 in May 2009. Salaries ranged from a low $31,400 to a high of $83,550, with the middle 50% earning between $40,450 and $67,990. Associate’s degree holders generally have better employment opportunities than those with only a high-school education. They typically start out in the low to lower-middle salary range and work their way up with further training and experience. The most competitive and highest-paying jobs – such as those with federal agencies – often require a bachelor’s degree.

Education and Training

Most police officers hold a minimum of a high school degree; however, many police departments prefer their recruits to have some college education, such as an associate’s degree. All federal police agencies require a college degree.

The first step for those looking to become a police officer can be an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Graduates of these programs are able to:

  • Specify the causes of criminal and delinquent behavior, and identify methods to prevent them.
  • Understand the complicated relationships between the legal, psychological and historical influences impacting the U.S. legal system.
  • Apply critical-thinking methods to identify and solve problems.
  • Master practical skills that can be used immediately on the job.
  • Apply associate’s course credits toward a bachelor’s degree, which can lead to better job opportunities and higher pay.

Is a Police Officer Job Right for You?

Police officers are employed in one of the nation’s most trusted and respected professions. If you enjoy a constantly changing environment, working with a diverse group of people and helping others – and if you have the fortitude to handle challenging and dangerous situations – then a police officer job could be the ideal career for you.

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