Careers in the Police Force

by Rose Johnson

Police officers are critical to ensuring the safety of the general public. They act on behalf of local, state, and federal government agencies to enforce laws that protect citizens and property. Although a career in the police force can be very rewarding, police officers are constantly placed in dangerous situations. If you desire a career in the police force, it is critical to understand the basic job duties performed by officers and the qualifications needed to secure employment.

To Serve and Protect

Local police officers are typically assigned to a particular jurisdiction within a city or county. In contrast, state police officers are given the power to enforce laws anywhere within the state. The duties of state and local police often intersect. Common duties of a police officer include performing routine traffic stops, issuing traffic citations, patrolling areas within their jurisdiction and arresting individuals suspected of committing crimes. When necessary, police officers must also testify in court. State and local police officers may also work in specific units of a police force where they enforce laws against specific types of crimes. For example, a police officer may work in the narcotics unit and focus on enforcing laws related to illegal drugs.

Working for the Feds

Federal police officers carry out many of the same duties as state and local officers. A primary difference is that federal police officers have jurisdiction in every state. Federal law enforcement agents typically work within a particular specialty, and specific duties vary per specialty. Types of federal police officer careers include working for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Air Marshals. Regardless of the specific agency, the primary goal of federal police officers is to protect national security.

Knowing What it Takes

The qualifications for a career in the police force vary per agency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the minimum age for applicants is 21. A high school diploma is required for state and local police careers, and an increasing number of police force agencies require a college degree or some college coursework. Federal law enforcement agencies typically require applicants possess a bachelor’s degree, relevant work experience or a combination of both. Applicants for state, local and federal police jobs must pass written and physical exams. Most federal careers require you to pass a lie detector test.

Police Force Salary and Job Outlook

Employment for police force careers is expected to grow at a slower pace than the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, a 7-percent increase in police jobs is expected through 2020. State and federal law enforcement jobs typically pay more money than local police jobs, and as a result, are more competitive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that more police force jobs will be available in local police departments because of high turnover rates due to low pay. The 2012 average annual salary for a police officer was $57,770. The top average annual salary for the 10 percent of earners was $89,310, while the bottom 10 percent earned an average salary of $32,350.

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