Patrol officers are hired to maintain law and order in the communities they serve. They perform many different functions, from catching speeders and issuing tickets to directing traffic and responding to 911 calls. Most police officers begin their careers as patrol officers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that police and sheriff's patrol officers earned an average of $57,770 per year as of May 2012. However, patrol officers reported a range of average salaries that varied by employment sector and by location.
Salary by Employment Sector
The vast majority of patrol officers are employed by local governments, the BLS says. These officers reported an average salary of $57,670 per year as of 2012. Those employed by state governments, who are sometimes called highway patrol officers, earned a higher average of $62,810 per year, while those employed by the federal government reported a lower average salary of $52,620. Patrol officers employed by colleges and universities averaged $48,500 per year. Those employed by elementary and secondary schools averaged $43,410 per year.
Salary by Location
In general, patrol officers earned the highest average salaries in the Northeast and West and the lowest average salaries in the Southeast. Patrol officers in New Jersey reported the highest average salary, at $84,930 per year, followed closely by those in California, who averaged $84,320. The lowest average salary, $31,600 per year, was reported by patrol officers working in Mississippi.
While the benefits for patrol officers vary from agency to agency, most receive some form of benefits so long as they are full-time officers. For example, patrol officers usually receive medical and dental insurance, as well as paid sick leave and paid vacation time. They might also be allowed to enroll in employer-funded retirement programs, receive tuition assistance for attending college, and be eligible for early retirement after 20 or 25 years of service.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of jobs for police and detectives will increase 8 percent between 2010 and 2020. While this growth rate is below the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations, it will still create approximately 54,600 new jobs. Job opportunities are expected to be best at local departments, particularly for applicants who are bilingual or have military experience. After several years of working as a local patrol officer, many will have the opportunity to advance into a position with a state or federal agency or be promoted to the position of detective.
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