Career Overview: Police Officer

What They Do

The chief aim of a police officer, or law enforcement officer, should be to serve and protect people and property. Generally, police officers are assigned particular areas to patrol, which may include a large jurisdiction, specific geographic zones or a smaller neighborhood. Ideally, police officers familiarize themselves with a normal route or designated zone so that they can respond to suspicious activity or a crime quickly, develop personal relationships with local citizens and promote a sense of protection and safety in the area. Police officers respond to calls, enforce laws when necessary, issue citations, make arrests and may be called on to appear in court for the purposes of furthering a case in the criminal justice system. Some police officers work mainly in the police station or out of their squad car as well as patrol on foot. A police officer’s main duties are to patrol, write out reports and fill out forms for administrative and legal purposes.

Career Growth

Generally, police officers begin their career as a patrol officer. After acquiring two to five years of experience and specialized training, a patrol officer can rise to the position of detective. The demand for qualified police officers is always high, regardless of the crime rate. Police officers with bachelor’s degrees have the competitive edge in the job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs for police officers and detectives will increase 5 percent by 2022.

Salary Potential

The average salary for a police officer is around $54,000 a year. Many law enforcement officers belong to a union, which can help with salary and benefit negotiations. Many departments allocate stipends for uniforms and offer extensive benefits. Working overtime is considered common for many police officers, as is overtime compensation. Detectives and criminal investigators make about $74,000 a year, while fish and game wardens make about $48,000 a year. The retirement age for police and law enforcement officers is lower than in most fields because of extensive work hours and schedules, as well as the danger that comes with policing criminal and illegal activity.


The educational requirements for a police officer may depend on the department. Some police departments in larger metropolitan areas require their new recruits to have a bachelor degree in criminal justice or a related field. A bachelor’s degree, though not always required, may help an individual wishing to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer or police officer move up the ranks faster than their colleagues who do not have a college degree. A degree in criminal justice covers subjects such as the criminal justice system, policing, corrections and punishment, and federal laws.


Other requirements for police officers include passing background checks, physical exams and police academy training programs. The formal training academies or classes for police officers cover subjects such as criminal law, investigation, community relations, administration and corrections. The average time the hiring process takes is around 12 to 18 months for a police officer.