Police officers dedicate their careers to ensuring safety within their community. They work to protect diverse areas, depending on the situation and needs of the community. Police officers apprehend and arrest criminals to absolve crime in their assigned districts.
Police officers dedicate their careers to ensuring safety within their community.
With the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) projecting a growth rate of 7%, and the opportunity to rise into high-level promotions, the career makes a great option for criminal justice and law enforcement graduates to pursue.
This page outlines the steps to becoming a police officer, expected job duties, salary and growth information, professional organizations within the field, and degree possibilities, serving as a great resource for aspiring law enforcement.
What Does a Police Officer Do?
Police officers arrest suspects and offenders, testify in cases, and collect evidence. They also patrol neighborhoods in an effort to prevent crimes and stop threats on the community. Most police work occurs in the field, covering a specific jurisdiction with minimal office tasks for clerical aspects. Police officers often work nights and weekends and must maintain good physical condition to adhere to the intense demands of the job.
Police officers deal with a variety of tasks depending on the day, an area's needs, and their skill and experience level. Aspiring police officers who want to learn more about the profession can conduct research online to review the typical job duties of a police officer, the physical demands they might face, and any requirements they must meet to enter the field.Police Officer Job Description
How to Become a Police Officer
To become a police officer, individuals should first learn about the profession to decide whether it fits them or not, noting the daily responsibilities and duties of a police officer, the work environment, and the salary potential. To become a police officer, learners must earn a high school diploma or a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.
After earning a degree, graduates need to pass the law enforcement entrance exam and graduate from the police academy. From there, they can put in job time and reach milestones for promotion.
Steps For Becoming a Police Officer
Learn more about the profession to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Earn a high school diploma or degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.
Pass the law enforcement entrance exam.
Graduate from the police academy.
Take the steps toward getting a promotion.
If you want to learn more about the degree options for police officers, you can review the following pages for detailed information: Criminal Justice Degree Page Overview and the Guide to Criminal Justice System.
Police Officer Salary and Job Growth
Salary rates and employment opportunities for police officers can vary depending on experience, employer, and location. Police officers with more experience and time in the field typically enjoy higher salaries than entry-level professionals. Since the cost of living also varies by location, the pay rate for police officers can change depending on the municipality.
Those interested in finding more information about the salary opportunities for police officers can review the Police Officer Salary page.Police Officer Salary
Andrew Carrico is a certified police officer and prior corrections corporal in Nebraska. He worked in a maximum security prison for two years and is going on three years in police and security work with an emphasis on law enforcement abilities in the private and public setting.
What made you decide to pursue a career as a police officer? Was it something that you were always interested in?
I decided to pursue my career in law enforcement as a police officer because of my ability to serve and share my life experiences and how I dealt and struggled growing up in my community. I also knew that I was very good with handling high-stress events and dealing with children and youth. I took an approach of doing all I could to get down to their level, relate to them, and show them new avenues of dealing with their emotions and how what they did now would affect all that they wanted to do later. I knew I was good at it. I saw the value of that in police work, as not everyone needs a ticket or to be arrested, and started working toward becoming an officer.
Working as a police officer was not something I was always interested in, but I did consider it for a while because I wanted to be in the military, have the high standard of wearing the uniform, and the feeling of giving back and serving others so they can succeed. Service to others and committing to others' success was my only goal. The pride and feelings that come with graduating from a police academy and swearing in are an astronomical feeling of worth, to put it lightly.
How important is a college degree for individuals considering a career as a police officer?
Having a degree isn’t always a requirement to become your typical police officer; however, this can vary with each state and their departments' policy. Some departments are known to require a certain amount of college-level credits. Typically, a bachelor's degree is required for you to be promoted to sergeant and above. Still, holding a degree and similar work experience will look better for you upon the hiring process.
Having a double degree or a major and minor in something complimenting of criminal justice is a solid way to go, such as a minor in criminal justice and a major in psychology with an emphasis on behavioral health and counseling. Always be diverse within learning, whether it's schooling-, training-, or tactic- focused. Don’t just focus on the criminal justice bachelor’s or master's degree, expand what you know so that when you have to talk a guy down from harming himself, you have prior knowledge in the field.
Police work involves a lot of behaviors and mental issues. This cannot be said enough. You are dealing with the behaviors of people not just on the law side. You get people on their worst days, not always their best, and you need to be able to successfully interact with them.
What does continuing education look like for you in the profession?
Continuing education for myself and others can involve courses and training not typically available in a college course setting. This could include shooting drills, de-escalation techniques, threat assessment, and even ways to spot human or drug trafficking. I will also focus the next few years on completing courses to be a mental health counselor and coach to better assist people with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of self harm or harm to others that police officers see frequently in their work.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as a police officer?
Serving the community and knowing that you are impacting others' lives whether you know it or see it at all. Someone feels like you are protecting them and keeping them and the community safe at night. Countless times, I am thanked in and out of uniform for work I have done, even if it was normal traffic stops, by citizens who may have never seen me. Focus on the change and positivity you can bring to your life and community. Another aspect that some people may not see is the impact on your family -- your kids and spouse. They are just as much a part of your badge and uniform as you are. Your kids will always be watching you. And your significant other will have your back if you have theirs. That is the reward.
What are some of the challenging aspects?
When not dealt with correctly and timely, mainly challenging aspects from working in high-stress situations and the on-and-off that police work can be, is mental and physical health. Take care of yourself. You will -- and I mean that -- you will always hear about taking care of yourself because the people that didn’t suffered the most. Law enforcement has one of the highest suicide rates for employment in the country because of the life of the job. It is far different from other work out there. If you are being mentally drained and feeling depressed, anxious, or worse, it is up to you to go seek help in the form of therapy or taking time off work. This cannot be stressed enough. The guys and girls that seek help and assist others going through the same emotions will be the leaders because they have shown their vulnerability and weakness. That is not a bad thing. You are sworn to serve and protect, and that is what you are doing with your other brothers and sisters in uniform alongside you.
Focus on your physical fitness and health as it coincides to your mental well-being as well. Workout, meal prep, brown-bag it to work, do not eat fast food, stay hydrated, and take care of your body when you are sick. Stress this to yourself and to others. Don’t be the guy that is running after a suspect or running to a call for help, and once you are there, you cannot breathe. Run and run more to keep your endurance up. This sounds so easy that everyone should be doing it, but you know that you see police officers that are not in shape. The job gets long and dull at times and then -- boom -- excitement. Those exciting times are your time to shine that you have kept up with your health. It is easy to fall off track, but you need to push through for you, your family, and brothers and sisters in blue.
There are a few other aspects that can be talked about in your career as a police officer. One important one is what I refer to as that call -- the call that either changes your life and mindset or the one that will make you think twice about the job. This is completely different for every person, but when you receive that call, you will know. That is when you need to focus on caring for you. Many officers receive the call within the first week or day. Some officers never receive the call that can reshape them.
What advice would you give to aspiring police officers?
Like before, stay up on your physical and mental health. Be consistent with the person you are and want to become. Stay up with friends outside of law enforcement and the friends who were there before your new career. Also remember that you will indeed outgrow friendships and relations with people you have known as you’ll acquire more skills, training, and new business, but do not let that scare you or ruffle your feathers as it is completely fine. Train, train, train, and then train more. Training includes everything from acquisition and conference events focused in and around law enforcement. And always do the right thing. You are taught core values that are the departments' values. One of those might be integrity, which is doing the right thing when no one else is looking. Be that person always. Hold up your own core values in your life and family as well as the departments'. Do the right thing always.
Any last thoughts for us?
Law enforcement is a tough job, as we are scrutinized in the media, by the public, and sometimes by our own family. But many times we are not. We are thanked, cherished, and loved by people we don’t even know and people we come home to every night. The goal is to go home, and the goal is to serve yourself so that you serve your community. We are here to enforce the laws; that is why we are referred to as law enforcement officers. But we are also here to educate, mediate, and defuse situations that we didn’t even cause. Be the best person you can be in house and in uniform so that when you are asked the same questions about becoming a police officer, you can give real, hard, honest answers to the best of the job and worst while also enlightening the new recruits on how to be better daily. Be you, be firm, fair, and consistent.
Take the Next Steps
Before becoming a police officer, many individuals decide to earn an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. Interested learners can access the pages below to learn about the differences between the two degree types and explore the opportunities that exist for both disciplines.
Criminal Justice Degree & Career Information
Aspiring police officers considering earning a degree in criminal justice can review this page to learn about the online, associate, bachelor's, and master's opportunities available in the field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement
Individuals considering pursuing a bachelor's degree in law enforcement can access this resource to learn about the online possibilities, curriculum, program length, and employment outlook related to the discipline.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Aspiring police officers can explore a variety of professional organizations and resources in the field that can open up new and exciting opportunities for them. Professional organizations often serve as gateways into networking opportunities, leading members to learn about new job opportunities and build lasting professional connections in their field. Members of professional organizations also enjoy access to specialized resources to provide them with career development and opportunities to further advance their knowledge and skills in the field.
- National Association of Police OrganizationsFunctioning as a coalition of police associations and unions, NAPO advances the interests of America's law enforcement officers through political action, education, and legislative advocacy.
- National Sheriffs’ Association NSA began in 1940 as a professional association dedicated to serving the Office of the Sheriff along with its affiliates through law enforcement training and education and through general law enforcement informational resources.
- The United Deputy Sheriffs’ Association Dedicated to supporting and training law enforcement professionals across the U.S., USDSA functions as a nonprofit organization that offers a highly acclaimed training program.