They are sworn to “protect and serve,” and represent the most common and familiar law enforcement people we see. They are police patrol officers or “police officers” and are tasked with enforcing laws, maintaining ordinances, preventing crime, arresting violators and, yes, directing traffic. Most police officers work for local communities; some may work for a county sheriff’s department or as a state trooper.
Maintaining public safety plays a critical part in the day-to-day activities of police officers. When an emergency call is placed, an accident observed, a crisis begins to unfold or property has been reported vandalized, the police respond. Police officers attempt to build and maintain community relations, by meeting citizens and working cooperatively. These professionals will record facts related to reported incidents, patrol neighborhoods on foot or in a vehicle, provide assistance to crime victims, call for EMS help as needed, and testify in court as required. Police officers must be able to review the facts, build a case, present evidence, take photographs and interview citizens and alleged perpetrators.
The education requirements for police officers varies and can range from possessing a high school diploma to obtaining a college degree. Most officers must have attend and graduate from training academy and complete on-the-job training.
With degree requirements varying, prospective police officer candidates should understand the education requirements of different police departments. Most departments require candidates to be at least 21, and will exclude anyone with a reported narcotics abuse history. Those that have committed a felony, have poor credit, been terminated from a job or have numerous traffic violations may find themselves disqualified.
Acquiring a criminal justice degree can open doors for police officer candidates. Both associate and bachelor’s degrees are offered with courses in speech, criminal investigation, human psychology, legal policy and digital photography required.
As of 2012 the median annual wage for police officers was $55,270 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those in the 10th percentile earned $32,300 per year on average and those in the 25th percentile could expect to make $41,500 per year notes the BLS. Those in the 75th percentile earned $72,500 per year on average while those in the 90th percentile could expect to make $89,300 per year on average.
Average police officer salaries vary widely across the United States, ranging from a high of $87,000 per year in New Jersey down to $30,800 per year in Mississippi as of 2012. Other states where police officer salaries were well above average included California at $85,500, New York coming in at $75,300, Alaska at $73,800 and Illinois where the average salary was $70,700. Arkansas at $35,400 per year, West Virginia at $36,600 per year and Georgia at $36,700 per year were among the states reporting the lowest average wages across the country.
The BLS forecasts that job growth for police officers will increase by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020. That number is well below the 14 percent average for all jobs. Improved opportunities should exist on the local level with more competition on the state and federal levels.
Job security is considered very good for police officers as layoffs are rare. Budget constraints may restrict job growth, but once a police officer is hired and maintains good job performance, he or she can expect a long career. Police officers typically receive a pension with some departments such as New York City fully vesting officers after 20 years of service.
See Also — Career Choice: Criminal Investigator