Recession-Proof Career: Police Officer

By Michelle Fabio

During an economic downturn many industries experience downsizing and lay-offs, but as public safety is a constant concern, police officers are always in demand – and that makes a “police officer” a member of a recession-proof career.

Even if local, state and federal governments are forced to lay off police officers, the private sector offers even more opportunities for employment and always offers part-time and flexible hours. Private security agencies can always use qualified personnel to work as security guards, and training as a police officer can give a job candidate an added advantage.

What do police officers do?

Police officers enforce the law, protect lives and property and generally maintain order and peace in the community. During the course of their duty, they may patrol neighborhoods, make arrests, write reports, collect evidence, testify in court and make presentations to groups regarding law enforcement.

Police officers may be employed as patrol officers on the local level; sheriffs and deputy sheriffs on the county level; state police officers, state troopers or highway patrol officers on the state level; fish and game wardens; FBI agents; or Department of Homeland Security officers.

There is much room for advancement within the police department with ranks including:

  • Corporal
  • Sergeant
  • Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • deputy chief
  • Chief

Promotion is possible after a probationary period of six months to three years and is usually granted based on job performance and written test scores.

How do you become a police officer?

Police officer candidates generally must be at least 20 years old, meet demanding physical and personal standards, pass written examinations and sometimes personality interviews or tests and have at least a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). Some departments also require an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree.

A degree in criminal justice, for instance, would not only increase a candidate’s chance of appointment to a police academy but may also mean a higher salary.

Police academy training usually lasts about 12 to 14 weeks and includes instruction in civil rights, constitutional law, state and local ordinances, accident investigation, emergency response, traffic control, firearm usage, self-defense and first-aid.

Police officers are also expected to participate in continuing training throughout their careers to better hone skills and techniques and to keep abreast of relevant legal developments.

What are the salary and benefits of police officers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police and sheriff’s patrol officers had median annual wages of $53,210 in May 2009. Those employed by the federal government made annual mean wages of $51,060, those employed by the state government earned annual mean wages of $58,860, and those in local government earned $55,120.

Remember that total earnings for many police officers is often greater than the reported earnings because they tend to work a large amount of paid overtime in addition to regular, salaried hours.

What is the job outlook for police officers?

According to the BLS, the job growth of police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 11%, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations until 2016. But in local departments in particular, police officer opportunities are expected to be “excellent” as the public becomes increasingly concerned with safety and security.

The BLS stresses that those with law enforcement or military experience along with college work, especially an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, will enjoy the best career opportunities on all levels of police officer employment.

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