Police officers are government employees tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the law and maintaining order, protecting life and property, and preserving the peace. They have the authority to detain and arrest suspected offenders.
Most police departments have certain minimum requirements regarding age, height, vision and physical fitness. Once these requirements are met, candidates can expect a written entrance exam, oral interview, polygraph and drug screening tests, detailed background investigation, medical examination, physical agility test and some form of psychological testing.
Though the minimum requirement to become a cop is a high school diploma or equivalent, such as the GED, earning a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement provides a competitive edge in this highly competitive field. Many law enforcement agencies pay higher salaries to personnel with advanced degrees.
Working as a police officer requires confronting dangerous criminals, collecting evidence, enforcing traffic laws, recovering stolen property and resolving reported disturbances among other duties. Since cops serve and protect the public, they literally put their lives on the line each time they go to work.
A police officer should possess certain critical character traits to ensure success on the job, including:
Obtaining employment as a police officer is a highly competitive task. According to some estimates, as many as 100 people apply for every law enforcement job opening. Even so, this is a growing field and career chances for qualified candidates are excellent.
The salary range for police officers varies widely depending on location, rank, duties and education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2006, police and sheriff’s patrol officers had an average annual income of about $47,460, with a salary range running from a low of less than $27,310 to a high of more than $72,450. For similar job duties, median annual wages were $45,510 for federal positions, $52,540 for state positions and $47,190 for local positions.
Job experience and higher education can lead to advanced positions, such as police and detective supervisors. According to the BLS, the average salary for police and detective supervisors was $69,310 in 2006, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $104,410.