Job Profile: Police Officers and Detectives

It is the job of a police officer to uphold the law, to serve and protect the lives and properties of citizens.

A law enforcement officer carries out laws and ordinances as they endeavor to protect the lives and properties of the general public. While the actual duties of a police officer may vary depending on the size and type of organization to which he belongs, their chief concern is to uphold the law, help people in need and keep them and their possessions safe.

What Police Officers Do

Assignments and instructions are provided to police officers by their superiors and may include a variety of tasks such as:

  • Respond to complaints and calls for police help (e.g., fire, vehicular accidents, theft, domestic violence, missing persons).
  • Patrol specific areas (on foot, on horseback, on a motorcycle or in a police cruiser) to enforce traffic and regulations and to prevent crimes or assist in the apprehension of suspected criminals.
  • Investigate crimes, interview eyewitnesses and suspects, search for, acquire and preserve material evidences of crime, maintain surveillance over suspicious persons and places.
  • Apprehend criminals.
  • Interview complainants and attempt to manage situations or direct them to appropriate persons or experts.
  • Investigate scenes of accidents, provide first-aid care to injured persons, secure the area to prevent further accidents, and interview and take written statements from those involved or eyewitnesses.
  • Direct traffic in the event of vehicular accidents, catastrophic events, parades or highway repairs and maintenance.
  • Escort funerals, house-movers.
  • Maintain peace and order for public events.
  • Escort high-profile witnesses or prisoners to and from court, ensuring they are properly guarded.
  • Write up detailed reports and fill out and file forms, keep detailed records that may be needed later on.
  • Prepare for and testify in court if needed.
  • Perform other related duties as they are assigned by officers of superior rank.

Work Environment

Police officer jobs can be physically taxing, stressful and often dangerous. In fact, this occupation has one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and deaths. Being a cop means that you will need to be constantly alert and prepared to act and respond appropriately in a variety of situations. You should expect to be called to work at scenes involving crimes, accidents or traumatic events and learn to deal with death and suffering.

On the other hand, becoming a police officer allows you to impact the lives of others positively by being a part of a team of experts that solves crimes and puts lawbreakers behind bars.

Most police officers work full time. Paid overtime is not uncommon, as is shift work, largely due to the fact that maintaining order, keeping the peace and providing protection is required 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including weekends and holidays.

Career Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020. However, this number can vary from year to year and from one place to another since the level of government spending usually determines their level of employment. The BLS reports that the median annual wage of cops and detectives in 2010 was $55,010. Aside from competitive salaries, many law enforcement agencies provide allowances for uniforms, extensive benefits and an early retirement option to police officers.