Law Enforcement Officer

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 883,600 police and detectives. These law enforcement officers provide the foundation of our legal system and support the work of all other legal professionals.

What is the job of a law enforcement officer?

Law enforcement officers patrol our streets and neighborhoods and protect lives and property. When a crime has been committed, detectives investigate the incident and pursue the suspects. Once the suspect is apprehended, the law enforcement officer gathers evidence and presents it to the court. They also make traffic stops, direct traffic when needed, and answer calls for assistance. Much of their time is spent in writing reports.

The work of a law enforcement officer depends on the location and type of job. Local police patrol the city or town, while deputy sheriffs handle enforcement in the county. State law enforcement or police enforce traffic laws on state highways and respond to assistance requests from other law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides investigative services to the federal government. Other federal agencies include the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

What are the requirements for the job?

Police officers must have a high school diploma and usually have at least an Associate degree. Federal agencies require a college degree or work experience. For example, a candidate for the FBI is required to have a college degree and three years of law enforcement experience or an advanced degree and two years of experience.

State and local officers attend a period of training before beginning work. Usually the training academies last 12 to 14 weeks.
Law enforcement officers must have good people skills, be detail oriented, be able to analyze and observe carefully. They must have a good reputation and qualities such as integrity and personal responsibility. Most police officers have a strong sense of service.

What is the work environment?

Law enforcement work can be stressful and hazardous. A police officer must be on guard during his whole shift and ready to deal with criminals, traffic accidents, and other people. They witness tragedies in other people’s lives, which can be a big strain on them.

Most law enforcement officers work a 40-hour week, but overtime hours are usually available. The shifts cover all hours of the day and night and include nights, weekends, and holidays. Even off duty officers are expected to respond to incidents in their vicinity.

Salaries, job advancement and outlook

Median salaries for local police and sheriff employees were $51,000 in 2008. Supervisors earned about $75,000 while detectives and investigators made $61,000. A police lieutenant could make $66,000 while a captain would be at $73,000.

A law enforcement officer typically has a probationary period from 6 months to 3 years. He/she can advance in his own department, reaching detective, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or captain by his place on a promotion list. The promotion list is set by scores on written exams as well as your personal record in the department.

Federal officials are on the General Services (GS) pay scale. Advancement comes through time-in-grade and experience.

Job openings for law enforcement officials are expected to grow at about 10% over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Openings will be created by the retirement or resignation of other officers. The number of jobs and salaries depend on government spending, so that is a factor in the growth of both.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014

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