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Career Information: Police Officer

— U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Updated on Mar 13, 2010

What is this job like?

Police and detectives enforce laws. They catch criminals. They collect evidence. At times they testify in court. Others patrol set areas to prevent crime. Some patrol and give out traffic tickets. Some police direct traffic. Most police wear uniforms; detectives and special agents work in regular clothes. Most detectives are part of regular police forces. Special agents work for Federal and State agencies. They file reports about what they've done during the day.

Most police work on foot or ride in cars. Some, however, ride horses, bikes, or motorcycles. Some work in boats on rivers and in harbors. Some police work with dogs.

Most police and detectives work at least 40 hours a week. When they work longer, they get extra pay. Because police work is a 24-hour-a-day job, some police have to work nights and weekends. They have to be ready to go to work at all times. Police may work very long hours on a case. Some have to travel a lot, often on short notice.

Some police work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Some take very big risks when they chase criminals in cars or when they make an arrest. The job can be very stressful and dangerous for the police officer. The officer's family may worry a lot. Good training, teamwork, and good equipment reduce the number of injuries and deaths among police officers.

How do you get ready? 

Most police officers must be U.S. citizens. They must be healthy and strong and of good character. To get a job, a person must pass a written test, be at least a high school graduate, and have some work experience.

Some local, special, and State police units want recruits to have some college training. All Federal police agencies require a college degree. Many police units encourage new recruits to take college courses in police work.

How much does this job pay?

The middle half of all police and sheriff's patrol officers earned between $35,600 and $59,880 a year in 2006. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $27,310. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $72,450 a year.

The middle half of all police and detective supervisors earned between $53,900 and $83,940 a year in 2006. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $41,260. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $104,410 a year.

The middle half of all detectives and criminal investigators earned between $43,920 and $76,350 a year in 2006. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $34,480. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $92,590 a year.

Police get paid for overtime. Police also receive paid vacation, sick leave, and medical and life insurance. Often they get money for uniforms. Many retire at half-pay after 25 or 30 years of service.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 861,000 police and detectives in 2006. About 79 percent worked for local governments. They worked mainly in cities and towns with more than 25,000 people. The rest worked for State or Federal police agencies.

What about the future?

Employment of police and detectives is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. This is because people are concerned about crime and safety. Many people are attracted to police work because it is challenging. There will be a lot of opportunities for people who want to be police officers at local police departments. People who have military experience, college training in police science, or both should have the best chance of getting a job.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Construction and building inspectors
  • Correctional officers
  • Customs and immigration inspectors
  • Firefighting occupations (fire marshals)
  • Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians (health inspectors)
  • Private detectives and investigators
  • Security guards and gaming surveillance officers

Where can you find more information?

More BLS information about police and detectives can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook also shows where to find out even more about this job.

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