How to Get a Job in Police and Law Enforcement

Written by James Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

City police officers are probably the first job that comes to mind when thinking of law enforcement. Main responsibilities of police officers include patrolling assigned areas, responding to calls, enforcing laws, conducting traffic stops, arresting suspects, completing reports, preparing cases for court, and testifying.

State police officers have similar responsibilities as police officers. Usually state officers focus on enforcing traffic laws.

Sheriffs and their deputies work for the county. Sheriffs are often elected or appointed by the public. Daily responsibilities are the same as city police officers. Other sheriffs staff county jails.

Detectives or criminal investigators do not wear uniforms. Responsibilities include gathering facts and evidence to build a case for criminal trial. Detectives observe suspects, conduct interviews, and conduct raids.

Opportunities for careers in federal law enforcement include FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, and U.S. Border Patrol Agents.

Salary

A median salary for police officers is $55,000. Detectives and investigators can expect to earn $68,000. Sheriffs earn a median salary of $53,000.

New FBI agents earn approximately $43,000. Beginning DEA agents make $49,000 to $55,000. After at least four years of service, agents can earn $92,000.

Salary for border patrol agents varies by state.

Education and Requirements

Some police departments will accept just a high school diploma. Others require at least some college credits. Sometimes a bachelor's degree is required, preferably in criminal justice.

In order to be hired as a police officer, one must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 18-21 years old, have a driver's license, and pass a physical examination. Candidates will be tested on strength, agility, hearing, and vision. Records must be clear of felonies.

Once hired in a police department, candidates enter the police academy. During training, officers learn about ethics, applicable local and state law, civil rights, and constitutional law. Other training includes traffic control, first aid, firearms, and self-defense.

Detectives and investigators begin as police officers and are promoted to detective based on years of service and employee performance.

Federal agencies each have their own qualifications, pay grades, and training programs. Check with the agency of your choice via internet, telephone, or e-mail.

Schools For Police and Law Enforcement

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