Police officers and detectives have the duty of pursuing and apprehending those individuals who violate the law, along with giving them warnings or issuing citations. Much of their time is also devoted to maintaining accurate records and completing reports related to those encounters. Typically, police officers patrol their assigned territory and investigate all suspicious activity that attracts their attention, and they respond to calls they receive from people as well.
On the other hand, detectives (who are often referred to as agents) participate in investigations, including collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. At times, they are assigned to a special task force in order to combat a certain type of crime. These plainclothes investigators also spend time observing suspectsâ€™ activities and participating in raids or arrests. As a rule, detectives concentrate on one category of violation, including fraud or homicide, and thy work on an assigned case until the suspect is arrested and convicted or the case is closed.
Your career options
If you are interested in working in some area of law enforcement, there are several levels and many agencies where you can find a job. As you read, you will discover what each category has to offer you and requires of you, and that will help in making your decision. You will also learn what the various police officer requirements are.
Where you should start
You can begin by applying directly through your local police department for relevant job openings. If your application is accepted, you will take a series of mental and physical tests, followed by 12 to 14 weeks of training at the police academy. The topics you study may include local and state laws, constitutional law, traffic control, civil rights, investigating accidents, handling weapons, self-defense and other real-life situations. A large police department trains their recruits in their own police academy, where they are prepared for active duty.
Police officer requirements
Along with having a high school diploma and being trained at a police academy, most police officers earn degrees in criminal justice or law enforcement to advance their careers. In addition, many police departments require that their applicants have reached their 21st birthday, have no criminal record, are drug free and are also US citizens.
To be accepted on the police force, candidates must pass a series of examinations to ensure that they are capable of doing the job. Along with the written tests, which may be taken at the police academy, most police officer requirements include physical tests of agility, strength, vision and hearing, and drug and lie detector screening. A number of departments also conduct background or psychiatric interviews to analyze a candidateâ€™s character traits and general suitability for working in law enforcement.
Qualifying for promotion
Once they have some experience as a police officer, candidates may be able to participate in specialized police work and further their careers. To be eligible for a promotion to lieutenant, captain or detective, police officer requirements include passing a written test and demonstrating exceptional ability on the job. Officers in those positions are usually expected to perform administrative duties, supervise police personnel and oversee various projects, including task forces.
Continuing your education
Earning an associateâ€™s or bachelorâ€™s degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related discipline may be beneficial when you are applying for a job on the police force. Although many departments do not require such qualifications, candidates often discover that they are helpful when they find themselves competing for these positions. Government agencies usually require such a degree, and those who have one are often promoted more quickly. Also, certain departments even offer tuition assistance to officers who are working toward a degree in a field related to their job.
If you want to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), you will have to earn a bachelorâ€™s degree or masterâ€™s degree in criminal justice and undergo a series of tests. Along with that, you must have 2 or 3 years of experience in computer science, law, accounting, engineering or the military before you can apply for training at Quantico, the FBI headquarters. If you are accepted, you will participate in 17 weeks of training that includes technological skills, survival skills and the use of firearms.
Today, there are programs on the associateâ€™s, bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degree level in homeland security that you will need when applying to this federal agency. Your training will be related to anti-terrorism, hazardous materials, disaster management, making facilities secureâ€”and the laws related to those topics. Completing one of these programs can help you prepare for a career in border patrol, customs and immigration, the Secret Service or the Coast Guard.
Other types of police work that may interest you include the following:
â— A sheriff or deputy sheriff works for the county. As a rule, sheriffs are elected to their positions, and their duties resemble those of a local police chief. Their departments are rather small, and most employ less than 50 officers. The duties of a deputy are similar to those of an officer working for an urban police department, and police officers providing security in court houses are sometimes referred to as bailiffs.
â— State police officers have the duty of arresting criminals, and they enforce motor vehicle laws by patrolling our highways. They frequently issue traffic citations to drivers, and when an accident occurs, they may administer first aid, direct traffic, call for emergency assistance and write reports used in determining the cause of an accident. State troopers often provide assistance to other police officers, particularly in small towns or rural areas.
Making the right choice
If you want to meet todayâ€™s complex police officer requirements, be sure you know what training is needed for the career you would like to pursue. Basic training as a police officer may be the right foundation, but you will also need to know how much work experience is required and what your educational background should be if you want to reach your goal and succeed in law enforcement.