Learn About Being a Police Officer

African policeman giving woman ticket
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Police officers work in partnership with the public to reduce crime and enforce federal, state and local laws through the legitimate use of force. If you're considering becoming a police officer, keep these basic facts about the job in mind.

Job Duties

Police officers conduct patrol duties and investigate crimes through gathering evidence and interviewing victims, suspects and witnesses. They also maintain order by directing traffic, conducting arrests, issuing traffic citations, preparing crime reports and responding to incidents of public disorder. Police assist at road-related incidents, collision scenes, and vehicle check points. They also assist in criminal prosecutions and provide deposition and court testimony in criminal cases.


Police officers must have a minimum of a high school education or its equivalent, and larger departments may require one or two years of college. Federal and State agencies typically require a college degree. Since civil service regulations govern the appointment of police in most jurisdictions, officers must pass a civil service examination. Officers usually undergo a variety of testing including a physical examination, drug testing and a background check, personality test and/or lie detector test. Officers also usually complete approximately 12 to 14 weeks of training in a regional or state police academy.


Police officers interact with witnesses, victims and the public on a daily basis and must possess strong interpersonal skills including social perceptiveness and listening skills. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are important in analyzing a situation and determining a course of action. Physical agility and strong investigative skills are required for the job as well as life-saving skills such as CPR and first aid. Since police work can be stressful and dangerous, officers must possess courage, stamina and stress management skills.


Police salaries range from the low forties to mid-nineties, depending on the size and location of the department and the officer’s experience level. An officer’s total compensation frequently exceeds his salary due to overtime pay, which can be significant, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Police officers often have generous benefits plans, uniform allowances, and pension plans.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of police officers will experience average growth through the year 2014. Competition should remain high due to attractive salaries and benefits, particularly with state and federal agencies. Increased crime and a more security-conscious society should contribute to the increasing demand for police services. Applicants with college training in police science, military police experience, or both should have the best opportunities.

Additional Resources

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics