Learn About Being a Police Officer (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does a police officer do?

Police officers maintain public order by preventing crime, arresting criminals and protecting lives and property. Responsibilities may vary depending on the specific position and experience level, but all police offers are expected to write reports and keep detailed records. They may also be required to testify in court. Other responsibilities may include:

  • Responding to emergencies

  • Investigating crimes, gathering evidence and securing crime scenes

  • Observing the activities of suspects, obtaining warrants and making and processing arrests

  • Taking eyewitness statements and interviewing suspected criminals

  • Writing detailed reports about cases they are involved in

  • Preparing cases and testifying in court

Average salary

Police officer salaries vary depending on the position, experience level and geographic location of the candidate. While most police officers are full-time employees, some work part-time or on a temporary or contract basis. For current information from Indeed, click the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $50,589 per year

  • Some salaries range from $14,000 to $114,000 per year.

Police officer requirements

Police officers are highly trained public servants, and the role has several requirements, including:

Education

Police officers and detectives are typically only required to have a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED). Some police departments may require an associate or bachelor’s degree. Any field of study that offers experience in critical thinking is acceptable, but some common fields of study for law enforcement officers are criminal justice, law, sociology and forensic science.

Training

Candidates for police offer positions are usually expected to have attended a police academy. Training for this specialized role includes learning state, local and constitutional law and civil rights and police ethics. Recruits also receive training on specialized skills, such as firearm use, self-defense and emergency response techniques.

While age requirements vary from state to state, candidates are typically required to be 21 years old at the time of appointment to a police officer position. If you are not yet old enough, you may pursue a cadet program. As a cadet, you attend classes and perform clerical work until reaching the age of 21. After graduating from your agency’s training academy, you are required to go through a period of additional on-the-job training for the role.

Once you have completed your training, there are several specializations you can pursue in law enforcement, including: 

  • Canine unit officer

  • SWAT team

  • Police detective

  • Community relations officer

  • Hostage negotiation

  • Internal affairs

  • Helicopter patrol

  • Street crime and gang unit

  • Sex crimes officer

Certifications

Candidates acquire most certifications during academy training, such as a license to carry a firearm. There is also a wide range of post-academy certifications that police officers can pursue. There are some certifications you can acquire before your police academy training, including:

First Aid certification

This certification covers information on providing medical care to someone suffering from a minor or life-threatening injury or illness and administering CPR and using automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Police officers are expected to have and maintain current first aid certifications.

Cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification

This certification teaches the life-saving skill that helps victims during cardiac arrest. Police offers are required to maintain current CPR certifications.

Skills

Being successful in the role of a police officer requires several both hard and soft skills, including:

Interpersonal skills

Commonly referred to as people skills, officers rely on these abilities when communicating and building relationships. These include dependability, leadership, patience and empathy. Police officers need to be empathetic, open-minded and take time in forming an opinion about a case. 

Communication skills

These skills include not only verbal and written communication but also nonverbal signals, such as gestures, stance, eye contact and facial expressions. Police officers interact with a wide range of people daily, including witnesses, victims, suspects and other police officers. They must possess excellent verbal communication and active listening skills to succeed in the role.

Critical thinking skills

These skills refer to the ability to analyze a problem or a set of facts and form a judgment or identify a solution. These are essential skills during investigations, as police officers use evidence to determine what happened and who is responsible.

Teamwork skills

Teamwork skills include committing to shared team goals over individual interests, cooperating, listening to the opinions of others, accepting constructive feedback and delegating duties. Police offers rely on teamwork among officers in-house as well as between different departments to best serve the public and maintain order in communities.

Physical strength

Physical strength also includes agility and stamina. Police work can be dangerous, and officers must have the physical ability to maintain energy levels throughout the day and be prepared to act quickly.

Police officer work environment

The work environment for a police officer varies depending on the specific role they fill within a police department. Some of the common characteristics can include:

  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time

  • Occasional lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling

  • Some running, walking and standing, as well as stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling

  • Operating computers, printers and other office equipment

  • Operating a moving vehicle

How to become a police officer

These are the typical steps that are required to pursue a career in law enforcement as a police officer:

1. Pursue an education

Determine the level of education that is generally required to apply for one of these roles. While these roles usually require only a high school diploma or GED as well as completion of a police officer training program, some roles prefer an associate or bachelor’s degree. While the age requirements for law enforcement or entry into a police academy vary, most police departments require applicants to be 21 years old.

Some states allow you to enter the police academy at 18, while others require you to wait until 21. If you are not yet eligible, consider pursuing an Associate or Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, Human Services or another related degree. A degree may be required if you intend to pursue a more specialized field of law enforcement.

2. Acquire lifesaving certifications

All police offers are required to maintain current certifications in first aid and CPR. complete these before or while attending police academy.

3. Pursue training

When you have met the age qualifications, apply to the police academy and complete the required training for graduation.

4. Prepare your resume

Create a resume highlighting the relevant skills and accomplishments you have achieved. Include your highest level of education as well as relevant work history, listing the name of the employer, dates of employment and your responsibilities.

5. Apply for police officer positions

Search for open police officer positions in your local area. Identify the positions for which you are most qualified and apply with your newly-crafted resume and a cover letter that you’ve customized for each role.

Police officer job description example

The city of Kirksville is seeking an entry-level police officer to provide professional police services in the interests of protecting life and property, enforcing laws and preventing crime. This person will be responsible for performing duties in accordance with our department’s rules and regulations. The work will be performed under the supervision of superior officers, who will assign duties, conduct personal inspections and review reports.

Some of the responsibilities include patrolling an area on foot or bicycle, responding to calls involving criminal violations, interviewing complainants and witnesses, directing traffic in emergencies, conducting follow-up investigations as assigned and providing first aid and calling for medical assistance as needed. Other duties will be assigned as needed.

The ideal candidate will have excellent verbal and written communication skills and be comfortable speaking publicly. A high school diploma or GED is required, as is the possession of a State of Missouri Police Standards and Training Certificate and a valid Missouri driver’s license. An associate or bachelor’s degree in a law enforcement-related field is preferred. 

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