Careers in the Police Force: Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to have a career in the police force. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and prospects to find out if this is the career for you.

It may be possible to begin a career as a police officer with a high school diploma or GED; however, some positions do require an associate's degree. All those interested in becoming police officers must attend a police training academy, and must also pass background checks, psychological tests and a physical fitness test.

Essential Information

Individuals who work in the police force uphold local or state laws. Most police force careers have similar requirements regarding training and assessment tests; however some careers require advanced education.

Required Education High school diploma or GED
Other Requirements Police training academy; associate's degree for fish and game wardens
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for police and detectives
Median Salary (2015)* $60,270 for police and detectives

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Police Officer

Police officers are uniformed law enforcement members who patrol assigned areas to prevent crimes and enforce traffic laws. Most police officers patrol in cars, but some work in specialized units including mounted patrol, motor units, bicycle patrol, harbor patrol, canine units and foot patrol.

Police officers respond to emergency calls and investigate disturbances and complaints. While responding to calls, officers have authority to issue citations and make arrests. Police officers also assist detectives in criminal investigations by collecting evidence, serving warrants, interviewing witnesses and testifying in court.

Detective

After a probationary period that can last up to three years, police officers are eligible for a promotion to detective. Detectives conduct investigations by gathering evidence, interviewing suspects, examining facts and conducting surveillance. Police detectives typically work in a specific department such as guns and gangs, narcotics, homicide or organized crime.

State Trooper

State troopers, also called highway patrol officers and state police officers, ensure highway safety by issuing citations to individuals violating vehicular laws. Duties of state troopers include directing traffic, investigating car accidents, providing first aid at accident scenes and searching vehicles.

Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens are state law enforcement officers assigned to protect wildlife by ensuring that people follow all boating, hunting and fishing laws. A fish and game warden patrols common hunting areas to find individuals breaking wildlife laws and make arrests or issue citations. Fish and game wardens also assist in searches to rescue stranded people and conduct investigations after receiving a complaint.

Requirements

Police force careers at the local and state level typically require candidates to be at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma. However, many states require state troopers to have an associate degree, work experience or a combination of both. All applicants must pass a physical fitness ability test, written examination, background check and psychological tests. Candidates with many traffic violations, a criminal record or a history of drug use will immediately be disqualified.

Candidates who meet all requirements can attend a police training academy for 3-4 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Recruits receive classroom instruction in state and local laws, constitution law and accident investigation. To prepare for real-life situations, recruits receive hands-on training in firearms, self-defense and first aid.

Aspiring fish and game wardens have specific requirements, which include an associate degree in a related field such as fish and wildlife management, agriculture or biology. Military veterans or individuals with experience in law enforcement may be exempt from the education requirements. Fish and game warden candidates participate in a training program that lasts 3-12 months, according to the BLS.

Salary and Employment Outlook

The BLS predicts that employment for police and detectives will increase by only 4% between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than average growth. This prediction includes employment outlook for police patrol officers, and state troopers and detectives. Fish and game wardens can expect to see 2% growth from 2014-2024, per BLS.

Police and detectives earned median salary of $60,270 in 2015, the BLS reported, while fish and game wardens saw $52,780 in median annual earnings. In comparison, detectives and criminal investigators earned a median salary of $77,210, while first-line supervisors of detectives and patrol officers earned a median salary of $82,090 in 2015.

There are several career options for those interested in policing. Police officers patrol areas, try to prevent crime, and apprehend suspects when crimes occur. Detectives conduct investigations into crimes, while fish and game wardens are tasked with the job of protecting wildlife and natural resources. State troopers primarily focus on highway patrol. These jobs require a high school diploma or GED and, frequently an associate's degree.


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