Public safety is the central tenant of law enforcement officials. If a career in law enforcement interests you, you will likely need to complete an agency-specific training program, a background check, and perhaps some amount of formal education. A number of different career options exist within this field, including investigative work, policing or patrolling.
Law enforcement agents protect life and property, and uphold the law within a jurisdiction. Many of the job requirements are not based on education, but on one's physical and mental characteristics. To become a law enforcement agent, individuals need to complete agency training programs, such as police academy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some agencies may require applicants to hold college degrees or have completed some postsecondary coursework, but this varies by agency. Almost all agencies require applicants to be legal U.S. citizens, 21 years of age or older, and able to pass several physical fitness tests. Psychological exams are often administered as well. Background checks may also be necessary, especially with larger governing bodies.
|Required Education||High school diploma or GED; completion of postsecondary coursework or degree programs may be required|
|Other Requirements||Completion of law enforcement agency training programs; meet age and citizenship requirements; pass health and fitness examinations; have a clean background; pass psychological exams, if necessary|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||Police and detectives: 5%|
|Median Salary (2020)*||Police and sheriff's patrol officers: $65,540|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The central task of a law enforcement agent is to protect the lives and property of those under his or her jurisdiction, as well as help keep the public safe. This career can involve myriad tasks, including directing traffic, patrolling areas for suspicious activity and investigating criminal behavior.
Those who wish to become a law enforcement agent have several career options. Career opportunities may be available as police officers and detectives. Police officers conduct day-to-day law enforcement activities, while detectives gather evidence and investigate crimes. Another option may be to specialize in a specific area, such as working with a patrol harbor or being a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
The requirements necessary to become a law enforcement agent vary depending on the type of agency and law enforcement position. Academically, a position in law enforcement can require anything from a high school diploma to a college degree and years of professional experience. Most agencies also require recruits to pass the agency's own training program. This is where prospective officers learn about the civil code, firearms usage and emergency medical response techniques.
Some colleges and universities offer programs specifically geared toward the practice of law enforcement or criminal justice. While graduates of these programs will understand the procedures and practices of enforcing laws, prospective law enforcement professionals still need to complete police academy training at the state or local level.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The BLS predicted police and detectives would see job growth of five percent between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than average. In May 2020, the BLS reported the median salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers was $65,540. That same report showed detectives earned a median salary of $86,940, while first-line supervisors earned a median salary of $92,970.
You may be well-suited to a career in law enforcement if you're willing to undergo extensive training. This training could include learning to use firearms, conduct investigations, patrol areas, or respond to medical emergencies. Formal education may be necessary, but there is no specific degree requirement for the field as a whole.