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Interested in Law Enforcement?


There are many different areas of law enforcement, and duties performed by officers and detectives will depend upon their area of focus and the size and type of organization for which they work.

Job description
Law enforcement officers, including both state officers, federal agents and detectives, protect our lives and personal property from harm. There are many different areas of law enforcement, and duties performed by officers and detectives will depend upon their area of focus and the size and type of organization for which they work.

The majority of law enforcement officials, about 65 percent according to the bureau of labor statistics, are uniformed personnel. These officers work for police departments in towns and cities across the country or for the State as State troopers and highway patrol officers. Local police officer duties generally include patrolling neighborhoods and responding to emergency calls, they also give out traffic and other violation tickets, investigate small crimes, and assist with accidents and crime scenes. State officers patrol highways to enforce motor vehicle laws and regulations and are frequently called upon to render assistance to other law enforcement agencies. They also assist with accidents by either directing traffic, giving first aid, and calling for the necessary emergency equipment. Both local and state police officers are responsible for keeping detailed records and providing reports of accidents and crimes that may be needed for submission in court cases.

Detectives are plainclothes investigators who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. Some are assigned to task forces that focus on solving specific types of crimes. They are responsible for conducting interviews, examining records, observing and tracking suspects, and often participate in raids and arrests. Detectives and State and Federal agents will usually specialize in a certain area of crime, such as homicide.

A day in the life?
Police and detectives will often find themselves in dangerous or stressful situations. This is because they are involved with criminals and risky situations on a day-to-day basis, and often bear witness to human suffering and even death through accidents and criminal behavior.

While they are only required to work a 40-hour week, police tend to work overtime. They often work nights and weekends, as shifts are necessary in order to maintain 24-hour protection. During large investigations, detectives and police officers are usually required to work longer hours. At all times, whether on or off duty, they are expected to be armed and ready to provide protection to civilians.

Education and training
There are certain regulations concerning the candidacy of applicants for police and detective work. In all cases, individuals must be 21 years of age but no older than 37 at the time of their job assignment. They must pass physical and written tests and many are subject to lie detector tests and drug testing. Personal characteristics such as integrity and honesty are highly regarded in the field of law enforcement, therefore current officers interview each candidate and their background is investigated. In some cases, candidates are reviewed by a psychologist and given a personality test.

Police officers in state and local departments go through a training period that usually lasts between 12 and 14 weeks. They usually attend a regional or State academy where training will include classroom instruction and experience areas such as firearms, self-defense, traffic control, and emergency response.

Continuing education and training helps officers and detectives perform better at their jobs, and both are essential to job promotion. In addition, most agencies will pay the tuition costs for those working towards their degree in criminal justice, police science, administration justice, public administration or any other applicable degree. And higher salaries are almost always awarded to those with higher degrees.

The following charts show national salaries for selected law enforcement positions.

Years of Experience
Median Salary
Between $37,240 and $61,570

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002

Years of Experience
Median Salary
???Police Officer
12-18 months
???Police Chief
At least 10

Source:, September 2003
For this month's salaries: Salary Wizard

Related occupations
Police officers and detectives can be elected into supervisor roles as sheriff and deputy sheriffs. Positions requiring similar skill sets as police officers and detectives include private detectives and investigators, correctional officers, security guards, and surveillance officers.

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