Patrol Officer Job Description

Patrol Officers maintain order and protect a community by enforcing laws. They patrol an assigned area to prevent illegal activity and assure the safety of citizens. They may direct traffic, write tickets, investigate accidents and crimes and respond to calls for help. Most higher ranking police officers and detectives begin their careers as Patrol Officers.

The job outlook for Patrol Officers is fairly steady. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a job growth for 4 percent by 2024 for all Police and Detectives, including Patrol Officers. That will mean an additional 33,100 jobs.


Patrol Officer Duties and Responsibilities

To accomplish their primary goal of keeping a community safe and enforcing laws, Patrol Officers perform many tasks. We analyzed several job listings to identify these core Patrol Officer duties and responsibilities.

Patrol an Area

Patrol Officers monitor an assigned area, looking out for suspicious, unauthorized or illegal activity. They may patrol on foot, bicycle, car, or horseback. If they encounter any incidents, they do on-the-scene investigations, aid persons in trouble and render other public services as needed.

Make Arrests

Patrol Officers have the authority to issue citations, serve warrants of arrest or arrest persons on misdemeanor and felony charges. They handcuff and search arrested persons and secure their custody. They then must complete necessary reports concerning the alleged crime, the circumstances of arrest and evidence obtained.

Respond to Calls

Patrol Officers must be ready at all times to respond to reports of possible crime or emergencies, such as car accidents or robberies. They quickly arrive on scene and work to secure the area, administer emergency first aid and summon necessary assistance.

Enforce Traffic Laws

Patrol Officers are responsible for regulating traffic on roads and checking the speed of vehicles using radar, laser and pacing. They issue appropriate warnings, citations and summons to traffic violators, and investigate all traffic accidents. They also provide assistance to motorists in need of aid.

Interact with Community Members

Patrol Officers are the public face of the police department to the community, and work to build up good relations. They regularly meet and talk with citizens, providing information, directions and assistance. They may visit local businesses to determine needs for service, and schools to build up trust and provide information to students.


Patrol Officer Skills

A quick-thinker with solid judgment, a successful Patrol Officer maintains composure and decision-making skills in high-stress situations. They are strong communicators who enjoy interacting with and protecting the public. Above all, they are ethical citizens, who place great value in upholding the law. In addition to these general skills and personality traits, employers are seeking Patrol Officer candidates with the following skills.

Core skills: Based on job listings we looked at, employers want Patrol Officers with these core skills. If you want to work as a Patrol Officer, focus on the following.

  • Working knowledge of federal, state and city laws, statutes and ordinances
  • Knowledge of modern policing principles
  • Ability to keep accurate records
  • Ability to maintain positive relations with the general public
  • Physical ability to use of equipment and weapons commonly used by law enforcement officers, conduct arrests and provide assistance

Advanced skills: While most employers did not require the following skills, multiple job listings included them as preferred. Add these to your Patrol Officer toolbox and broaden your career options.

  • Previous contract security, military or law enforcement experience
  • Training and certification in the use of firearms, bomb detection, fire fighting, first-aid, CPR, and hazardous material detection and handling
  • Knowledge of Defensive and Arrest Tactics
  • Knowledge of multiple languages


Patrol Officer Q & A

Are you considering a job in local law enforcement? If you pursue a career in that field, you’ll likely spend some time as a Patrol Officer. It’s a job that’s challenging, rewarding and never boring, says law enforcement professional and former Patrol Officer Vincent Hill. We asked him to tell us what being a Patrol Officer is all about. Here is what he shared with us.

What’s the most rewarding part about being a Patrol Officer?

There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with being a Patrol Officer. No other career allows you to literally meet new people on a daily basis. Being able to provide service to an entire community is a feeling that is unmatched or duplicated. There is never a dull “office” moment while being a Patrol Officer.

What is the biggest challenge faced by Patrol Officers?

Currently, the biggest challenge is officer safety. Society has a perception that police are the enemy and that it acceptable to use violence against police. Many groups have demanded police reform, even disarming police. Police reform is not the issue, but rather crime reform. The challenge is teaching society why police use force and what is justifiable force, in the wake of every police incident being seen as excessive force or abuse of power. The average citizen has no idea what the Use of Force Continuum is, which outlines what force police can use and when.

What skills do you use every day?

Each year, Officers must attend in-service training. During in-service, Officers are instructed on any new laws, department policy changes, arrest techniques, firearms training and close quarters contact training. On a daily basis, all aspects of training could arise. Officers should stay abreast of each skill learned in the academy, in service and beyond. Along with training, the best skill an officer can use daily, is to know the community and people for which the Officer serves.

Who succeeds in this job?

Anyone wanting to be a Patrol Officer must have patience, be able to deal with people of all cultures and be willing to face the unexpected. As a Patrol Officer, patience will be tested daily and it is the Officer’s responsibility to deescalate a situation. A Patrol Officer will come into contact with individuals of different races or cultures. Therefore, if an individual is not a people person, law enforcement is not a wise career choice. Lastly, all though a Patrol Officer may know their assigned shift or their assigned patrol zone, they will not know what unexpected circumstances face them daily. As the saying goes, nothing is routine in police work

How should someone prepare for a career as a Patrol Officer?

It goes without saying that a Patrol Officer must be physically fit. Police academies are physically demanding. This is to prepare an individual for the moment when life and death depends on how physically fit they are, or foot chasing the robbery suspect for miles because the suspect must be caught. Along with being physically fit, it is essential to be familiar with local, state and federal laws. A Patrol Officer’s job is to uphold the law, therefore, they must know the law. Not knowing the law could cause a Patrol Officer to make an incorrect decision or improper arrest, which could lead to a civil rights violation.

Are there any misconceptions people have about being a Patrol Officer?

Besides the obvious doughnut stereotype, and who doesn’t like doughnuts?, there are many misconceptions. Currently, one of the most common misconceptions is that officers shoot individuals on almost a daily basis. In reality, the average Patrol Officer goes their entire career without drawing their weapon. There is also the misconception of a traffic stop being a means for the officer to make their required stats. Most departments, if not all, do not subject their officers to required stats. In actuality, many guns, drugs, wanted persons are found through that simple infraction traffic stop. While in patrol, I arrested several murder suspects and an escapee based on a simple traffic infraction. Traffic stops actually deter crime.


Patrol Officer Resources

We searched the Web to find the best industry resources to help you continue exploring a career as a Patrol Officer. From thought leaders to industry groups, this list is packed with opportunities to learn, connect and engage.

On the Web

Cops Alive – A blog with helpful information and strategies to excel in a career as a Patrol Officer.

Police Mag – Read the latest news and developments in the area of law enforcement from this industry magazine.

Cop in the Hood – Insights into the thoughts and day-to-day life of a veteran Baltimore Patrol Officer.

On LinkedIn

The Law Enforcement Network – Meet and connect with thousands of others in Law Enforcement professions

Community Policing Network – A forum to discuss best practices, great ideas, and opportunities in community policing.

Industry Groups

Discover Policing – Learn what it takes to be a Patrol Officer, and find tons of helpful resources.

National Association of Police Organizations – Find an organization near you and access Police events, seminars and networking opportunities.

Patrol Officer Books

Basic Patrol Procedures: A Foundation for the Law Enforcement Student – A basic overview of the principles and procedures involved in patrolling.

Surviving Street Patrol: The Officer’s Guide to Safe and Effective Policing – A veteran Patrol Officer shares the best practices for safe and effective policing.

The Police Handbook on Searches, Seizures and Arrests: A Law Enforcement Reference Guide – This handbook guides law enforcement officers in collecting evidence and collaborating with prosecutors without violating the citizens’ rights.


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