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Police Officer Duties and Responsibilities

Police officers perform varied tasks based on the suspected crimes committed within their assigned areas. However, there are some core duties associated with this career, including:

Respond to Calls Police officers respond to calls routed through police dispatch. They communicate via radio, keeping the dispatcher informed of their location and situation.

Investigate Crimes Police officers search crime scenes for evidence and follow all department regulations for collecting evidence. As part of the investigation process, police officers interview witnesses, victims, and suspects. They also write reports and fill out forms for every arrest, every interview, and every fired bullet.

Arrest Suspects Police officers arrest criminal suspects, following department and federal procedures for safely and legally detaining these individuals. They also go to suspects' homes and places of business to serve arrest warrants.

Enforce Laws and Ordinances Police officers enforce and uphold all local laws and ordinances set forth by the state, county, and city of employment.

Patrol Police officers patrol assigned areas, known as "beats."

Direct Traffic Police officers direct traffic during emergencies, special events, and within congested areas.

Attend Court Proceedings Police officers appear in court to give testimony in criminal cases.

Give Presentations Police officers appear at community events to give safety training and presentations.

Provide Security Police officers provide security as assigned at special events.

Stop Motorists Police officers stop vehicles that are violating traffic laws and run checks on the drivers.


Police Officer Skills and Qualifications

Police officers are brave, patient professionals who risk their own lives to protect others. Police departments look for candidates with the following essential skills:
  • Communication skills - police officers use written and verbal communication skills to talk to citizens and other officers, and to create written reports
  • Physical fitness - police officers need the physical ability to lift, carry, run, and sit for sustained periods of time, and to work outdoors in all conditions
  • Observation skills - police officers must pay exceptional attention to detail to spot suspicious behavior, search crime scenes, and monitor suspects
  • Interpersonal skills - because police officers conduct interviews and act as representatives of the law, interpersonal skills are required
  • Mechanical skills - police officers proficiently handle and operate various equipment and vehicles

Police Officer Education and Training

Police departments require potential officers to have a high school diploma or GED. Police officers must also be U.S. citizens and at least 21 years old. Potential police officers cannot have any prior felony convictions or pending criminal charges. Individuals with multiple misdemeanor convictions or traffic violations are ineligible to become police officers. All police officers must pass extensive background checks that include drug screenings, physical exams, a psychiatric evaluation, a written test, and an oral examination. Various vaccinations are also required. All police officers must have a valid driver's license. Some police departments may have requirements regarding vision and hearing abilities. In some departments, applicants who have any degree of color blindness are not accepted. Before becoming police officers, candidates must go through the police training program. This program lasts several weeks and involves classroom courses and physical training. During training, recruits learn the criminal justice system, how to safely handle and shoot firearms, how to operate police equipment, and study human criminal behavior. Applicants may be required to pay for training out of their own pocket. However, some police departments reimburse part of or all tuition costs for graduates. Upon graduating from police training, new police officers work while on probation. This probation period varies by department, but one year is a common time span.

Police Officer Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that police and detectives earn $62,960 in annual median income, or $30.27 hourly. Police and detectives occupied more than 800,000 jobs in 2016, a number that's projected to increase 7 percent through 2026. This rate is as fast as the national average. Police officers receive extensive benefits that include health insurance with dental and vision coverage, retirement packages, sick leave, paid vacation days, and life insurance.

Helpful Resources

Learn more about becoming a police officer and discover tools, guides, and career strategies with these resources:

National Association of Police Organizations - NAPO contains information about seminars and training events and provides news updates for all law enforcement professionals

Barron's Police Officer Exam - peruse practice exams with question explanations, look at official police exams, and study for police academy tests with this book

The International Union of Police Associations - stay up to date on law enforcement events and news at the IUPA website

Becoming a Police Officer: An Insider's Guide to a Career in Law Enforcement - written by a 32-year law enforcement veteran, this book takes an unvarnished look at life as a police officer

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