Law enforcement encompasses a broad range of careers that includes police officers, detectives, FBI agents, parole officers, wardens, marshals, investigators, and border patrol. Law enforcement officials may work for the city, county, state, or federal government. Despite the variety of job opportunities in the field, there are many similarities among job descriptions. All law enforcement positions serve the purpose of protecting people and property. From the traffic patrol officer who ensures driver and pedestrian safety to the border patrol agent who strives to keep terrorists from entering the country, a career in law enforcement provides job satisfaction, adventure, chances for advancement, and an opportunity to promote justice and serve the community.
A Day in the Life of a Police Officer
A day in the life of a police officer can be a combination of intense action and routine operations. Officers may perform any or all of the following tasks in a given day:
Patrol neighborhoods to deter criminal activity
Monitor threats to public safety
Respond to incidents and complaints reported to the police department or emergency services, such as 911
Complete reports detailing interactions with suspects, victims, and witnesses
Collect evidence at crime and accident scenes
Pursue and apprehend alleged offenders—issuing warnings, delivering citations, or placing them under arrest
Testify in court cases
Coordinate community service events and outreach programs to offer educational services to neighborhoods
Police officer salaries vary based on the budgets of the areas in which they serve. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) the median annual income of a police officer was approximately $56,000 in 2012.
For other law enforcement officials, salaries vary more drastically. The BLS reports the following median annual wages in 2012:
$74,300 for detectives and criminal investigators
$55,270 for police and sheriff’s patrol officers
$55,210 for transit and railroad police
$48,070 for fish and game wardens
Most local law enforcement careers begin with a four-year degree in criminal justice, time spent at the police academy, or both. From there, ongoing training occurs on the job. Officers seeking to advance to detective or higher-ranking positions within the force must be promoted from within. State and federal law enforcement workers come from a range of academic disciplines but at minimum have a four-year degree and often an advanced degree as well. Individuals who desire to continue moving forward in this field will benefit from earning an advanced degree. A Master of Public Administration opens doors to opportunities in the Department of Justice, Secret Service, Border Patrol, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security.
Challenges and Opportunities
Police officers and other law enforcement officials have the opportunity to keep community members within their jurisdiction safe from harm. They maintain order and actively participate in the administration of justice. These opportunities come with great risk, however. Every year, police officers lose their lives in the line of duty. Routine traffic stops and domestic violence reports have the potential to become life-threatening situations. Other challenges include witnessing traumatic events, experiencing stress on the job, contending with the elements, and overcoming injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Police officers have one of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities.”
Employment for police officers and detectives is projected to grow by 5 percent in the years between 2012 and 2022. This is slower growth than average for all occupations. A consistent demand for local law enforcement officials will provide a certain amount of job security in the field, but the competition for higher-ranking positions, such as those in the federal government, will become more intense. As the competition for those positions intensifies, the value of formal education and experience will continue to increase.