What Does a Police Officer Do?
Police officers maintain order and uphold the law. They prevent and investigate crimes, enforce traffic laws, respond to emergencies and catch criminals. Patrol officers keep an area safe. They patrol their area in a car, on foot or on a horse. Officers work for a city, county, state or federal government. The size of the jurisdiction often determines the duties of the daily job. For example, an officer working for a smaller municipality may have a broader variety of duties compared to an officer working on a larger police force.
Police officers often work in shifts, including nights and weekends. The work is dynamic, but it can be dangerous. Most officers wear a uniform with a badge and carry required equipment.
- Patrol specific areas of the community
- Respond to calls from the public through a dispatcher, including emergency and non-emergency situations
- Conduct traffic control and enforcement
- Arrest suspected criminals
- Conduct preliminary investigations and collect evidence
- Write detailed reports
- Testify in court when needed
- Undergo training to use firearms safely
Employer requirements range from a high school diploma or equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. Some police officer candidates often take college-level classes in law enforcement or criminal justice. Programs are offered at community colleges and universities and include classes on laws, civil rights and emergency response. The amount of on-the-job training varies by jurisdiction.
Most candidates go through Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), more commonly known as the police academy. It usually takes between four and six months. Cadets must be 21 years old, a U.S. citizen and pass rigorous psychological, academic and physical exams. Those with felony backgrounds are not eligible. Speaking a second language is a plus.
Police officers can advance their careers through promotions. In some jurisdictions, that includes criminal investigator or detective.
- Are in good physical condition
- Have a calm temperament
- Work well under pressure
- Have good judgment
- Have good communication skills
- Are perceptive and quick-thinking
- Are detail-oriented
- Enjoy working in a changing environment