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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.

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$ 34,000 - $ 105,000
$ 63,000
50,940+
A female police officer stands by her patrol car
Police officers work in the patrol division before being assigned to a special unit. (Credit: John Roman Images/Shutterstock)
A Day In the Life
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Officer Javier Arteaga holds a puppy in his squad car
A Day In the Life

Just because you see a police officer, it doesn't mean something's wrong, says Deputy Sheriff Javier Arteaga of the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

"A lot of people see police officers and think something bad has happened. That’s not always the case," says Javier, pointing out the many times law enforcement representatives are often present simply to assist at community functions.

But no matter the circumstance, they are always there to help, which is one of the most satisfying parts of his job. 

"I enjoy educating teens about street gangs and the negative impact it will have on their lives."

Find out more about what it's like to be a police officer or deputy sheriff.

Job Responsibilities
  • 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
EDUCATION + TRAINING

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.

YOU MAY BE A GOOD FIT FOR THIS POSITION IF YOU
  • 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

Police Officer Training in Your Area

Coordinates

Criminal Justice Certificate

Neosho County Community College
Chanute (42.2 Miles)

Criminal Justice Studies, A.A.S.

Allen Community College
Iola (61.1 Miles)

Criminal Justice Studies- Law Enforcement Certificate

Allen Community College
Iola (61.1 Miles)

Criminal Justice, A.A.

Butler Community College
El Dorado (81.0 Miles)

Police Science, A.A.S.

Wichita State University Tech WSU Tech
Wichita (94.8 Miles)

Police Science Certificate

Wichita State University Tech WSU Tech
Wichita (94.8 Miles)

Criminal Justice Certificate

NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Bentonville (99.2 Miles)

Criminal Justice Certificate of Proficiency

NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Bentonville (99.2 Miles)

Law Enforcement Certificate

NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Bentonville (99.2 Miles)

Criminal Justice, A.A.S.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Bentonville (99.2 Miles)

Criminal Justice, A.A.

Ozarks Technical Community College
Springfield (134.2 Miles)

Police Science, A.A.S.

Kansas City Kansas Community College
Kansas City (149.6 Miles)
Ask the Expert
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Kevin Wadley, police officer, City of Metter
Ask the Expert

"Police work is not what television has portrayed it to be. In fact, it’s the complete opposite," says Capt. Kevin Wadley.

He should know. Over more than 20 years, he's filled a lot of different police roles, from communications officer to patrolman to detective and now assistant chief of police for the Metter Police Department.

Find out what else he has to say and get the inside scoop on being a police officer.

Find Police Officer Jobs in Your Area

Coordinates

Campus Police Officer - Rogers State University (Bartlesville, Claremore & Pryor) - Part-time

Rogers State College
Claremore ( 53.7 ) Miles
Posted 5 months ago

Campus Police Officer - Rogers State University (Bartlesville, Claremore & Pryor) - Full-time

Rogers State College
Claremore ( 53.7 ) Miles
Posted 2 months 2 weeks ago

Police Officer

Missouri Southern State University
Joplin ( 66.3 ) Miles
Posted 8 hours 44 minutes ago

Airport Police Officer

Tulsa International Airport
Tulsa ( 66.5 ) Miles
Posted 2 days 8 hours ago

Police Recruit - EXAM DATE TBD

City of Sand Springs
Sand Springs ( 70.3 ) Miles
Posted 1 week 3 days ago

Police Officer

Department of Defense
Mcconnell Air Force Base ( 92.4 ) Miles
Posted 1 year ago

Police Officer II

State of Oklahoma
Muskogee ( 97.0 ) Miles
Posted 6 days 8 hours ago

Police Officer II

State of Oklahoma
Muskogee ( 97.0 ) Miles
Posted 6 days 8 hours ago