A police officer, sometimes known as a peace officer, is a criminal justice professional who works for a local or state police department. These individuals are responsible for protecting and serving the people in the town, city, county, or state in which they work. Police officers chase and arrest suspects, direct traffic, file accident reports, and file reports about the emergencies or criminal acts to which they responded during their shift. They also interview witnesses, issue verbal warnings and written citations for traffic violations and other offenses, offer assistance to injured or endangered individuals, offer emotional support and assistance to crime victims, patrol assigned areas, protect public buildings, supervise public events and large private gatherings to ensure safety, testify against criminals in court, and perform a variety of other tasks. Some police officers specialize in preventing a specific type of criminal activity, and these officers may work for a specialized unit in some larger departments. Some of the specialized units include arson units, bomb units, canine (K-9) units, counterterrorism units, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units, and other units.
A police officer typically earns between $34,000 and $65,000 a year, but some officers may make more or less than this amount depending on the area in which they work. In fact, a police officer may earn as little as $25,000 or as much as $80,000 per year in some areas. Police officer pay depends not only on the geographical area in which the individual works, but also on the individual’s experience, education, and rank. As a result, an individual may be able to earn significantly more than a typical officer if he or she has specialized skills, additional education, additional experience, or a higher rank. The ranks for a police officer from lowest to highest, are police corporal, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, commander, deputy chief, assistant chief, or chief of police.
Specific requirements to become a police officer will vary according to state and department. However, most police departments require you to be over the age of 21 (18 in some states), possess U.S. citizenship, have a high school diploma or a (GED) credential, take and pass the police officer exam for the department to which you are applying, and complete a 12 – 26 week training program at a police academy. In addition, you may have to complete a series of criminal justice courses or obtain a degree in criminal justice. If a degree is required, usually an associate’s degree will suffice; however, some departments may require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, you may be required to obtain a Professional Peace Officer Certification, complete courses, obtain a certification in the specific area of law enforcement in which you are planning to work, or meet other requirements before you begin working in some states or specialties.