Police and Detectives
- Police and detective work can be dangerous and stressful.
- Competition should remain keen for higher paying jobs with
State and Federal agencies and police departments in affluent
areas; opportunities will be better in local and special police
departments that offer relatively low salaries or in urban communities
where the crime rate is relatively high.
- Applicants with college training in police science or military
police experience should have the best opportunities.
People depend on police officers and detectives to protect their
lives and property. Law enforcement officers, some of whom are
State or Federal special agents or inspectors, perform these duties
in a variety of ways, depending on the size and type of their
organization. In most jurisdictions, they are expected to exercise
authority when necessary, whether on or off duty.
Uniformed police officers have general law enforcement
duties, including maintaining regular patrols and responding to
calls for service. They may direct traffic at the scene of an
accident, investigate a burglary, or give first aid to an accident
victim. In large police departments, officers usually are assigned
to a specific type of duty. Many urban police agencies are involved
in community policing—a practice in which an officer builds relationships
with the citizens of local neighborhoods and mobilizes the public
to help fight crime.
Police agencies are usually organized into geographic districts,
with uniformed officers assigned to patrol a specific area, such
as part of the business district or outlying residential neighborhoods.
Officers may work alone, but, in large agencies, they often patrol
with a partner. While on patrol, officers attempt to become thoroughly
familiar with their patrol area and remain alert for anything
unusual. Suspicious circumstances and hazards to public safety
are investigated or noted, and officers are dispatched to individual
calls for assistance within their district. During their shift,
they may identify, pursue, and arrest suspected criminals; resolve
problems within the community; and enforce traffic laws.
Public college and university police forces, public school district
police, and agencies serving transportation systems and facilities
are examples of special police agencies. These agencies have special
geographic jurisdictions and enforcement responsibilities in the
United States. Most sworn personnel in special agencies are uniformed
officers; a smaller number are investigators.
Some police officers specialize in such diverse fields as chemical
and microscopic analysis, training and firearms instruction, or
handwriting and fingerprint identification. Others work with special
units, such as horseback, bicycle, motorcycle or harbor patrol;
canine corps; special weapons and tactics (SWAT); or emergency
response teams. A few local and special law enforcement officers
primarily perform jail-related duties or work in courts. Regardless
of job duties or location, police officers and detectives at all
levels must write reports and maintain meticulous records that
will be needed if they testify in court.
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs enforce the law on the county
level. Sheriffs are usually elected to their posts and perform
duties similar to those of a local or county police chief. Sheriffs’
departments tend to be relatively small, most having fewer than
50 sworn officers. Deputy sheriffs have law enforcement duties
similar to those of officers in urban police departments. Police
and sheriffs’ deputies who provide security in city and county
courts are sometimes called bailiffs. (For information on other
officers who work in jails and prisons, see correctional officers
elsewhere in the Handbook.)
State police officers (sometimes called State troopers
or highway patrol officers) arrest criminals Statewide
and patrol highways to enforce motor vehicle laws and regulations.
State police officers are best known for issuing traffic citations
to motorists. At the scene of accidents, they may direct traffic,
give first aid, and call for emergency equipment. They also write
reports used to determine the cause of the accident. State police
officers are frequently called upon to render assistance to other
law enforcement agencies, especially those in rural areas or small
State law enforcement agencies operate in every State except
Hawaii. Most full-time sworn personnel are uniformed officers
who regularly patrol and respond to calls for service. Others
work as investigators, perform court-related duties, or carry
out administrative or other assignments.
Detectives are plainclothes investigators who gather facts
and collect evidence for criminal cases. Some are assigned to
interagency task forces to combat specific types of crime. They
conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of
suspects, and participate in raids or arrests. Detectives and
State and Federal agents and inspectors usually specialize in
investigating one of a wide variety of violations, such as homicide
or fraud. They are assigned cases on a rotating basis and work
on them until an arrest and conviction occurs or until the case
Fish and game wardens enforce fishing, hunting, and boating
laws. They patrol hunting and fishing areas, conduct search and
rescue operations, investigate complaints and accidents, and aid
in prosecuting court cases.
The Federal Government maintains a high profile in many areas
of law enforcement. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents
are the Government’s principal investigators, responsible for
investigating violations of more than 200 categories of Federal
law and conducting sensitive national security investigations.
Agents may conduct surveillance, monitor court-authorized wiretaps,
examine business records, investigate white-collar crime, or participate
in sensitive undercover assignments. The FBI investigates organized
crime, public corruption, financial crime, fraud against the Government,
bribery, copyright infringement, civil rights violations, bank
robbery, extortion, kidnapping, air piracy, terrorism, espionage,
interstate criminal activity, drug trafficking, and other violations
of Federal statutes.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents enforce
laws and regulations relating to illegal drugs. Not only is the
DEA the lead agency for domestic enforcement of Federal drug laws,
it also has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing
U.S. drug investigations abroad. Agents may conduct complex criminal
investigations, carry out surveillance of criminals, and infiltrate
illicit drug organizations using undercover techniques.
U.S. marshals and deputy marshals protect the Federal
courts and ensure the effective operation of the judicial system.
They provide protection for the Federal judiciary, transport Federal
prisoners, protect Federal witnesses, and manage assets seized
from criminal enterprises. They enjoy the widest jurisdiction
of any Federal law enforcement agency and are involved to some
degree in nearly all Federal law enforcement efforts. In addition,
U.S. marshals pursue and arrest Federal fugitives.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents
regulate and investigate violations of Federal firearms and explosives
laws, as well as Federal alcohol and tobacco tax regulations.
The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security
special agents are engaged in the battle against terrorism.
Overseas, they advise ambassadors on all security matters and
manage a complex range of security programs designed to protect
personnel, facilities, and information. In the United States,
they investigate passport and visa fraud, conduct personnel security
investigations, issue security clearances, and protect the Secretary
of State and a number of foreign dignitaries. They also train
foreign civilian police and administer a counter-terrorism reward
The Department of Homeland Security employs numerous law
enforcement officers under several different agencies, including
Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
and the U.S. Secret Service. U.S. Border Patrol
agents protect more than 8,000 miles of international land
and water boundaries. Their missions are to detect and prevent
the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented foreign nationals
into the United States; to apprehend those persons violating the
immigration laws; and to interdict contraband, such as narcotics.
Immigration inspectors interview and examine people seeking
entrance to the United States and its territories. They inspect
passports to determine whether people are legally eligible to
enter the United States. Immigration inspectors also prepare reports,
maintain records, and process applications and petitions for immigration
or temporary residence in the United States.
Customs inspectors enforce laws governing imports and
exports by inspecting cargo, baggage, and articles worn or carried
by people, vessels, vehicles, trains, and aircraft entering or
leaving the United States. These inspectors examine, count, weigh,
gauge, measure, and sample commercial and noncommercial cargoes
entering and leaving the United States. Customs inspectors seize
prohibited or smuggled articles; intercept contraband; and apprehend,
search, detain, and arrest violators of U.S. laws. Customs
agents investigate violations, such as narcotics smuggling,
money laundering, child pornography, and customs fraud, and they
enforce the Arms Export Control Act. During domestic and foreign
investigations, they develop and use informants; conduct physical
and electronic surveillance; and examine records from importers
and exporters, banks, couriers, and manufacturers. They conduct
interviews, serve on joint task forces with other agencies, and
get and execute search warrants.
Federal Air Marshals provide air security by fighting
attacks targeting U.S. airports, passengers, and crews. They disguise
themselves as ordinary passengers and board flights of U.S. air
carriers to locations worldwide.
U.S. Secret Service special agents protect the President,
Vice President, and their immediate families; Presidential candidates;
former Presidents; and foreign dignitaries visiting the United
States. Secret Service agents also investigate counterfeiting,
forgery of Government checks or bonds, and fraudulent use of credit
Other Federal agencies employ police and special agents with
sworn arrest powers and the authority to carry firearms. These
agencies include the Postal Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Office of Law Enforcement, the Forest Service, and the National
Police and detective work can be very dangerous and stressful.
In addition to the obvious dangers of confrontations with criminals,
police officers and detectives need to be constantly alert and
ready to deal
appropriately with a number of other threatening situations.
Many law enforcement officers witness death and suffering resulting
from accidents and criminal behavior. A career in law enforcement
may take a toll on their private lives.
Uniformed officers, detectives, agents, and inspectors are usually
scheduled to work 40-hour weeks, but paid overtime is common.
Shift work is necessary because protection must be provided around
the clock. Junior officers frequently work weekends, holidays,
and nights. Police officers and detectives are required to work
at any time their services are needed and may work long hours
during investigations. In most jurisdictions, whether on or off
duty, officers are expected to be armed and to exercise their
authority whenever necessary.
The jobs of some Federal agents such as U.S. Secret Service and
DEA special agents require extensive travel, often on very short
notice. They may relocate a number of times over the course of
their careers. Some special agents in agencies such as the U.S.
Border Patrol work outdoors in rugged terrain for long periods
and in all kinds of weather.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and
detectives in most States, large municipalities, and special police
agencies, as well as in many smaller jurisdictions. Candidates
must be U.S. citizens, usually must be at least 20 years of age,
and must meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications. In
the Federal Government, candidates must be at least 21 years of
age but less than 37 years of age at the time of appointment.
Physical examinations for entrance into law enforcement often
include tests of vision, hearing, strength, and agility. Eligibility
for appointment usually depends on performance in competitive
written examinations and previous education and experience. In
larger departments, where the majority of law enforcement jobs
are found, applicants usually must have at least a high school
education, and some departments require a year or two of college
coursework. Federal and State agencies typically require a college
degree. Candidates should enjoy working with people and meeting
Because personal characteristics such as honesty, sound judgment,
integrity, and a sense of responsibility are especially important
in law enforcement, candidates are interviewed by senior officers,
and their character traits and backgrounds are investigated. In
some agencies, candidates are interviewed by a psychiatrist or
a psychologist or given a personality test. Most applicants are
subjected to lie detector examinations or drug testing. Some agencies
subject sworn personnel to random drug testing as a condition
of continuing employment.
Before their first assignments, officers usually go through a
period of training. In State and large local departments, recruits
get training in their agency’s police academy, often for 12 to
14 weeks. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional
or State academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional
law and civil rights, State laws and local ordinances, and accident
investigation. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience
in patrol, traffic control, use of firearms, self-defense, first
aid, and emergency response. Police departments in some large
cities hire high school graduates who are still in their teens
as police cadets or trainees. They do clerical work and attend
classes, usually for 1 to 2 years, at which point they reach the
minimum age requirement and may be appointed to the regular force.
Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a
probationary period ranging from 6 months to 3 years. In a large
department, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective
or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with
juveniles. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain
usually are made according to a candidate’s position on a promotion
list, as determined by scores on a written examination and on-the-job
Most States require at least two years of college study to qualify
as a fish and game warden. Applicants must pass written and physical
examinations and vision, hearing, psychological, and drug tests
similar to those taken by other law enforcement officers. Once
hired, officers attend a training academy lasting from 3 to 12
months, sometimes followed by further training in the field.
To be considered for appointment as an FBI agent, an applicant
must be a graduate of an accredited law school or a college graduate
with one of the following: a major in accounting, electrical engineering,
or information technology; fluency in a foreign language; or three
years of related full-time work experience. All new agents undergo
18 weeks of training at the FBI Academy on the U.S. Marine Corps
base in Quantico, Virginia.
Applicants for special agent jobs with the U.S. Secret Service
and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms must have a bachelor’s
degree, a minimum of three years’ related work experience, or
a combination of education and experience. Prospective special
agents undergo 11 weeks of initial criminal investigation training
at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia,
and another 17 weeks of specialized training with their particular
Applicants for special agent jobs with the DEA must have a college
degree with at least a 2.95 grade point average or specialized
skills or work experience, such as foreign language fluency, technical
skills, law enforcement experience, or accounting experience.
DEA special agents undergo 14 weeks of specialized training at
the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
U.S. Border Patrol agents must be U.S. citizens, be younger than
37 years of age at the time of appointment, possess a valid driver’s
license, and pass a three-part examination on reasoning and language
skills. A bachelor’s degree or previous work experience that demonstrates
the ability to handle stressful situations, make decisions, and
take charge is required for a position as a Border Patrol agent.
Applicants may qualify through a combination of education and
Postal inspectors must have a bachelor’s degree and 1 year of
related work experience. It is desirable that they have one of
several professional certifications, such as that of certified
public accountant. They also must pass a background investigation,
meet certain health requirements, undergo a drug screening test,
possess a valid State driver’s license, and be a U.S. citizen
between 21 and 36 years of age when hired.
Law enforcement agencies are encouraging applicants to take postsecondary
school training in law enforcement-related subjects. Many entry-level
applicants for police jobs have completed some formal postsecondary
education, and a significant number are college graduates. Many
junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in
law enforcement or administration of justice. Other courses helpful
in preparing for a career in law enforcement include accounting,
finance, electrical engineering, computer science, and foreign
languages. Physical education and sports are helpful in developing
the competitiveness, stamina, and agility needed for many law
enforcement positions. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset
in many Federal agencies and urban departments.
Continuing training helps police officers, detectives, and special
agents improve their job performance. Through police department
academies, regional centers for public safety employees established
by the States, and Federal agency training centers, instructors
provide annual training in self-defense tactics, firearms, use-of-force
policies, sensitivity and communications skills, crowd-control
techniques, relevant legal developments, and advances in law enforcement
equipment. Many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers
to work toward degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration
of justice, or public administration, and pay higher salaries
to those who earn such a degree.
Police and detectives held about 842,000 jobs in 2004. About
80 percent were employed by local governments. State police agencies
employed about 12 percent, and various Federal agencies employed
about 6 percent. A small proportion worked for educational services,
rail transportation, and contract investigation and security services.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, police and
detectives employed by local governments primarily worked in cities
with more than 25,000 inhabitants. Some cities have very large
police forces, while thousands of small communities employ fewer
than 25 officers each.
The opportunity for public service through law enforcement work
is attractive to many because the job is challenging and involves
much personal responsibility. Furthermore, law enforcement officers
in many agencies may retire with a pension after 25 or 30 years
of service, allowing them to pursue a second career while still
in their 40s or 50s. Because of relatively attractive salaries
and benefits, the number of qualified candidates exceeds the number
of job openings in Federal law enforcement agencies and in most
State police departments—resulting in increased hiring standards
and selectivity by employers. Competition should remain keen for
higher paying jobs with State and Federal agencies and police
departments in more affluent areas. Opportunities will be better
in local and special police departments, especially in departments
that offer relatively low salaries, or in urban communities where
the crime rate is relatively high. Applicants with college training
in police science, military police experience, or both should
have the best opportunities.
Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow about
as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. A more
security-conscious society and concern about drug-related crimes
should contribute to the increasing demand for police services.
However, employment growth will be hindered by reductions in Federal
hiring grants to local police departments and by expectations
of low crime rates by the general public.
The level of government spending determines the level of employment
for police and detectives. The number of job opportunities, therefore,
can vary from year to year and from place to place. Layoffs, on
the other hand, are rare because retirements enable most staffing
cuts to be handled through attrition. Trained law enforcement
officers who lose their jobs because of budget cuts usually have
little difficulty finding jobs with other agencies. The need to
replace workers who retire, transfer to other occupations, or
stop working for other reasons will be the source of many job
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers had median annual earnings
of $45,210 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,410
and $56,360. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,910, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,880. Median annual
earnings were $44,750 in Federal Government, $48,980 in State
government, and $45,010 in local government.
In May 2004, median annual earnings of police and detective supervisors
were $64,430. The middle 50 percent earned between $49,370 and
$80,510. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,690, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $96,950. Median annual earnings
were $86,030 in Federal Government, $62,300 in State government,
and $63,590 in local government.
In May 2004, median annual earnings of detectives and criminal
investigators were $53,990. The middle 50 percent earned between
$40,690 and $72,280. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,180,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,010. Median annual
earnings were $75,700 in Federal Government, $46,670 in State
government, and $49,650 in local government.
Federal law provides special salary rates to Federal employees
who serve in law enforcement. Additionally, Federal special agents
and inspectors receive law enforcement availability pay (LEAP)—equal
to 25 percent of the agent’s grade and step—awarded because of
the large amount of overtime that these agents are expected to
work. For example, in 2005, FBI agents entered Federal service
as GS-10 employees on the pay scale at a base salary of $42,548,
yet they earned about $53,185 a year with availability pay. They
could advance to the GS-13 grade level in field nonsupervisory
assignments at a base salary of $64,478, which was worth $80,597
with availability pay. FBI supervisory, management, and executive
positions in grades GS-14 and GS-15 paid a base salary of about
$76,193 and $89,625 a year, respectively, which amounted to $95,241
or $112,031 per year including availability pay. Salaries were
slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay
level was higher. Because Federal agents may be eligible for a
special law enforcement benefits package, applicants should ask
their recruiter for more information.
According to the International City-County Management Association’s
annual Police and Fire Personnel, Salaries, and Expenditures Survey,
average salaries for sworn full-time positions in 2004 were as
||Minimum annual base salary
||Maximum annual base salary
Total earnings for local, State, and special police and detectives
frequently exceed the stated salary because of payments for overtime,
which can be significant. In addition to the common benefits—paid
vacation, sick leave, and medical and life insurance—most police
and sheriffs’ departments provide officers with special allowances
for uniforms. Because police officers usually are covered by liberal
pension plans, many retire at half-pay after 25 or 30 years of
Police and detectives maintain law and order, collect evidence
and information, and conduct investigations and surveillance.
Workers in related occupations include correctional officers,
private detectives and investigators, and security guards and
aming surveillance officers.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about entrance requirements may be obtained from
Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
For general information about sheriffs and to learn more about
the National Sheriffs' Association scholarship, contact:
Information about qualifications for employment as a FBI Special
Agent is available from the nearest State FBI office. The address
and phone number are listed in the local telephone directory.
Information on career opportunities, qualifications, and training
for U.S. Secret Service Special Agents is available from the Secret
Service Personnel Division at (202) 406-5800, (888) 813-8777,
or (888) 813-USSS. Internet: http://www.treas.gov/usss
Information about qualifications for employment as a DEA Special
Agent is available from the nearest DEA office, or call (800)
DEA-4288. Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/dea
Information about career opportunities, qualifications, and training
to become a deputy marshal is available from:
- U.S. Marshals Service, Human Resources Division—Law Enforcement
Recruiting, Washington, DC 20530-1000. Internet: http://www.usmarshals.gov/
For information on operations and career opportunities in the
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives operations,
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Personnel Division, 650 Massachusetts Ave. NW., Room 4100, Washington,
DC 20226. Internet: http://www.atf.treas.gov/
Information about careers in U.S. Customs and Border Protection
is available from:
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave.,
NW., Washington, DC 20229. Internet: http://www.cbp.gov/
Information about law enforcement agencies within the Department
of Homeland Security is available from:
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition