The outlook for law enforcement careers is bright, meaning occupations are expected to have a large number of job openings over the next several years (243,900 new job openings projected 2012-2022). There are many types of law enforcement careers an individual may pursue. The three basic types of jobs in law enforcement are investigators, uniformed officers, and support positions. These jobs are available at the local, state, and federal levels.
A uniformed police officer has general duties that include responding to emergency calls and maintain a regular patrol. Uniformed officers may direct traffic after an accident, investigate robberies, or provide first aid to a victim in an accident. At larger police departments an officer may be assigned to a specific area of duty. A lot of urban police agencies have community policing practices. This is where the officers build relationships with people of the community and encourage the public to help with fighting crime.
A detective is a plain clothed investigator that has the job of collecting the evidence surrounding criminal cases. There are some investigators that work in specific areas of crime. An investigator will examine records, conduct interviews, and observe the suspect’s activities. Additionally, investigators participate in arrests and raids. State and federal agents as well as some detectives on the local level will often specialize in one area such as fraud or homicide. An agent will be assigned a case on a rotating basis. They work the case until an arrest is made or until it is dropped.
Other careers in law enforcement include support positions such as ballistics examiners, evidence technicians, intelligence analysts, and crime lab technicians. Many of these positions are filled with individuals who were hired for the specific area of work. Evidence technicians are often in charge of inventorying the evidence found by the investigators.
Becoming a Police Officer
For those that are interested in a job in the law enforcement industry it is important to look at public vacancy announcements. Most job announcements are for a limited amount of time and have a cutoff date for applications. Most police offices only accept applications when there is a vacancy.
The minimum requirements for becoming a police officer will vary by department. There are some departments that will require a person have 60 college credits and others require that a person have a four year degree. There are a some police departments that will hire someone that only has a high school diploma, however in most cases students with law enforcement degrees have more opportunities. There are no certifications or experience required for entry positions in the law enforcement field. Other requirements may include an age restriction of being at least 21 years of age. There are also maximum age requirements set by some departments as well.
Most polices departments will also require that a person have a valid driver’s license in the state they are applying in and may also require a person to live in a specific area. Physical examinations are often required by most police departments before hiring. A person will receive all of their training at the police academy. This includes how to make arrests, using a weapon appropriately, as well as other aspects of the job.