Police and Detectives
What you need to know
Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.
Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Police officers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Working around the clock in shifts is common.
Some of the things a police officer or detective might do:
- Respond to emergency and nonemergency calls
- Patrol assigned areas
- Conduct traffic stops and issue citations
- Search for vehicle records and warrants using computers in the field
- Obtain warrants and arrest suspects
- Collect and secure evidence from crime scenes
- Observe the activities of suspects
- Write detailed reports and fill out forms
- Prepare cases and testify in court
- Communication skills: Police and detectives must be able to speak with people when gathering facts about a crime and to express details about a given incident in writing.
- Empathy: Police officers need to understand the perspectives of a wide variety of people in their jurisdiction and have a willingness to help the public.
- Good judgment: Police and detectives must be able to determine the best way to solve a wide array of problems quickly.
- Leadership skills: Police officers must be comfortable with being a highly visible member of their community, as the public looks to them for assistance in emergency situations.
- Perceptiveness: Officers, detectives, and fish and game wardens must be able to anticipate a person’s reactions and understand why people act a certain way.
- Physical stamina: Officers and detectives must be in good physical shape, both to pass required tests for entry into the field, and to keep up with the daily rigors of the job.
- Physical strength: Police officers must be strong enough to physically apprehend offenders.
The average pay for police officers and detectives in the United States ranges from $39,130 to $113,860 as of May 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
The continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by location.
Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, although many federal agencies and some police departments require some college coursework or a college degree. Many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and geographical regions.
Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation also typically require prospective detectives and investigators to have a bachelor’s degree.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Criminology.