Police and Detectives

There are approximately 884,000 police officers and detectives in the United States. Job-growth indicators suggest the occupation will grow by 10 percent in the next decade, which matches the average rate of growth for all jobs.
The tasks assigned to police officers and detectives depend in part on the organization for which they work. Game wardens, police officers, and police detectives might work for a federal, state, or local agency.

On the state and local level, police officers capture lawbreakers, issue tickets, document information in reports, patrol specific areas, and investigate suspicious activity. They resolve complaints. At accident scenes, officers direct traffic and give first aid to victims until an ambulance arrives. Officers in large departments often specialize and work with a partner, while those in smaller departments are generalists and may work alone. Urban agencies instruct officers in community policing, training them to develop trusting relationships with people in the neighborhood and enlisting their help in minimizing crime.


Officers might specialize in firearms training, chemical and microscopic analysis, handwriting recognition, fingerprint identification, motorcycle, bicycle, harbor, or horseback patrol, K-9 corps, or SWAT teams. Some local officers are assigned duties in a jail or courthouse.

Sheriffs and deputies are county-level law enforcers. Elected sheriffs have responsibilities equivalent to those of police chiefs. Deputy sheriffs are assigned tasks similar to officers in city police departments.
Bailiffs provide court security. State troopers enforce driving laws on highways and pursue criminals on a statewide level. State police aid other agencies when asked, often in rural areas or small towns.

Detectives investigate crime scenes and gather and document evidence. They interview witnesses or victims, tail suspects, and join in raids and arrests. Many detectives specialize in a single type of crime, such as fraud, forgery, or homicide. They remain assigned to a case until it is solved or dropped for lack of evidence.
Fish and game wardens patrol for hunting, fishing, or boating law violators. They perform searches and rescues, investigate accidents, respond to complaints, and assist court prosecutions.

FBI agents address more than 200 areas of federal law, including national security. Legal wiretaps, surveillance, business record examination, white-collar crime investigation, and undercover assignments are among their duties. FBI agents might be assigned cases involving corrupt public figures, bank robberies, organized crime, financial crime, kidnapping, drug trafficking, terrorism, or cybercrime.

Many federal agencies focus on a single area of law enforcement. For example, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is concerned with illegal drugs. U.S. marshals provide federal court security. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives investigates infringements of federal explosives and firearms laws, and federal tobacco and alcohol tax regulations. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security fights terrorism. The U.S. Border Patrol guards international water and land boundaries. There are numerous other types of federal agencies.

Police and detective work is dangerous; even more so that most criminal justice careers . Officers might be injured or killed in altercations with criminals or suspects. Because officers witness situations in which innocent victims are maimed or killed, they are susceptible to depression, anxiety, or anger-management problems. Their working hours can be erratic, which can affect a successful family life. Federal agents might be required to travel for long periods of time on little to no notice, and all types of officers may be required to work evenings, nights, weekends, or holidays. Officers must have considerable stamina, agility, and courage. They need to be in good physical condition in order to pursue criminals on foot or protect themselves when making an arrest. They must have the ability to remain calm in tense situations, make split-second decisions, and be discreet about sensitive information.

Police officers and detectives must have at minimum a high school diploma. Many departments require candidates to have some college training or a degree. Community and technical colleges and universities offer two- or four-year law enforcement or justice administration degrees. Some agencies will underwrite tuition costs for officers working toward degrees in police science, criminal justice, or related fields.

State and urban police departments give three to four months of training to recruits in their police academy. Smaller agencies often send recruits to a state or regional academy for training.
Police officers must go through a probationary period of up to three years before they are eligible for promotion. Career advancement takes many forms, including specialization. Moving up from an entry-level officer to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and finally captain is determined by job performance and written tests. Federal agents are promoted as time on the job increases and knowledge and skill bases improve.

The median pay for police and sheriff’s patrol officers is around $52,000 a year. The median annual pay for police and detective supervisors is about $76,000. The median annual pay for federal officers is about $90,000; for state police officers, about $76,000; and for local police officers, about $75,000. The median annual salary for detectives is a little over $60,000. The median annual wages of fish and game wardens is just under $50,000. Actual earnings for local, state, and special police officers and detectives may be higher because of significant overtime pay.