How To Become a Police Officer and Detective

The Police Officer and Detective career paths are connected in many ways, as both primarily focus on protecting the public. They are admirable positions that provide a sense of accomplishment, service to others, lucrative pay, and plenty of chances for promotions.  

Many young children have had dreams of being Police Officers someday; although, the job can be perilous and stressful. In the “grown-up” real world, it’s not as easy as you may think! If you are interested (and determined), check out the information below to reach your career goal in law enforcement.

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What is the job description for a Police Officer and Detective?

Their main concern is obvious; they protect people and property. And, that can be accomplished in many ways, such as patrolling assigned areas, gathering evidence, responding to non-emergency and emergency calls, searching and arresting criminals, as well as many other responsibilities.

Police Officers and Detectives must keep meticulous and detailed records as they are often requested to testify in court. They carry handcuffs, radios, and guns.

What are the differences between a Police Officer and a Detective?

As the primary responsibilities of both are the same (to protect and serve the public), each often has different job descriptions, although they overlap at times. 

Detectives are considered members of law enforcement that investigates crimes, usually by gathering evidence and questioning suspects, informants, or witnesses. They can arrest a criminal… just like a Police Officer. 

Generally, the role of the Detective is considered a promotion over being a Police Officer; therefore, you should expect to serve your time as an officer before expecting a promotion to Detective. 

In some jurisdictions, Detectives have authority over the Police Officer; however, this is not true in every district. 

What types of law enforcement should I consider?

If you are interested in working in the field of law enforcement, becoming a Police Officer or Detective is not your only option. Here are a few suggestions:

  • FBI Agent
  • Fish & Game Warden
  • Deputy Sheriff
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • State Trooper
  • Transit & Railroad Police
  • Special Jurisdiction
  • Air Marshal
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Immigration Inspector

Are there other jobs in law enforcement that are not so “hands-on” with criminals?

Yes, many are interested in helping to protect the public but are not prepared to work closely with criminals. Take a look at these options:

  • Handwriting Examiner
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Firearms Specialist
  • Fingerprint Analyst
  • Evidence Technician
  • Linguist
  • Crimes Scene & Lab Technician
  • Criminal Analyst
  • Surveillance Specialist
  • Court Reporter
  • Attorney
  • Paralegal

How do I become a Police Officer or Detective?

Becoming a Police Officer is a relatively straightforward process as far as the required education that is needed, although physical stamina is required in order to pass training. In addition, if you are interested in eventually obtaining a promotion, additional post-secondary education, such as a bachelor’s degree, may be required.

So, generally speaking, you will need to graduate from your agency’s police academy training program. Next, on-the-job training is crucial, perhaps offered through a cadet program. 

To qualify for a police academy, you will need a high school or equivalent diploma to begin. However, some agencies may require some college credits in law enforcement or criminal justice before beginning.

What are the physical requirements needed to prepare for the police academy?

If you intend to enter the police academy, you should be prepared, right? There are specific physical skills you should master, such as sit-ups, bench presses, running, pull-ups, deadlifts, box jumps, squats, and more. 

What will I learn in my training to become a Police Officer?

Besides physical training, you will receive coursework in:

  • Police Ethics
  • Traffic Control
  • First Aid 
  • State & Local Laws
  • Patrolling
  • Firearm Use
  • Self-Defense
  • Emergency & Non-emergency Response
  • Civil Rights
  • Conducting Investigations
  • Gathering Evidence
  • Defensive Driving
  • And, much more! 

How much money does a Police Officer and Detective earn?

As of May 2020, the BLS reported the salaries of a Police Officer and Detective as $67,290 annually, with the highest 10% reportedly earning upwards of $113,860 per year, depending on experience, job location, and job title. Detectives traditionally earn more than Police Officers. 

Is there a demand for Law Enforcement personnel?

The BLS states a positive projected job growth rate of 7% between 2020 and 2030. Whether an area’s crime rate is falling or on the rise, Police Officers and Detectives will be needed to fulfill positions of retirees and additional law enforcement needs. 

What kind of post-secondary education is good to have if I want to be a Police Officer or Detective?

If you would like a college education before entering the police academy, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice is ideal. There are others to consider, such as a degree in Psychology, Homeland Security, Political Science, Law, Forensics, or Public Safety, for example.  

What kind of work environment should I expect as a Police Officer or Detective?

The life of a Police Officer, Detective, or any law enforcer can be very dangerous, as they work accidents or crime scenes that can be brutal and traumatizing to the average person. Although stressful, many who find serving the public in this capacity find their work very rewarding.

In addition, you can expect to work in adverse weather conditions and face high-risk situations that could result in physical injuries and/or mental anguish. In 2020, 295 Police Officers perished in the line of duty, an increase of 156 from 2019.

In most cases, law enforcement personnel work full-time, including overtime, on-call hours, and holidays.

What skills or personality traits make a good Police Officer or Detective?

Police Officers, in addition to Detectives, must have excellent communication skills, perceptiveness, leadership skills, good and moral judgment, and exceptional physical stamina. If you are familiar with a foreign language, it will be useful. Problem-solving skills are a must.

And, perhaps most importantly, you will need to be passionate about your job and empathetic for those you are protecting.