Police Officer Job Description
Besides the physical skills needed to be an effective officer, police officers need diplomacy, ethics, self discipline, and a good amount of human compassion. Their job involves assisting those in need, negotiating arguments and exercising patience more than it involves engaging in physical conflicts, so it takes a well-balanced person to effectively hold a police officer’s job.
What Do Police Officers Do?
The job of a police patrolman varies from day to day, but they work toward the ultimate goal of enforcing laws, mitigating public disturbances, investigating possible crime, and apprehending those responsible for breaking the law.
A city patrolman’s daily activities can consist of:
- Running patrol in a squad car
- Responding to calls from dispatch
- Pulling over motorists
- Intervening in public or domestic disturbances
- Investigating suspicious circumstances
- Communicating with dispatch throughout the day
- Completing reports at the end of the day
An officers’ daytime shift usually starts between 6 and 8 a.m. and usually lasts 8 hours. The evening shift typically starts around 3 or 4 p.m., extending until 11:30 p.m. or 12:30 a.m. The swing shift may begin around 11 p.m. or midnight, running until 7 or 8 a.m.
Officers can sometimes run well over the 8-hour shift, depending on the day’s events and the department’s need for officers.
What Types of Officer Are There?
There are many types of law enforcement officer, as well as other members of law enforcement who are not officers.
The most common types of police officer are:
Patrol officers: these officers patrol the streets of a city or neighborhood, responding to problems where necessary.
Sheriffs: These officers work on a county level, and are sometimes the only law presence in sparsely inhabited, rural areas. Their jobs roughly parallel those of city officers.
Detectives: Detectives investigate individual cases, interviewing witnesses and suspects and following leads. These are usually plainclothes officers.
State troopers: The state police (aka highway patrol) are responsible for patrolling highways and dealing with traffic and vehicular crimes, as well as accidents.
Federal officers: The FBI is the most well-known federal law agency. They investigate federal crimes such as organized crime, kidnapping, bank robbery, drug crimes and terrorism. They sometimes work with other agencies to solve federal crimes on a local level, such as helping to capture a known drug trafficker who has been discovered by city police.
For more information on these types of officers, see Types of Law Enforcement Officers.
Some other members of law enforcement are:
Crime scene investigators (CSI): CSIs scour crime scenes for evidence they can use to determine what took place, and give leads for the police to investigate.
Private investigator: These investigators are similar to detectives, but they are not affiliated with a department and do not arrest or detain suspects. They are hired by private citizens and other organizations for fact-finding purposes.
Law enforcement officers do not necessarily need to have a college education, but some departments prefer to hire officers with a postsecondary background in criminal justice or another legal discipline. These officers are usually hired with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Aside from formal education, officers undergo training at a police academy. There they are trained in policing tactics, firearms and vehicle use, and conditioned for physical strength and agility. Once trained, they usually join the force at a probationary level, then advance in rank according to their department’s promotional ladder.