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Police Officers

Significant Points

Federal police work ranges from fairly passive to very active involvement in law enforcement and protective activities. In some jurisdictions, there is a high potential for minor and serious violations, including some incidence of felonies, while in other locations, even misdemeanors are not very common except for traffic violations.

The primary mission and purpose of police organizations is to enforce law, maintain law and order, preserve the peace, and protect the life and civil rights of persons.

Police are typically trained to deal with misdemeanors and felonies, which can range from petty theft and verbal assault through murder, rape, simple and aggravated assault, domestic disputes, kidnapping, hostage taking, theft of national defense information and materials, theft of office equipment, drug trafficking, assault on Government facilities, arson and bomb threats, crowd control, and other conditions involving violations of law and threats to human life.

Nature of the Work

The primary mission of police officers in the Federal service is to maintain law and order. In carrying out this mission, police officers protect life, property, and the civil rights of individuals. They prevent, detect, and investigate violations of laws, rules, and regulations involving accidents, crimes, and misconduct involving misdemeanors and felonies. They arrest violators, assist in the prosecution of criminals, and serve as a source of assistance to persons in emergency situations.

Police services are provided in Federal residential areas, parks, reservations, roads and highways, commercial and industrial areas, military installations, Federally owned and leased office buildings, and similar facilities under Federal control. Within their jurisdictions, police officers enforce a wide variety of Federal, State, county, and municipal laws and ordinances, and agency rules and regulations relating to law enforcement. They must be cognizant of the rights of suspects, the laws of search and seizure, constraints on the use of force (including deadly force), and the civil rights of individuals.

Police officers are commissioned, deputized, appointed, or otherwise designated as agency and/or local law enforcement officers by statute, delegation, or deputization by local governments, or other official act. Arrest and apprehension authority includes the power to formally detain and incarcerate individuals pending the completion of formal charges (booking); requesting and serving warrants for search, seizure, and arrest; testifying at hearings to establish and collect collateral (bond); and/or participating in trials to determine innocence or guilt.

Police officers carry firearms or other weapons authorized for their specific jurisdictions. They wear uniforms and badges, use military style ranks (private, sergeant, lieutenant, etc.), and are commonly required to refamiliarize themselves with authorized weapons periodically and demonstrate skill in their use.

Police work in the Federal service may involve both line operations and auxiliary operations. Line operations typically include such activities as patrol work, traffic control, canine operations, vice control, work with juveniles, and detective operations. Auxiliary operations performed by officers include such activities as operating control centers and communications networks, court liaison, limited laboratory activities, and other miscellaneous duties that support and enhance line operations. Trained officers might perform in any of the line or auxiliary operations in full-time or part-time assignments.

Most police officers are engaged in patrol duties and/or traffic control. In performing patrol duties, they serve as a deterrent to crime and other violations of laws, rules, and regulations. Crime prevention is enhanced by the presence of uniformed officers in an area and by their being continually alert in observing, inspecting, and investigating circumstances or individuals which appear unusual and suspicious. Police officers regulate pedestrian and vehicular traffic; prevent accidents, congestion, and parking problems; give warnings; issue citations for traffic violations; and make arrests if necessary. They conduct preliminary investigations of crimes, investigate accidents, dispose of complaints, recover stolen property, counsel adults and juveniles, and assist persons needing help.

Typically, investigations that remain incomplete at the end of an assigned shift are turned over for completion by detectives or criminal investigators. Officers assigned to "control desk" activities receive and record radio, telephone, and personal messages and instructions involving emergencies, complaints, violations, accidents, and requests for information and assistance. They transmit messages and instructions to officers on patrol and dispatch officers to investigate complaints and assist in emergencies. They interpret rules and regulations and answer general inquiries. They may also explain to violators their rights and the procedures involved in securing bond and legal aid and in contacting family members. They collect collateral, issue receipts, record charges and, as necessary, place offenders under arrest. They also search prisoners and remove weapons and articles which could cause injury or be used in escape attempts. They maintain records and prepare reports covering activities and events occurring over the course of a shift. Officers assigned to detective work, full-time or part-time, conduct investigations of crimes and maintain surveillance over areas with high rates of crime. Investigations involve searching crime scenes for clues, interviewing witnesses, following leads, analyzing and evaluating evidence, locating suspects, and making arrests. In cases involving major crimes (capital crimes, those involving prescribed monetary values, or others that may vary in different jurisdictions), the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other specialized law enforcement agencies may assume jurisdiction and control over the investigation. In these cases, police detectives may perform some investigative work under the direction of assigned criminal investigators. Full-time detectives typically work in civilian clothes, although, depending on the availability of investigative personnel, uniformed officers may also perform investigative duties.

Investigations conducted by police detectives are distinguished from those conducted by criminal investigators (GS-1811). Detectives handle cases that occur within a prescribed local jurisdiction, where the violations are clearly within the authority of the local police force. Police investigations are limited by agreements with investigative agencies (FBI, DEA, etc.) which prescribe responsibility according to the seriousness of crimes committed and monetary values involved, are conducted totally within the local jurisdiction, and they are commonly of relatively short duration (e.g., a few days). Criminal investigators, by contrast, tend to handle cases that clearly involve felonies, violate Federal law, extend over other Federal and civil jurisdictions or involve large monetary values, and extend for periods of weeks, months, or even years.

Uniformed officers may perform detective duties on a regular and recurring basis when following up on cases originating during their regularly assigned patrol or response activities. In some police forces and jurisdictions, some uniformed officers may perform many or all of the functions commonly assigned in other jurisdictions to plain clothes detectives. In evaluating police officer positions under this guide, the amount and kind of investigative work performed may influence the selection of appropriate factor levels. Federal police officers enforce a wide range of laws. Federal courts commonly "assimilate" local laws for application to and enforcement within Federal jurisdictions. In many jurisdictions, therefore, officers must be aware of and enforce some combination of Federal, State, county, and local laws and ordinances. In addition, some officers are required to be fully cognizant of other bodies of written and unwritten law, such as in the case of Indian reservations where tribal law and custom are often enforced by the Federal police force.

Some Federal police officers are responsible for enforcing State and Federal fish and game laws on Federal installations. These involve licensing requirements, creel and bag limits, installation rules concerning open and closed hunting areas, protection of nongame species, poaching, control of firearms and other weapons, and related aspects of game law and regulation. Some of these working conditions require the officer to make decisions about placing charges and preparing incident reports according to the jurisdiction and requirements of specific courts.

Federal police officers perform their duties within prescribed physical boundaries or jurisdictions which are usually clearly defined by physical limitations such as fence or property lines around installations, city sidewalks, or street lines around Federally owned or leased buildings. Within those boundaries, Federal police officers typically have full jurisdictional authority over all violations of law, rule, or regulation (exclusive jurisdiction).

In some instances, Federal authorities negotiate agreements with local governments to share jurisdiction (concurrent jurisdiction) on Federally owned or leased property when such agreements can contribute to more effective enforcement actions. Such agreements often contain provisions for Federal officers to extend their enforcement actions beyond the bounds of their normal jurisdictions, as in cases of "hot pursuit" of felony suspects. Within a single police organization which covers properties over a widely dispersed area (Federal reservation combined with Federally owned and Federally leased property off the reservation), several definitions of jurisdiction may apply for each kind of property. These are usually clearly defined, although such arrangements may impose different knowledge requirements and some differences in the way officers exercise their authority in each kind of location.

Police officers receive training in police academies or other training facilities in subjects involving community relations; the definition and application of arrest authority; familiarity with Federal and other laws, rules, and regulations; the rights of individuals; laws of search and seizure; the use of weapons; protecting evidence; interviewing witnesses; and other information pertinent to performing law enforcement duties. Some officers receive additional training covering specialized techniques for crowd and riot control; detection and response to attempts at espionage and sabotage; specialized weapons; bombs and incendiary materials; and special measures pertinent to the specific installation or facility.

Police Officer, GS-0083-04

At this level, employees use knowledge of simple, routine, or repetitive tasks or operations which typically involve following step-by-step instructions and require little or no previous training or experience. This is the knowledge level for trainee positions, when the employee has little or no prior experience in the occupation, is learning through a program of on-the-job training, or is beginning or awaiting entry to a formal training program. Employees are typically assigned to work with and assist more experienced officers who are responsible for the activities and actions of the trainee.

Employees use this level of knowledge in performing controlled, elementary tasks such as:

-- Directing traffic during rush hours.

-- Touring the facility on foot and/or by patrol vehicle to learn the physical layout of the jurisdiction.

-- Writing citations for clear-cut, observed violations of laws and rules.

-- Operating radios to pass and receive clear-cut information.

-- Standing a fixed post and monitoring personnel movements to and from a controlled access area when the post is observable by senior officers.

-- Filling out reports on incidents of theft or accident, where report forms clearly show what kind of information is needed.

-- Accompanying senior officers responding to complaints or reports of incidents.

-- Other activities that inform and educate the employee about the environment in which the work is performed and the actions required in that setting.

Police Officer, GS-0083-05

At this level, police officers use knowledge of a body of basic or commonly used laws, rules, regulations, procedures, and operating methods to independently perform routine, recurring kinds of fixed post and patrol assignments. It is also used to respond to electronic and radio alarms. This knowledge includes, for example: commonly accepted installation traffic laws and rules; regulations governing access to Federal buildings; rules covering restricted items (cameras, weapons, etc.) and conduct of visitors and employees; procedures for handling a crime in progress such as robbery, assault, or pursuit of speeding vehicles; laws and procedures involving the rights of individuals and constraints on the exercise of authority; and others of a similar nature.

Police officers using this level of knowledge are normally expected to resolve those incidents which are clear-cut violations of law, rule, or regulation, and to recognize and call for assistance on more serious or complex incidents requiring greater knowledge and/or experience, especially situations involving felonies or potential felonies. Police officers will often maintain control at the scene of an incident through completion of required actions, including questioning witnesses, establishing fault, arresting violators, and other enforcement actions appropriate to the nature and seriousness of the incident.

Some police officers use knowledge of contractual arrangements and performance criteria for guard and security work performed under contract by private protective services. Officers monitor performance of guard personnel at assigned posts to assure that posts are properly staffed, the personnel are equipped according to contract requirements, and the prescribed kinds and level of duties are performed by contractor personnel.

Typical police duties using this level of knowledge include such tasks as:

-- Responding to calls or alarms involving crimes in progress or just discovered.

-- Questioning individuals at the scene of an incident to determine the reasons for a call for assistance, establishing the identity of injured parties, identifying the nature of incidents, and taking statements of victims, witnesses, and suspects.

-- Informing individuals about their rights as suspects and/or witnesses.

-- Operating radar or other speed detection equipment and pursuing speeding vehicles when enforcing traffic regulations or laws.

-- Arresting violators caught in the act or who readily admit to guilt.

-- Issuing citations for personally observed violations of law, rule, or regulation.

-- Giving out crime prevention information and advice during patrols and when in contact with individuals.

-- Performing traffic patrol and emergency response duties such as: enforcing speed limits; assisting at accident scenes; and taking statements from principals and witnesses; directing traffic and controlling the movement of vehicles and pedestrians at worksites; observing and reporting traffic safety hazards; issuing citations for speeding and parking violations; and enforcing pedestrian right-of-way rules.

-- Preparing various kinds of written reports about unsafe traffic conditions; accidents; storage or location of materials (including personal property) that are vulnerable to theft or damage; encounters with individuals such as complainants, witnesses, disruptive employees, or visitors; and other kinds of reports that describe events and may be used in future legal actions.

-- Responding to duress alarms and subduing unruly individuals.

-- Assisting victims of accidents or assaults by providing first aid, and/or calling for medical assistance, or transporting to medical facilities.

Police Officer, GS-0083-07

At this level, police officers use knowledge of a body of standardized rules, methods, procedures, and operating techniques that require considerable training and experience, to perform a full range of operations in preventing or resolving offenses, or in conducting preliminary investigations of incidents ranging from simple rules violations to felony and capital crimes.

Some police officers use knowledge of basic investigative methods and techniques to investigate violations or reports of probable incidents on the installation for which completion is anticipated within a single shift.

This level includes, in addition to those required at the lower levels, knowledge and experience to perform most, if not all, of the following police tasks:

-- Pursuing and apprehending persons fleeing a crime scene or attempting to resist arrest.

-- Subduing individuals causing disturbances, such as in family disputes.

-- Identifying and arresting violators based on eyewitness accounts.

-- Performing "desk sergeant," "control desk," or "dispatcher" duties involving passing of directions and information to officers on patrol assignments, coordinating emergency responses between security, fire, and other emergency units, and receiving and acting on calls concerning reports of violations or complaints.

-- Taking charge of a crime or accident scene and restricting access to those persons required on the scene.

-- Seeking, detecting, and protecting evidence and witnesses at the scene of an incident.

-- Taking statements from witnesses.

-- Clarifying conflicting statements.

-- Interrogating suspects.

-- Detaining witnesses and suspects.

-- Making arrests and performing booking procedures.

-- Turning over to detectives or investigators information gathered at the scene of an incident.

-- Participating in short-term investigations under the control of detectives or investigators.

The supervisor makes individual assignments for the shift or other prescribed period of time for traffic control points, patrol areas, escort assignments, complaints received, or other special and recurring tasks, indicating generally what is to be done, the priority of assignments, and any special concerns or approaches to be taken by the employee. Beginning of shift briefings and instructions commonly include information and general instructions on handling the aftermath of events such as stolen vehicles, robbery follow up, missing persons bulletins, and similar conditions. The supervisor provides additional, specific instructions for new, difficult, or unusual assignments including suggested work methods or advice on source material available.

The employee uses personal initiative in carrying out recurring assignments independently without specific instructions about how to do the work or the precise methods to apply. The employee is expected to call for backup or to otherwise seek supervisory assistance and advice in cases of life threatening emergencies or in the event of unusual problems or unfamiliar situations which are not covered by existing instructions and procedures.

Completed work is reviewed for technical adequacy, adherence to standard procedures and methods, and compliance with any special instructions. Review of the work increases with more difficult assignments if the employee has not previously performed similar assignments.

The number and relationships of guidelines requires the employee to use judgment in identifying and applying the proper procedures and techniques for application to specific actions when protecting property, enforcing the law, or assisting people. The employee also exercises judgment in making minor deviations from available guidelines according to the specific circumstances encountered at the scene of activity. Unless prevented by the emergency nature of an incident, employee proposals to significantly deviate from established guidelines are referred to the supervisor.

At this level, officers may also determine which of several established alternatives to use; for example, removing unauthorized personnel from an area without further legal or administrative action, using a level of force depending on perceived threat to self or others, calling for backup, or handling a situation alone. The level of judgment used will vary according to the circumstances or persons confronted and the availability and clarity of established guidelines and procedures.

The work includes various duties requiring the employee to perform related steps, processes, or methods for the completion of each assignment. Within an assignment period (shift, weekly or monthly cycles, etc.) the employee performs such different tasks as: directing traffic during rush hours; performing foot and/or vehicle patrol; responding to violation and duress alarms; assisting employees, visitors, or passerby; responding to domestic disturbance calls; or similar activities requiring control or action. The work varies depending on the rules or laws which apply to situations encountered and, in addition, the nature of specific situations encountered. Each kind of assignment comes under the same general set of guidelines and procedures.

Decisions regarding what needs to be done involve assessing each situation as it occurs and determining the existence of and difference among easily recognizable situations where law enforcement, assistance, or some form of informal situational counseling may be required. Decisions are made by the officer at the scene of an incident or when acting in a dispatcher (desk sergeant) capacity. The employee identifies the conditions involved and decides what kind of action to take, including the level of force required. Actions to be taken by the employee differ depending on such things as: the source of information (distress call, call for assistance, request for information); the nature and level of perceived threat to self and others; the nature of facility involved (office building, manufacturing facility, hospital, residential area, Indian reservation, business establishment); the seriousness of the violation or potential violation (robbery, assault, speeding, drunk, disorderly); or other differences of a factual nature. The employee identifies the conditions involved and decides what kind of action to take, including the level of force required.

Police Officer, GS-0083-09

Employees at this level, in addition to the knowledges required at the lower levels, use knowledge of an extensive body of standardized, optional, and innovative investigative procedures, techniques, and methods to detect, investigate, and resolve crimes and other incidents that are beyond the scope or requirements for solution on patrol assignments. Employees use this level of knowledge in performing a variety of standard and nonstandard assignments in resolving a wide range of conditions or criminal activities typically requiring extensive research, interviewing, planning, observing, conducting stakeout operations, and executing investigative techniques, resulting in arrests of suspects and, in some instances, in changes in patrol operating methods.

Employees using this level of knowledge perform tasks such as:

-- Conducting long- and short-term investigations when solutions cannot be achieved during the course of a normal patrol shift.

-- Evaluating crime prevention programs and recommending changes to reduce opportunities for theft, assault, illegal entry, or other kinds of violations.

-- Conducting long-term investigations (several days to several weeks) to detect and apprehend individuals committing acts of violence, theft of Federal or personal property, for violating laws concerning controlled substances.

-- Developing informants and informant networks as a part of specific assignments or for general application.

-- Developing and following leads, taking statements, and otherwise gathering bits of information and facts.

-- Analyzing facts to identify suspects and develop case information for use in pressing charges and bringing suspects to trial.

-- Coordinating with U.S. and other prosecuting attorneys on case development and plans to perform arrests and prosecutions.

-- Developing cover conditions and working under cover to detect and prevent criminal activities.

-- Coordinating with other law enforcement agencies to gather facts or evidence for use in assigned cases.

The supervisor makes assignments such as long-term investigations and undercover work within the employee's scope of responsibilities; defines the objectives, priorities, and deadlines; and assists the employee in unusual situations which do not have clear precedents.

The employee, having developed competence in the assignment, plans and carries out the steps required according to specific case conditions (time and place to deal with witnesses and suspects, consideration for confidentiality and exposure of witnesses, coordination with other law enforcement agencies, cover, need for and nature of stakeouts). The employee handles deviations from established procedures by resolving problems that arise according to agency or local standards, previous training and experience, established practices, legal precedents, or other controls appropriate to the immediate circumstances. Assignments may require the employee to perform investigations extending for periods of time beyond a single shift and to ascertain interrelationships with other cases and/or law enforcement agencies that may affect the methods and procedures used.

Completed work is evaluated for technical soundness, such as the quality of evidence, veracity of suspect or witness statements, ability to get U.S. Attorneys or others to accept cases for prosecution, success in solving crimes and violations, and contributions to the unit's crime prevention program. Techniques used by the employee are not usually reviewed in detail.

The employee uses personal judgment in interpreting, adapting, applying, and deviating from guidelines, based on unusual or emergency circumstances and concern with protecting public safety. The employee analyzes the results of such adaptations and recommends changes in established methods and procedures.

The employee performs various duties requiring the application of different and unrelated methods, practices, techniques, or criteria. The work typically involves such assignments as extensive investigative responsibilities (e.g., detective work extending beyond the span of a single shift), assignments that vary frequently in the nature of cases handled, and assignments requiring the application of a wide variety of police techniques to resolve. It may also include unscheduled exercises to demonstrate proficiency in special weapons and tactics.

The employee decides what actions to take and the applicable methodology based on assessment of facts obtained from other officers, witnesses, and personal observations and interviews. Decisions made vary according to the nature of perceived threat, as from demonstrators or anticipated terrorist actions, by the nature of hazards imposed by local terrain, and/or weather or other conditions that affect lighting, communications, and the ability to observe or pursue violators. The officer decides on whether standard or special procedures are appropriate, and whether the situation is real or simulates a potential threat.

The chosen course of action may be selected from several alternatives depending on the nature of the case, facts and clues available, personal analysis of case information, jurisdictional questions, and other considerations that affect the ability to identify sufficient facts and resolve case issues. The nature of the incident or threat, presence or absence of weapons, number and kinds of persons encountered, and other variables must be assessed to determine the proper course of action. The officer's assessment of such conditions and elements must be made quickly in order to determine among several alternatives the kinds of action to take and the level of force to use.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree or higher. Most police and detectives learn much of what they need to know on the job, often in their agency's training academy. Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and detectives in most States, large municipalities, and special police agencies, as well as in many smaller jurisdictions. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.

Education and training. Applicants usually must have at least a high school education, and some departments require 1 or 2 years of college coursework or, in some cases, a college degree. Physical education classes and participation in sports are also helpful in developing the competitiveness, stamina, and agility needed for many law enforcement positions. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many Federal agencies and urban departments.

State and local agencies encourage applicants to take courses or training related to law enforcement subjects after high school. Many entry-level applicants for police jobs have completed some formal postsecondary education, and a significant number are college graduates. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or administration of justice. Many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to work toward degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration of justice, or public administration and pay higher salaries to those who earn one of those degrees.

Before their first assignments, officers usually go through a period of training. In State and large local police departments, recruits get training in their agency's police academy, often for 12 to 14 weeks. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional or State academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional law and civil rights, State laws and local ordinances, and accident investigation. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in patrol, traffic control, use of firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response. Police departments in some large cities hire high school graduates who are still in their teens as police cadets or trainees. They do clerical work and attend classes, usually for 1 to 2 years, until they reach the minimum age requirement and can be appointed to the regular force.

Fish and game wardens also must meet specific requirements. Most States require at least 2 years of college study. Once hired, fish and game wardens attend a training academy lasting from 3 to 12 months, sometimes followed by further training in the field.

Federal agencies require a bachelor's degree, related work experience, or a combination of the two. Federal law enforcement agents undergo extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. The specific educational requirements, qualifications, and training information for a particular Federal agency can be found on its Web site. Many of these agencies are listed as sources of additional information at the end of this statement.

To be considered for appointment as an FBI agent, an applicant must be a college graduate and have at least 3 years of professional work experience or must have an advanced degree plus 2 years of professional work experience. An applicant who meets these criteria also must have one of the following: a college major in accounting, electrical engineering, information technology, or computer science; fluency in a foreign language; a degree from an accredited law school; or 3 years of related full-time work experience. All new FBI agents undergo 18 weeks of training at the FBI Academy on the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.

Other qualifications. Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and detectives in most States, large municipalities, and special police agencies, as well as in many smaller jurisdictions. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually must be at least 21 years old, and must meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications. Physical examinations for entry into law enforcement often include tests of vision, hearing, strength, and agility. Eligibility for appointment usually depends on one’s performance in competitive written examinations and previous education and experience.

Candidates should enjoy working with people and meeting the public. Because personal characteristics such as honesty, sound judgment, integrity, and a sense of responsibility are especially important in law enforcement, candidates are interviewed by senior officers and their character traits and backgrounds are investigated. A history of domestic violence may disqualify a candidate. In some agencies, candidates are interviewed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist or given a personality test. Most applicants are subjected to lie detector examinations or drug testing. Some agencies subject sworn personnel to random drug testing as a condition of continuing employment.

Although similar in nature, the requirements for Federal agents are generally more stringent and the background checks are more thorough. There are polygraph tests as well as interviews with references. Jobs that require security clearances have additional requirements.

Advancement. Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period ranging from 6 months to 3 years. In large departments, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to a candidate's position on a promotion list, as determined by scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance.

Federal agents often are on the General Services (GS) pay scale. Most begin at the GS-5 or GS-7 level. As agents meet time-in-grade and knowledge and skills requirements, they move up the GS scale. Promotions at and above GS-13 are most often managerial positions. Many agencies hire internally for these supervisory positions. A few agents may be able to enter the Senior Executive Series ranks of upper management.

Continuing training helps police officers, detectives, and special agents improve their job performance. Through police department academies, regional centers for public safety employees established by the States, and Federal agency training centers, instructors provide annual training in self-defense tactics, firearms, use-of-force policies, sensitivity and communications skills, crowd-control techniques, relevant legal developments, and advances in law enforcement equipment.


Police and detectives held about 883,600 jobs in 2008. About 79 percent were employed by local governments. State police agencies employed about 11 percent. Various Federal agencies employ police and detectives.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, police and detectives employed by local governments worked primarily in cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants. Some cities have very large police forces, while thousands of small communities employ fewer than 25 officers each.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities in most local police departments will be favorable for qualified individuals, whereas competition is expected for jobs in State and Federal agencies. As fast as average employment growth is expected.

Employment change. Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow 10 percent over the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Population growth is the main source of demand for police services.

Job prospects. Overall opportunities in local police departments will be favorable for individuals who meet the psychological, personal, and physical qualifications. In addition to openings from employment growth, many openings will be created by the need to replace workers who retire and those who leave local agencies for Federal jobs and private-sector security jobs. Jobs in local police departments that offer relatively low salaries, or those in urban communities in which the crime rate is relatively high, may be the easiest to get. Some smaller departments may have fewer opportunities as budgets limit the ability to hire additional officers. Bilingual applicants with military experience or college training in police science will have the best opportunities in local and State departments.

There will be more competition for jobs in Federal and State law enforcement agencies than for jobs in local agencies. Bilingual applicants with a bachelor's degree and several years of law enforcement or military experience, especially investigative experience, will have the best opportunities in Federal agencies.

The level of government spending determines the level of employment for police and detectives. The number of job opportunities, therefore, can vary from year to year and from place to place. Layoffs are rare because retirements enable most staffing cuts to be handled through attrition. Trained law enforcement officers who lose their jobs because of budget cuts usually have little difficulty finding jobs with other agencies.


Police and sheriff's patrol officers had median annual wages of $51,410 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,850 and $64,940. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,680. Median annual wages were $46,620 in Federal Government, $57,270 in State government, $51,020 in local government and $43,350 in educational services.

In May 2008, median annual wages of police and detective supervisors were $75,490. The middle 50 percent earned between $59,320 and $92,700. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,300. Median annual wages were $89,930 in Federal Government, $75,370 in State government, and $74,820 in local government.

In May 2008, median annual wages of detectives and criminal investigators were $60,910. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,930 and $81,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,870. Median annual wages were $73,170 in Federal Government, $53,910 in State government, and $55,930 in local government.

In May 2008, median annual wages of fish and game wardens were $48,930. The middle 50 percent earned between $37,500 and $61,290. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,710. Median annual wages were $48,960 in Federal Government, $50,440 in State government, and $35,810 in local government.

In May 2008, median annual wages of parking enforcement workers were $32,390. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,400 and $42,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,470. Median annual wages were $33,130 in local government and $27,640 in educational services.

In May 2008, median annual wages of transit and railroad police were $46,670. The middle 50 percent earned between $37,640 and $57,830. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,700. Median annual wages were $49,370 in State government, $43,720 in local government, and $56,300 in rail transportation.

Federal law provides special salary rates to Federal employees who serve in law enforcement. Additionally, Federal special agents and inspectors receive law enforcement availability pay (LEAP)—equal to 25 percent of the agent's grade and step—awarded because of the large amount of overtime that these agents are expected to work. Salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. Because Federal agents may be eligible for a special law enforcement benefits package, applicants should ask their recruiter for more information.

Total earnings for local, State, and special police and detectives frequently exceed the stated salary because of payments for overtime, which can be significant.

According to the International City-County Management Association's annual Police and Fire Personnel, Salaries, and Expenditures Survey, average salaries for sworn full-time positions in 2008 were as follows:

Position Minimum salary Maximum salary w/o longevity
Police chief $90,570 $113,930
Deputy chief 74,834 96,209
Police captain 72,761 91,178
Police lieutenant 65,688 79,268
Police sergeant 58,739 70,349
Police corporal 49,421 61,173

In addition to the common benefits—paid vacation, sick leave, and medical and life insurance—most police and sheriffs' departments provide officers with special allowances for uniforms. Many police officers retire at half-pay after 20 years of service; others often are eligible to retire with 30 or fewer years of service.

Related Occupations

Other occupations that help protect and serve people are:

Sources of Additional Information

Information about entry requirements may be obtained from Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.

To find Federal, State, and local law enforcement job fairs and other recruiting events across the country, contact:

  • National Law Enforcement Recruiters Association, PO Box 17132, Arlington, VA 22216. Internet:

For general information about sheriffs and to learn more about the National Sheriffs' Association scholarship, contact:

For information about chiefs of police, contact:

  • International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet:

Information related to Federal law enforcement:

  • Information about qualifications for employment as a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent is available from the nearest State FBI office. The address and phone number are listed in the local telephone directory. Internet:
  • Information on career opportunities, qualifications, and training for U.S. Secret Service Special Agents and Uniformed Officers is available from the Secret Service Personnel Division at (202) 406-5830  (202) 406-5830, (888) 813-8777, (888) 813-8777, (888) 813-USSS, (888)813-USSS, or U.S. Secret Services, Recruitment and Hiring Coordination Center, 245 Murray Dr., Building 410, Washington, DC 20223. Internet:
  • Information about qualifications for employment as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent is available from the nearest DEA office, DEA Office of Personnel, 8701 Morrissette Dr., Springfield, VA 22152, or call (800) DEA-4288, (800) DEA-4288. Internet:

Information about jobs in other Federal law enforcement agencies is available from:

  • U.S. Marshals Service, Human Resources Division—Law Enforcement Recruiting, Washington, DC 20530-1000. Internet:
  • U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Office of Governmental and Public Affairs, 99 New York Ave. NE. Mail Stop 5S144, Washington, DC 20226. Internet:
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20229. Internet:
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC 20528. Internet:

Information on obtaining Police Officer positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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