Approximately 665,280 police and sheriff's patrol officers are employed in the United States. Most police officers work for local governments. State police agencies and various federal agencies also employ officers and detectives.
If you are interested in police work, you should apply directly to local civil service offices or examining boards to qualify as a candidate for police officer. In some locations, written examinations may be given to groups at specified times. For positions in smaller communities that do not follow civil service methods, you should apply directly to the police department or city government offices in that community. If you are interested in becoming a state police officer, you can apply directly to the state civil service commission or the state police headquarters, which are usually located in the state capital.
Advancement in these occupations is determined by several factors. An officer's eligibility for promotion may depend on a specified length of service, job performance, formal education and training courses, and results of written examinations. Those who become eligible for promotion are listed on the promotional list along with other qualified candidates. Promotions generally become available from six months to three years after starting, depending on the department. As positions of different or higher rank become open, candidates are promoted to fill them according to their position on the list. Lines of promotion usually begin with officer third grade and progress to grade two and grade one. Other possible promotional opportunities include the ranks of detective, sergeant, lieutenant, or captain. Many promotions require additional training and testing. Advancement to the very top-ranking positions, such as division, bureau, or department director or chief, may be made by direct political appointment. Most of these top positions are held by officers who have come up through the ranks.
Large city police departments offer the greatest number of advancement opportunities. Most of the larger departments maintain separate divisions, which require administration workers, line officers, and more employees in general at each rank level. Officers may move into areas that they find challenging, such as criminal investigation or forensics.
Most city police departments offer various types of in-service study and training programs. These programs allow police departments to keep up to date on the latest police science techniques and are often required for those who want to be considered for promotion. Training courses are provided by police academies, colleges, and other educational institutions. Some of the subjects offered are civil defense, foreign languages, and forgery detection. Some municipal police departments share the cost with their officers or pay all educational expenses if the officers are willing to work toward a college degree in either police work or police administration. Independent study is also often required.
Intensive 12-week administrative training courses are offered by the National Academy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. A limited number of officers are selected to participate in this training program.
Advancement opportunities on police forces in small communities are considerably more limited by the rank and number of police personnel needed. Other opportunities for advancement may be found in related police, protective, and security service work with private companies, state and county agencies, and other institutions.
Tips for Entry
Contact the police department you want to work for and ask them what qualifications they seek most. Some departments prefer a college degree and others place more value on experience.
Get physically fit. You will need to complete a physical examination to become a police officer so making physical fitness a priority is important.
Maintain a clean driving record. A pre-employment background check will scrutinize everything from misdemeanors to traffic violations. Keeping a clean, law-abiding profile will make you a better applicant.
Learn how to excel in an interview. Police officers need to display excellent interpersonal skills in the interview. You could practice with a friend and record yourself to see how you can improve. Search online for interviewing tips.