Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Pursuing a career in law enforcement is a dream of many boys and girls in the United States and many of them realize that dream. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 2,697,000 people employed in protective service occupations as per their May 2016 report.

There are many factors that determine the choice of a career path and one of them is the salary. In law enforcement, as everywhere else, the salary varies depending on the level of competency, the geographic area, the employer, the years of experience. We will present an overview of these main areas.

Police officer career path with salaries

One of the most common jobs in law enforcement is that of a police officer. If you want to find more about the other possibilities you can check the law enforcement job openings or our guide to the ultimate law enforcement career list with salaries.

If you want to embark on the career path of a police officer, while the minimum requirements will vary by state and by individual agency, often you need to be a minimum 21 years of age but not older than 37, and be an US citizen. There is a lengthy police officer hiring process and you need to be prepared for something more than a simple application form and interview with the hiring board. The effort to cover all the requirements, however, is worthy since after becoming a police officer you have multiple opportunities for development depending on your skills and abilities.

Police officers are responsible for enforcing the law and have several tasks to perform. One of the main duties of a police officer is to patrol neighborhoods to deter and detect criminal activity and monitor the threat to community safety, respond to calls, complaints and incidents, interact and sometimes interview suspects, victims and/or witnesses, gather evidence and write reports. Police officers may need to arrest suspects, and can testify in court about any case they were directly or indirectly involved with. Other duties include directing traffic at a place of an accident, giving first aid to victims or investigating burglaries. While on shift, the uniformed officer may identify, pursue and arrest suspected criminals, resolve community problems, respond to domestic violence incidents, etc. Many urban police agencies practice the so called “community policing” – an officer builds relationship with the citizens of a neighborhood and mobilizes them to assist in fighting crime by learning what to watch for be providing information to the police. Working hours vary and are often subject to changes and include night shifts and working on weekends and holidays. The pay rate varies depending on the area and the department but the average salary a police officer should expect is between $33,879 and $88,986 (source:

Here is what payment you can expect with the other jobs in this career path:

  • Security officer – hourly rate of $9.36 – $17.15 or a total pay of $19,869 – $42,787
  • Security supervisor – hourly rate of $10.66 – $20.28 or a total pay of $23,598 – $58,551
  • Security officer armed – hourly rate of $10.21 – $24.35 or a total pay of $21,958 – $59,006
  • Security guard – hourly rate of $8.96 – $15.66 or a total pay of $18,739 – $40,502
  • Security manager – salary of $39,855 – $114,468
  • Security director – salary of $45,520 – $144,624
  • Police sergeant – salary of $41,935 – $111,002
  • Police lieutenant – salary of $50,732 – $122,189
  • Police detective – salary of $39,855 – $100,345
  • First-line supervisor/Manager of police and detectives – salary of $48,472 – $119,195
  • Police chief – salary of $41,203 – $137,514

Pay levels for experienced police officers

The average pay by experience for a police officer follows a positive trend. While an entry-level police officer with less than 5 years of experience earns about $44,000 on average per year, someone with more than 20 years of experience reaches the amount of $64,000. It can be concluded that the average increase is of about $5,000 per 5 years of experience since a police officer with 5-10 years of experience gets $50,000 and someone with 10 to 20 years gets $55,000. The average pay includes the salary with additional compensations such as tips, bonus and overtime pay.

Pay levels by employer

Those who consider working in the law enforcement should also choose their employer carefully as the pay rate differs depending on the agency you work for. Here is a list of 20 of the most popular employers and the average pay based on 2,618 employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 12 months.

Employer Average salary per year
Engility Corp. $137,151
Pro-Vision, Inc. $100,000
Federal Government Jobs $92,938
U.S. Department of State $79,036
United States Department of Defense $77,859
Department of Justice $79,178
Metropolitan Police Department $76,794
VCA Code Staffing $62,952
Opta Corp. $60,000
U.S. Navy $46,857
U.S. Coast Guard $46,290
Florida Highway Patrol $46,074
University of South Florida $44,046
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York $43,146
Customs and Border Protection $40,960
University of South Carolina $37,502
U.S. Army $35,965
Kenton County Detention Center $30,000
University of Virginia $29,446

No doubt the pay rate in the private sector is much higher than in the government. The tendency is also that state police employees tend to get the highest average pay, followed by police officers employed in local governments and the federal police coming third. Federal pay for law enforcement officers, however, may override the state and local pay rates, since the federal agents usually have a lot of overtime. The lowest payment is received by law enforcement officers working in junior colleges, colleges and universities. This is also visible in the table below based on the information of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Industry Employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Local government 560,590 $30.13 $62,680
State government 60,380 $33.27 $69,190
Federal executive branch 12,060 $26.43 $54,980
Colleges, universities and professional schools 14,440 $25.44 $52,920
Junior colleges 3,620 $24.77 $51,520

Average annual police officer wage by state

Another filter that you can use in order to determine the best pay rate of a police officer is location. The payment by state varies as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following data in respect to the best pay rates by state:

State Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California $46.47 $96,660
New Jersey $42.06 $87,490
Alaska $38.23 $79,510
Washington $36.70 $76,340
District of Columbia $35.22 $73,250

Strangely as it is, you will be slightly better off financially working in the state of Alaska rather than in the metropolitan area.

The lowest annual mean wage rates between $31,430 and $45,700 and is registered in 12 states: Maine, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. You need to take into account that the hiring process and requirements also differ from state to state so make sure that you are fully eligible to apply before making the move. For example, in some states or departments there are restrictions concerning tattoos, while in others the regime is more liberal. By all means, however, you need to go through the entire hiring process, take both the written and oral tests, the physical ability test, medical and psychological evaluation and background check before your dream of being a police officer comes true.

Median weekly earnings of protective service occupations by sex

Last but not least, the average payment of a police officer, as in almost every other profession, differs by sex.

According to the information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2016, there are more men than women occupied in the field of protective services. The total number of men is 2,173,00 with a median weekly pay of $854, while the total number of employed women is 524,00 with a median weekly pay of $688.

As you can see there is a great difference between the number of employed men and women and a visible difference in the average weekly pay rate.

Hourly and annual wages for all protective service occupations

The sphere of law enforcement and protective services is quite broad and you may want to pursue a career that is much different than that of the police officer. If you are interested in the payment rates for the other job possibilities have a look in the excerpt of the Bureau of Statistics’ table below:

  Median hourly wage Annual mean wage
Protective Service Occupations $18.59 $45,810
Supervisors of Protective Service Workers $32.42 $72,300
First-Line Supervisors of Law Enforcement Workers $37.26 $81,380
First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers $29.12 $65,100
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives $40.79 $88,400
First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers $35.84 $77,050
First-Line Supervisors of Protective Service Workers, All Other $22.99 $50,690
Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers $23.22 $50,890
Firefighters $23.09 $50,520
Fire Inspectors $26.98 $59,550
Fire Inspectors and Investigators $28.10 $61,660
Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists $17.42 $44,300
Law Enforcement Workers $25.60 $58,310
Bailiffs, Correctional Officers, and Jailers $20.59 $46,710
Bailiffs $20.52 $45,740
Correctional Officers and Jailers $20.59 $46,750
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $37.56 $81,490
Fish and Game Wardens $24.87 $54,760
Parking Enforcement Workers $18.25 $39,650
Police Officers $28.73 $62,790
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers $28.69 $62,760
Transit and Railroad Police $32.03 $67,850
Other Protective Service Workers $12.48 $30,130
Animal Control Workers $16.61 $36,600
Private Detectives and Investigators $23.17 $53,530
Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers $12.43 $29,780
Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators $15.69 $35,280
Security Guards $12.39 $29,730
Miscellaneous Protective Service Workers $12.03 $29,230
Crossing Guards $12.84 $29,190
Lifeguards, Ski Patrol, and Other Recreational Protective Service Workers $9.76 $22,640
Transportation Security Screeners $19.08 $40,160
Protective Service Workers, All Other $13.81 $32,880