Working at a police department does not necessarily mean that you are a police officer. There is a great variety of different jobs that offer opportunity for different people to become part of the field of law enforcement. There are basically two types of positions within a police department – sworn and non-sworn. (link to article The Complete List of Police Department Jobs: Part 1 Non-Sworn Positions)
The second part of our guide on police department jobs will focus on the sworn positions available within the police department. The most popular job that appears in the job openings is that of the police officer. This is a sworn position, which means that the person is authorized to serve warrants, make arrests, detain people for a limited time, and carry firearms.
To apply for the position of police officer you would follow the common hiring process and application steps. The rest of the sworn positions, however, are not something that you can directly apply for as an entry level job. You will need to work your way up through the ranks to get these positions.
There are also a number of positions that for some agency will be filled by sworn personnel, but other agencies my use non-sworn personnel. Some of these positions are considered entry-level jobs and have some specific requirements for the candidates.
Below, we will have a look at the positions which are always sworn, and we will see what the minimum requirements are for those jobs.
Sworn police department jobs with ranks
The advancement in a police department starts with the position of the Police Officer and ends with Chief of Police. All the positions are held by sworn personnel, however some of them wear uniforms, while others work in the so called plain-clothes positions (Detectives). It is necessary to have certain experience and skills in order to pass to a higher rank and the same goes for the sheriff’s ranks.
Each position comes with more responsibilities and duties and naturally with higher payment. The typical ranking within a police department goes as follows:
Police Officers usually comprise the largest number of personnel within a police department. There are three ranks within this job position, which differ according to the paygrade: Police Officer I, II and III. Police Officers I are those on a probationary period and once it is completed they advance to Police Officer II. Once a Police Officer starts work, they are assigned to a foot patrol, patrol car, bicycle patrol, Mounted Unit or a two-wheel motorcycle. Some may go into specialized units such as the K-9 Unit to work with dogs or the S.W.A.T. The job of the police officer is quite various and includes responding to calls, writing crime reports, interviewing witnesses, going to the crime scene, coordinating traffic, etc.
In LAPD, for example, A Police Officer II or III may also serve as a Vice Investigator, Instructor at the Police Academy, Detective Trainee, Legislative Officer, News Media Coordinator, Range Officer, Recruitment Officer, Driver-Security Aide to the Chief of Police and the Mayor of the City, Senior Lead Officer, Unusual Occurrence Planning Officer, or numerous other positions within the Police Department.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Officer varies between $33,058 and $86,926. The median pay stands at $50,118 (source: PayScale)
The Police Detective is usually assigned to a specialized division and is responsible for responding to crime scenes and/or conducting investigations. There can be different ranks within this position as well. Detectives of second or higher rank are responsible for training junior detectives and other police officers. Some of the main duties of the Police Detective include to conduct investigations, work with informants, conduct surveillance, deal with different type of crimes – theft, homicide, illegal sex activities, juvenile crimes, drugs, etc. The Detective with the highest rank is the leading figure in high profile crimes related to homicide, trafficking or drugs.
In some cases, the Detective may travel to extradite suspects who have committed a crime in their state but are in customer in another state.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Detective varies between $39,038 and $100,495. The median pay stands at $60,355 (source: PayScale)
The title of a Police Sergeant is given to personnel responsible for geographic patrol divisions, specialized divisions and their administrative units. There are two ranks – Sergeant I and Sergeant II, the latter having more functions and bearing higher responsibility.
Part of the duties of the Police Sergeant include preparing daily car plan assignments, supervising Police Officers who are patrolling on foot or in vehicles, reviewing and approving different reports, responding to crime scenes whenever needed. The Police Sergeant is also responsible for the dispatchers and the training and supervision of the probationary officers. Sergeants can be assigned to any of the specialized divisions within the police department.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Sergeant varies between $42,826 and $109,213. The median pay stands at $66,640 (source: PayScale)
The Police Lieutenant has various enforcement and administrative functions and is basically the Officer-in-Charge, who reports to the Captain. The position is divided into two ranks: Lieutenant I and II. The latter may serve as an assistant to the Captain and perform their duties in their absence.
Responding to scenes of serious crimes that include homicide or officer-involved shootings, major theft or robbery is part of the duties of a Police Lieutenant. They are also in charge of the police officers and detectives and supervise their daily work. The Police Lieutenant is responsible for training of all their subordinates, inspects the personnel and the equipment and makes sure that all policies and procedures of the police department are respected.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Lieutenant varies between $49,336 and $125,376. The median pay stands at $77,712 (source: PayScale)
The Police Captain is the head of geographic areas, detective and specialized divisions and the position offers three tiers of pay advancement: Captain I, II and III. Naturally, with the higher payment come higher responsibilities. The Captain of a patrol or detective division supervises the functions of the personnel and how they perform their duties and ensures that all is done in compliance with the department rules and procedures. As a Commanding Officers, they are also in charge of the non-sworn personnel and their functions and need to make sure that all the personnel and facilities are in good condition and have to react upon need of upgrade or training.
The Captains who are in charge of specialized units such as Organized Crime, Homicide, Juvenile Services, etc. need to take care that the specific duties of each department are performed.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Captain varies between $48,490 and $148,130. The median pay stands at $76,395 (source: PayScale)
The Police Commander is in charge of the specialized groups, which consist of the specialized departments lead by the Captains.
The duties of the Commanders depend on the specific geographic area or group they are assigned to. In general, they are responsible for supervising the overall activities of police officers and detectives in their geographical area and coordinate their efforts. Police officers responsible for traffic coordination are also under their supervision. The Commander is also responsible for good relations with the community and aims to promote the activities of the department within the area they are in charge of. They make sure that all the personnel under their command complies with the department policies and procedures and may act as Police Deputy Chief in their absence.
- Salary: The median annual pay of a Police Commander stands at $90,000 (source: PayScale)
Police Deputy Chief
The Police Deputy Chief is the second highest rank in a police department and reports directly to the Chief of Police. A Captain or a Commander can be promoted to this rank.
The Police Deputy Chief can be assigned as Geographic Operations Bureaus, Human Resources Bureau, Detective Bureaus, Internal Affairs Group, or as the Chief of Staff and take the role of the Chief of Police in their absence.
The Police Deputy Chief is responsible for directing and supervising the work of all police officers, detectives and non-sworn personnel within the Bureau they are in charge of.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Police Deputy Chief varies between $48,380 and $153,958. The median pay stands at $80,322 (source: PayScale)
Chief of Police
The Chief of Police is the highest rank in a police department. It is fair to say that Chief acts as General Manager and are responsible for all the activities of the department including planning and efficient operation and administration. They make sure that the laws of the state and the federal laws are observed and correctly enforced.
The Chief of Police may testify before the City Council and participate in state or national legislative groups and has the right to propose new rules or amendments to existing laws concerning law enforcement.
- Salary: The annual payment of a Chief of Police varies between $40,657 and $136,093. The median pay stands at $72,043 (source: PayScale)
How to become a police officer?
As we already mentioned, in order to advance through the sworn positions in a police department, one needs to start their career as a police officer. Here are in a nutshell all the necessary requirements for becoming a police officer:
- Basic requirements: In order to become a police officer, the applicant must be 18 years of age, citizen of the USA and have a driving license. Some departments may require 21 years of age, so double check before applying.
- Education: The police departments require a high school diploma or a GED but any higher degree is an advantage. Speaking a second language is also a plus.
- Background: The background check is one of the most important parts of the recruitment process. The applicant needs to have clean background in order to become a police officer. This means no convictions, drug abuse, domestic violence or other misdemeanor. Excessive gambling habits, bad credit history or being member of a gang are also sufficient disqualifiers.
- Work experience: Even though no work experience is required in most of the cases, it is good if you have some years of employment behind your back. Working in a sphere that supposes active interaction with people and serving the community will be a plus. A government job or military service are also a great advantage.
- Physical fitness: Being physically fit is of great importance for a prospective police officer. As this is part of the daily life of the police officer, one other important component of the hiring process is the physical ability test and in order to pass it, you need to be in a good shape.
If you meet the basic requirements, you can apply for a job at a police department and prepare yourself for the lengthy hiring process that awaits any candidate for a police officer. Once you get hired, you can advance in the hierarchy as a result of your acquired knowledge and skills and years of experience.
The list above shows the vertical hierarchy within a police department. In smaller departments, some of the ranks may be missing or one person may be acting on several positions. Note that it is not possible to start your career in a police department directly as a Captain, for example, before passing all other ranks. Once you have reached a certain rank, you can apply for such a position in another department if there is a vacancy.