Building a career in law enforcement is a challenging and rewarding task at the same time. Sworn law enforcement officers have the authority to carry firearms, make arrests and have taken an oath to enforce the law. Different officers have various job titles, career opportunities and duties that we will summarize in our guide below.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the United States Department of Labor in 2014 there were 3,44,3800 people in protective service occupations and the projected number for 2024 is 3,597,700, which means 4.5% growth. That is lower than the average for the country. The demand however, varies according to the specific career within law enforcement you would like to pursue. While the demand for police officers and detectives is expected to raise by 4% for the same period (2014-2024), the need for more specialized experts, especially in the field of Information and Technology will be much greater. The demand for Cybersecurity Specialists is expected to increase by more than 25% and for Information Security Analysts by 37%. Therefore, we can say that employment opportunities in the law enforcement sector will be available for those who pursue them and prepare properly for the exams and interviews associated with the job.
Have a look at the law enforcement career list below to find the job that best matches your interests and skills. Once you decide, you can start browsing the Law Enforcement Job Openings available.
Law enforcement career list by type of job
A law enforcement officer can occupy three basic types of jobs: uniformed officer, investigator/detective and support staff. The daily activities and duties of police officers and detectives differ according to their specialty however they all have one thing in come in addition to keeping us safe: writing reports and maintaining well-kept records of the incidents they deal with. This is of particular importance when they have to testify in court, for example. Here are a few details about each type of job, that you might be interested in.
Uniformed police officers have an enforcement role. Their general law enforcement duties and responsibilities include regular patrols as well as responding to calls for service. Other duties include directing traffic at a place of an accident, giving first aid to victims or investigating burglaries. Doing paperwork and responding to calls also takes up a great part of their working day.
In smaller towns the uniformed police officer may patrol alone but in some areas, especially larger urban areas, this can be done with a partner. The larger police agencies are organized into districts/precincts and each patrolling officer has a specific region to cover. The officers become familiar with their patrol area and while on patrol they remain alert for anything that looks unusual or suspicious. 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.
Uniformed police officers may also have some investigative functions , however, a police agency usually has a separate investigative division. A police officer is usually promoted to these investigative positions as a result of their good work and qualifications.
Examples of uniformed officer jobs include:
- Local Police Officer – operates locally in a city or town under a chief of police.
- Deputy Sheriff – similar to a police officer but operates at a county level under the sheriff, who is usually an elected official.
- State Trooper – also called state police officer or highway patrol officer. They arrest criminals and patrol highways and are in charge of enforcing motor vehicle laws and regulations.
- Border Patrol Agent – patrols borders and deals with illegal immigration
- Special jurisdiction Police Officer – they have special geographic jurisdiction and serve transportation systems or facilities. These are public college and university police forces, public school district police and the like.
- Fish and Game Warden – they enforce fishing, hunting and boating laws. Their duties include patrol of hunting and fishing areas, response to complaints and calls, conduct of rescue and search operations.
Investigators and detectives (plainclothes officers)
The second large branch of law enforcement career opportunities includes the investigators, detectives, and special agents, or the so called plainclothes officers. Detectives gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. They conduct interviews with suspects and witnesses, participate in suspect observations and in raids and arrests. Some detectives are part of interagency task forces that deal with specific crimes such as fraud, human trafficking, drugs, etc. Each detective is assigned to a specific case on a rotating basis and works on it until it is resolved with an arrest and possible trial. In police agencies uniformed police officers can become investigators through promotion or advancement. In other specialized criminal investigation agencies, such as FBI or the Secret Service, you may be hired directly to work in an investigative division as a Special Agent.
Some job examples for plainclothes officers include:
- Criminal investigator
- Immigration inspector
- FBI Agent
- US Secret Service Special Agent
- Air Marshal
- Support Positions
The support positions in law enforcement are as important as the uniformed and plainclothes officers. Usually these are professionals who support the investigation and deal with things like categorizing evidence, ballistic tests and exams, lab tests and experiments. For example, the person in charge of inventorying the evidence is called an evidence technician who might have been hired for this role. Often the support positions are with larger agencies or crime labs. The job openings are filled by personnel hired specifically to do that job or by officers and agents who have advanced in their career.
If you want to occupy one of the law enforcement support positions, you may choose between:
- Criminal Analyst
- Evidence Technician
- Firearms Examiner
- Crime Lab Technician
- Hand Writing Examiner
- Intelligence Analyst
- Investigative Assistant
Levels of operation in the law enforcement career list
All three types of law enforcement jobs listed above are utilized at all three government levels of law enforcement agencies. The three basic levels are local, state and federal, and county level can be added as an additional or complimentary level to the local. The duties and responsibilities of all officers differ depending on their specific position and the level at which they operate. Below you can find the basic details of the responsibilities of a law enforcement officer at each level.
At a local level uniformed officers and detectives are responsible for enforcing the law in a certain area, town or city. They pursue and apprehend individuals who break the law, investigate burglaries and homicides and any suspicious activity they notice. Uniformed police officers patrol, respond to calls and may be in charge of traffic direction at a crime scene, while detective gather evidence and conduct interviews until the case is resolved.
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are the law enforcement officers that are responsible on the county level. Sheriffs perform duties on enforcing the law that are similar to local police chief. The difference is that they are usually elected to their posts. The sheriff deputies also provide security in county courts and as such are sometimes referred to as bailiffs.
State police officers or state troopers are those who patrol on the highways and are in charge of motor vehicle laws. Their main tasks include issuing traffic citations, directing traffic at crime scenes and giving first aid to accident victims. State police officers often assist other law enforcement agencies. They also have court-related duties, answer to calls, perform investigative or administrative work.
There are many agencies that operate at federal level.
- FBI or the Federal Bureau of Investigation is the government’s principal investigator. FBI can conduct investigations in more than 200 areas concerning federal law and can deal with sensitive information and issues related to the national security. Some of the criminal investigations carried out by FBI Agents include organized crime, cyber-crime, terrorism, kidnapping, drug and human trafficking, corruption.
- Specialized Federal agencies – in addition to FBI, there are many other specialized agencies that enforce the federal law in specific sectors. The Secret Service are responsible for protecting the President, vice President and their families, as well as other public officials. The agents working for the Secret Service are two types – Special Agents and Uniformed Officers and both have very specific responsibilities and have to meet very high criteria to be employed. Other specialized federal law enforcement officers are the Federal Air Marshals, who provide air security, US Border Patrol agents who enforce illegal immigration, US Drug Enforcement (DEA) agents dealing with all aspects of illegal drugs and Custom Inspectors who supervise all imports and exports and enforce the laws governing all the cargo, baggage, items, etc., that enter or leave the USA.
- Other – sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers are employed by other federal agencies as well. Some of the major names are the Postal Services, the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement.
All law enforcement officers, regardless of their specific job title or level at which they work, should keep immaculate paperwork. They are responsible for writing reports and keeping records of all accidents as these might be necessary if they testify in court.
Basic salary information in law enforcement
The information about the salary in the law enforcement sector differs significantly depending on the type of job and level of operation. Furthermore, the average salary for people with jobs in law enforcement can be summarized by years of experience, state, city, name of employer, etc. Therefore, make sure to check the official law enforcement website with job listings for specific details on how to apply, what qualifications you need and what salary you should expect. A good reference for the salary information is the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Career Profiles where you can find statistical data about the job you are interested in.
Here are some figures that can help you.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average wage in the field of protective service for 2014 was $37,180. The national occupation and wage estimates as of May 2016 provide the following figures for the protective services occupations:
|Job Title||Annual Medium Income|
|Protective Service Occupations||38,660|
|Supervisors of Protective Service Workers||67,430|
|First-Line Supervisors of Law Enforcement Workers||77,500|
|First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers||60,560|
|First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives||84,840|
|First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers||74,540|
|Miscellaneous First-Line Supervisors, Protective Service Workers||47,820|
|First-Line Supervisors of Protective Service Workers, All Other||47,820|
|Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers||48,290|
|Fire Inspectors and Investigators||58,440|
|Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists||36,230|
|Law Enforcement Workers||53,240|
|Bailiffs, Correctional Officers, and Jailers||42,820|
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||42,820|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||78,120|
|Fish and Game Wardens||51,730|
|Parking Enforcement Workers||37,950|
|Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers||59,680|
|Transit and Railroad Police||66,610|
|Other Protective Service Workers||25,960|
|Animal Control Workers||34,550|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||48,190|
|Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers||25,840|
|Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators||32,630|
|Miscellaneous Protective Service Workers||25,020|
|Lifeguards, Ski Patrol, and Other Recreational Protective Service Workers||20,290|
|Transportation Security Screeners||39,680|
|Protective Service Workers, All Other||28,720|