Why Be a Police Officer?
By Eric Hammer
There are lots of reasons to be a police officer - the prestige,
the retirement plan (many city police forces offer half pay retirement
after just twenty years on the job) and, yes, the feeling of
power. However, while all of these things sound like great reasons
to be a police officer, they are all at best ancillary reasons
for taking on such a job.
Instead, the real reason to be a police officer is because
it is a truly noble job and one where you get to do a lot of
good for society. Even though we sometimes don't like them and
sometimes wish they would go away, cops have a vital role to
play in all of our lives and without good cops, our cities would
quickly decay into utter anarchy.
If your reason for wanting to be a cop is a noble one, then
congratulations - you are making a great choice. However, if
you want the prestige or the power (or the retirement benefits),
you are likely to end up disappointed. While all those things
do come with the job, they are not what drives most cops to take
on what can be a very difficult job.
Ask anyone who does a job simply because it's a way to pay
the bills rather than because it's something they enjoy doing
how they really feel about their job and then multiply that times
100 to see what it would be like trying to be a police officer
for the wrong reasons.
Don't forget that along with all those perks comes the very real
chance of being shot on the job, beating beat up, pulling duty
which can be dirty and or boring and often being the one who
is asked to jump first into danger.
How Much Can You Make?
According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average salary
for a police officer is between $46,000 and $92,700 per year,
though this can be lower or higher depending on your departments
hiring policies. New York City for example at one point was offering
extremely low starting salaries ($25,000 per year) in exchange
for rapid advancement to higher salaries later on, once your
training was complete. Check with your local police recruiter
to find out details.
Remember that you can also pull extra duty when there are
shortages (which happens more and more these days as cities tighten
their belts and hire fewer cops - this means that those who get
in often end up with more demanding schedules but do earn the
overtime for taking extra work which might have gone to additional
cops in better times.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
If you want to be a police officer, you're going to need more
than just a willingness to protect and serve. You'll also need
to be someone who is patient and willing to listen to all sides
in an argument. Often, cops are asked to become on the spot mediators
rather than enforcers of the law.
You'll also find yourself at times doing things you really
would rather not do, like arresting a teenage kid in front of
his crying mother because the kid is accused of murder or dealing
with elder crime, where you have to arrest the 90 year old great
grandmother who decided to supplement her Social Security check
by dealing drugs to kids on the side.
Finally, you are also often the person who has to make the
first condolence call - it is often the job of a police officer
to knock on someone's door and inform them that their loved one
If you want to earn more money on the side from various other
jobs, such as security or detective work, it's important to check
with your union before making any commitments. Police officers
are required to make sure they don't have a conflict of interest
before they take on extra jobs and some departments forbid their
officers to take side jobs for payment for that very reason.
Qualifications / Requirements
Each city, state and federal agency will have their own requirements
for police officers working for them (don't forget that an FBI
agent is technically a police officer as well - so is a secret
service agent, though a CIA operative isn't one). As a rule,
you'll need to be a U.S. citizen, be in excellent physical shape
and able to pass a number of physical and written examinations
(for example, many police forces require their officers to pass
an eye exam and will disqualify those who are color blind). You'll
also need a least a high school diploma (some jobs will require
a college degree) and most police forces will require that you
are 21 or older.
If you are accepted, you'll start out in the Police Academy,
where you'll learn the basics of the job of being a cop and then
be assigned a training officer who will work with you for the
first year that you are a cop to show you the rounds.
Start by purchasing your local civil service employment newspaper
(in New York City for example, it's called The Chief) and look
for exams for the incoming police cadet class. Some cities and
states have rolling exams where the exams are offered all the
time while others will require you to wait until they issue a
tender to hire more police officers.
Check out these helpful resources to learn more about how
to be a police officer:
- Everything about how to be a police officer. However, in spite
of the picture currently on their front page, you will not working
for CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) since it and Jack Bauer are
WiseGeek: How to Become a Police Officer - another
good discussion of what it takes to be a police officer.