What is a Police Officer?

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  • Although every society has incorporated its own form of law enforcement, officers as we know them today first came to fruition in England in 1748, with the formation of the Bow Street Runners, a collection of volunteers who walked the streets to maintain the peace. Since then, police forces the world over have organized into national, state, and local peace officer organizations, all with their own focus and expertise.

    Today, police officers still “keep the peace,” protecting properties and people and investigating crimes that happen in local communities. They provide emergency assistance, keep order at major entertainment events, participate in surveillance and counter-terrorism efforts, or apply special investigative skills to major crimes like murders, drug trafficking cases, or fraud. Often known as “cops”, they work in what can be considered dangerous situations.

    Should you decide to pursue law enforcement you too could have this experience. You could also work in many other capacities as a law enforcement officer, from becoming a fish and game warden who patrols undeveloped lands to a border patrol agent who enforces immigration laws. You can also apply to become a federal officer for agencies like the CIA or FBI. Regardless of the police officer career path you pursue, it can be a rewarding career for those who want to give back to their communities, keep them safe, and help citizens live productive lives.

    Why Should I Become a Cop?

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    People are motivated to become police officers for many reasons, including an inclination to help others, a desire to have an exciting career, or simply to have a respected job with good benefits like a decent salary and secure retirement plan. But being a cop is not always as exciting as it seems on television. While you can expect to put yourself in dangerous situations for the sake of others, sometimes you should also be prepared to work long hours that may interfere with your personal life. You will have to deal with everyday violations of the law by doling out tickets, investigating noise complaints, and writing incident reports.

    No matter what position you hold as an officer, you must be a person of good moral character so that you do not abuse the power that you are given. Take the time to examine your reasons for wanting to become a police officer before you take the steps to apply to become a cop.

    Before applying to a police force, see if your skills and personality are typical of people who become cops. According to O*NET successful police officers and detectives are skilled in active listening, critical thinking, and assessment. These skills are all valuable on the job since police must use all their senses in combination with perception in order to monitor tense situations and quickly decide how to respond. Police should also be good at problem solving and negotiation because they must be able to persuade people to stay calm and make the right choices.

    How Do I Become an Officer?

    Becoming an officer of the law will take a lot of effort and preparation. You will encounter some differences in requirements to become a police officer according to the police force you apply to, but there are some universal requirements you will have to meet whether you apply to the FBI or the county sheriff’s office. No matter what type of peace officer you want to be, expect to need the following qualifications:

    • Earn at least a high school diploma or GED, and know that a college degree will give you an advantage in the job market
    • Demonstrate your physical fitness for the job through agility, strength and endurance tests
    • Pass a criminal history check
    • Pass the civil service exam, which tests your problem-solving abilities, general knowledge and aptitude for the job
    • Impress people with your interview, where you’ll demonstrate why you are a viable, trustworthy candidate for a job protecting the public
    • Complete police academy training, where you will study subjects like policing tactics, crime scene processing, police ethics, and proper use and care of firearms

    Although it is not always necessary to earn a college degree in order to become a police officer, it is highly recommended that you do so. Educational requirements for police officers are not consistent across the U.S., but many states require cops to hold at least an associate’s degree. Some states even require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field like sociology or public administration.

    As you explore the resources available to you on this site, consider what type of police officer you would like to become. You can be a local, country, state or federal officer; a uniformed or plainclothes detective or cop; and within your department, you can be a standard officer, or work in specialized units, like patrolling by horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, or aided by dogs in K-9 units. Browse the state information on this site for how to become a police officer in your location.