Period 3

Career Overview


Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who sometimes are called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes. Law enforcement officers’ duties depend on the size and type of their organizations.

Average Hours/Working Schedule

Uniformed officers, detectives, agents, and inspectors usually are scheduled to work full time. Paid overtime is common. Shift work is necessary because protection must be provided around the clock. Because more experienced employees typically receive preference, junior officers frequently work weekends, holidays, and nights. Some police officers chose to work off duty as security for restaurants, retail stores, and other establishments.

Working location(s)

In addition to confrontations with criminals, police officers and detectives need to be constantly alert and ready to deal appropriately with a number of other threatening scenarios. Officers regularly work at crime or accident scenes and other traumatic events as well as deal with the death and suffering that they encounter. Although a career in law enforcement may take a toll on their private lives, many officers find it rewarding to help members of their communities. The jobs of some federal agents, such as U.S. Secret Service and DEA special agents, require extensive travel, often on short notice. These agents may relocate a number of times over the course of their careers. Some special agents, such as those in the U.S. Border Patrol, may work outdoors in rugged terrain and in all kinds of weather.

Salary/Wage Potential (What is the average pay?)

The median annual wage of police and detectives was $55,010 in May 2010.The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,440, and the top 10 percent earned more than $88,870.

  • $68,820 for detectives and criminal investigators
  • $54,330 for transit and railroad police
  • $53,540 for police and sheriff’s patrol officers
  • $49,730 for fish and game wardens

Education Needed/ What school (list 1) offers that major?

Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college or higher degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.

Triton College

Skills Required (Personality Traits/ Transferable Skills)

  • Ability to multi-task.
  • Communication skills.
  • Empathetic personality.
  • Good judgment.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Perceptiveness.
  • Strength and stamina.

Job Outlook/Growth

Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Continued demand for public safety will lead to new openings for officers in local departments; however, both state and federal jobs may be more competitive.

Advancement Opportunities or Related Jobs (How can you move up in this career?)

Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to a candidate's position on a promotion list, as determined by scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. In large departments, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles. Federal agents often are on the General Services (GS) pay scale. Most begin at the GS-5 or GS-7 level. As agents meet time-in-grade and knowledge and skills requirements, they move up the GS scale. Jobs at and above GS-13 are often managerial positions. Many agencies hire internally for these supervisory positions. A few agents may be able to enter the Senior Executive Service ranks of upper management.