Police officers are employees of a law enforcement agency in their country, region, or city. Often called policemen, policewomen, or constables, police officers swear an oath to protect and serve the citizens they represent. They are warranted by the government to enforce the law by arresting criminals and detecting and preventing crimes. Because keeping the peace is a primary need of society, police officers have been around since civilization began. They are usually viewed as heroes within their communities due to the often dangerous situations they encounter in service to the public.
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The specific duties of a police officer largely depend on where they are located. In large cities, officers are usually assigned very specific job duties or will be assigned to a fraud, murder, drug-trafficking, or rape unit. Each unit has a specific goal, and the officers within the unit are trained solely for that objective. Officers in rural areas rarely have the opportunity to specialize in any given area of law enforcement. Due to the tendency for lower crime rates and the relatively small population, officers in townships, co-ops, and other rural settings handle any or all law enforcement tasks, from simple traffic infractions to child protection or murder cases.
A police officer's primary duty is to maintain public order. Patrol officers on foot, in a car, or even on horseback spend their days searching for individuals who break the law. Typically, the lawbreakers are violating traffic regulations, but patrol officers may also receive calls to investigate burglaries or other serious crimes. Officers may give a warning or citation or, if the offence is serious, they have the authority to arrest and detain a suspect. Especially precarious circumstances may arise if the suspect carries a weapon, takes a hostage, or flees in an attempt to resist arrest. Officers, however, are trained to defend both themselves and possible victims. Ultimately, they keep streets and neighbourhoods safe, even if that safety requires them to engage in situations where they may have to put their lives on the line.
Detectives, or officers working in a special unit, spend most of their time working on detailed investigations. They work daily to gather tangible evidence of drug trafficking, terrorist activity, and other crimes. Officers may work undercover or through an informant; sometimes simply observing, monitoring, and recording the activities of known criminals is enough to gather necessary evidence for an indictment. Most substantial evidence, however, is obtained through the interrogation of both criminals and witnesses. Before making any arrests, officers must ensure that the collective evidence is accurate, true, and reliable. The best evidence in any crime is a direct confession, and police officers have the right to use psychological techniques, misdirection, and lies to encourage a criminal to confess.
Before and after their work in the field, police officers spend the largest portion of their time writing reports and keeping accurate records. The records they keep are often the only evidence in a court case. Without it some criminals cannot be convicted, so it is extremely important for officers to complete their paperwork thoroughly and promptly. Additionally, when police officers witness a crime, they are frequently called to testify in court.
Most police departments require applicants to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. However, it is becoming more common for departments to expect some college education; many agencies will not accept applicants without an associate's degree. There are now many technical school programs that offer certificates or two-year degrees in law enforcement. For prospective police officers pursuing a bachelor's degree, Criminal Justice programs are available at many four-year institutions. Even if it is not necessary for police work, having a bachelor's degree is a back up plan for many officers; they have one of the top five most dangerous jobs, and in some cases field work may result in career-ending injuries.
In addition to education, there are often height, weight, age, and other physical restrictions for potential officers. Generally, they must be 21 or older to apply to a police department or agency. They must be in top physical condition and be able to pass standard eyesight and hearing tests. In some regions, officers must be within certain height and weight ranges in order to be accepted into the profession.
After meeting these requirements, prospective officers must pass a series of written tests in order to assess their psychological condition and analytical skills. This is to ensure that the officers have the mental stability to handle the emotional stress of police work. Background checks are also a standard in the industry.
Still more training is required after an officer is accepted into an agency. The department usually has its own form of training, usually held in formal police academies. New recruits are subjected to rigorous mental and physical tests before being granted their first assignments. Even after being placed in a department, officers may receive training for three to twelve months while on-the-job.
Police officers rarely work a regular, 40-hour week. Since officers must be active all day, every day, someone must be on patrol at all times. Officers work late at night, on the weekends, and even on holidays. Most officers work outdoors while on patrol, and are subjected to all types of weather conditions. Police work is also mentally gruelling. Officers often witness terrible crimes or become the focus of a criminal's rage and abuse. Police officers must handle the stress brought on by these situations while remaining calm and collected.
Location is the primary factor in determining a police officer's annual salary, though the median falls around $45,000 for all officers. New recruits earn as little as $18,000 per year, though wages tend to increase as officers are promoted and establish seniority. Higher-ranking officers can earn as much as $56,000 annually. In addition to their salaries, most police officers receive insurance benefits and pensions.