The most important duty of police officers, detectives, DEA and INS agents is to protect lives and property. Police work can be both stressful and dangerous and requires a calm and clear-thinking disposition in the middle of a crisis. Police officials must enjoy working with people and they need to have high integrity and show good judgment.
About 833,600 police and detective jobs were reported in 2008 and nearly 80 percent of those officers worked for local departments. Larger cities have departments with thousands of officers while smaller communities may employ only a few.
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For applicants who meet the strict physical and personal standards, the job outlook for police officers and detectives is favorable and the number of jobs is expected to rise 10 percent by 2018. Growing communities will need to expand their police departments and other positions will become available to replace retiring officers.
Police, Detectives, DEA and INS Job Responsibilities
Police officers handle routine police business such as traffic stops, domestic disputes and theft reports. They also often are the first responders to the scene of a major crime such as homicide or rape.
Police officers on patrol issue citations and spend a large amount of their time writing incident reports. They also can specialize in certain areas such as defusing bombs, laboratory analysis or firearms instruction. They can serve with special units such as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams or the canine unit.
Detectives are plain clothes officers who investigate serious crimes such as homicide in an effort to identify the perpetrator, gather evidence and build a criminal case. They conduct interviews, study records, observe suspects and join in arrests or raids. Some detectives serve on special units investigating a particular kind of crime such as drugs or white-collar fraud.
U.S. DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) agents are specialized federal law enforcement officers. DEA agents focus on drug-related crimes while INS agents monitor the nation’s borders and work on deporting illegal immigrants
Police, Detectives, DEA and INS Training and Education Requirements
A high school diploma is required for entry level police jobs, but a college degree or specialized training may be needed for higher level positions. Successful applicants must be physically fit and meet rigorous character standards. Some departments require college courses in criminal justice or law enforcement.
Most police departments require recruits to complete training programs of three months or more after they are hired. Small departments may send their recruits to a state-sponsored police academy while larger departments conduct their own academies. Training covers firearms, traffic, patrolling, first aid, self-defense and emergency response.
Federal agencies such as the DEA, FBI and INS hire only college graduates and sometimes require advanced degrees and several years of related work experience. FBI recruits, for example, must complete 18 weeks of training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
Police, Detectives, DEA and INS Salary and Wages
The median annual wages of police and sheriff’s officers was $51,410 in 2008. About half of all officers nationwide earned between $38,850 and $51,410 while 10 percent earned about $30,000 or less and another 10 percent earned about $80,000 or more. Detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual wage of $60,910 in 2008 and about 10 percent earned more than $97,870. Police officers and detectives often earn much more than their pay scale because of large amounts of overtime pay. Federal law enforcement officers are subject to standard government pay scales, which range from $17,540 (GS-1) to $127,604 (GS-15), but they also receive additional law enforcement wages such as law enforcement availability pay earned by criminal investigators.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Police, Detectives, DEA and INS Certifications
The primary certification for police officers comes through graduation from a local department, state or federal police academy after they are hired as recruits.
Some departments require applicants to have completed at least two years of college. Many applicants for police officer positions earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement at community or four-year colleges. Certificates in police training often require at least 24 credits with courses in law enforcement, government, communication and problem-solving.
Federal law enforcement positions often require at least a bachelor’s degree and other specialized training.
Police, Detectives, DEA and INS Professional Associations
Most states and larger cities have professional police associations, which are unions that negotiate contracts on behalf of police officers and detectives.
There are many other local, state and national police organizations that often are focused on a specialized area of policing. Examples include the National Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Field Training Officers and the National Drug Enforcement Officers Association.
Founded in 1967, the National Association of Chiefs of Police offers regional training, research, films and educational courses. The association also offers a matching grant for departments that want to form a canine unit and scholarships for disabled officers.
Many of the national and state associations lobby Congress and state legislatures on behalf of law enforcement.