Law Enforcement Officers - Professionals in Criminal Justice

Law Enforcement

Police work is one of the most hazardous of all occupations. Police are faced daily with physical danger, psychological and emotional stress, fatigue and spiritual burnout. They work in extremes - their colleagues are some of the brightest, most dedicated, most compassionate and most honest individuals you'll ever meet. And they work amongst the dregs of society - people who are forgotten, dismissed and marginalized and people who are twisted, perverted, greedy and evil.

Police officers are public servants who ensure public safety both by preventing crime and by bringing criminals to justice. And instead of being thanked and respected, they are often criticized, hated, spit on and shot at. They work long hours, rotate shifts and come in on their days off. The working conditions are downright dangerous. Why in the world would anybody choose to be a police officer?

Most do it because they care and because they want to make a difference. They want to make the world a better place and they choose law enforcement as one way to do that. Most want to see justice prevail. They want to see criminals caught and punished. They want to prevent crimes from ever happening in the first place.

Most police officers care deeply about people. They want to protect people from the effects of crime and prevent them from being victims. They want to rescue kids who are on the road to a life of crime, turn them around and give them an opportunity to lead happy, fulfilling lives. They want to see criminals rehabilitated and returned to society as productive citizens. And they want career criminals locked away where they won't hurt other people.

Recruitment and Education

The people who become police officers want a career in law enforcement. They want it badly enough to get the necessary education - and law enforcement education is academically rigorous. They want it badly enough to go through an even more rigorous recruitment process which can include:

  • Testing that can include aptitude and personality assessments.
  • Passing a civil service exam.
  • Passing a background check.
  • Taking a lie detector test.
  • Passing a difficult physical fitness test.
  • A complete medical exam.
  • A psychological evaluation
  • Several interviews.
  • Extensive training specific to that police department or position.

And that's just the beginning. When a new recruit finally gets a duty assignment, he or she gets further training from an experienced officer. The new officer has to prove himself or herself before being completely accepted into the "community" of police officers. New recruits are not automatically accepted - they have to prove that they can be trusted and depended upon in any situation. The lives of fellow officers depend on them, and they have to show that they will come through. They have to earn the trust of their co-workers.

Law Enforcement Careers

Most people equate law enforcement officers with local police and, most law enforcement officers do work for local police forces. Within these police forces there are usually two divisions of law enforcement officers: uniformed police and detectives.

Uniformed police usually make up about 3/4 of most police forces and they work to prevent crimes. They wear uniforms because it makes them easily identifiable as police officers who have legal authority to enforce the law. Uniformed police patrol neighborhoods, work to control traffic, educate the public, perform public services and respond to emergencies and crimes.

Detectives usually do not wear uniforms because they do not want to be identified on sight as police officers. They investigate crimes that have occurred by collecting evidence, interviewing people and other methods. Sometimes they work undercover to expose criminal activity. Many police departments require detectives to cross train and serve as uniformed police part of the time.

Special units may or may not be comprised of uniformed police. Some special units are K-9 units, bomb squads, crime scene investigation teams, SWAT teams and units that utilize bicycles, motorcycles, boats, airplanes or horses to patrol neighborhoods.

In addition to local police departments, however, there are many other places law enforcement officers work. At the local level, law enforcement officers work for public school districts, colleges, corporations and security firms. They provide security services and consultation for crime prevention. They work in sheriff's departments, state police departments, correctional facilities and probation offices. Many work as private investigators.

There are many career opportunities for law enforcement officers in state and federal agencies. Some of them are:

  • Fish and Game Warden
  • Park Service Warden
  • US Marshall
  • ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Agent
  • FBI Agent
  • Diplomatic Security Officer
  • Immigration Officer
  • Customs Officer
  • Federal Air Marshall
  • Secret Service Officer

Benefits of a Law Enforcement Career

Let's face it, most law enforcement officers do not make enough money to compensate for the dangers and stresses that they face every day. Nobody goes into law enforcement to get rich. On the other hand, there are practical benefits to a law enforcement career. It's worthwhile, steady work that pays reasonably well and offers decent benefits. You can almost always increase your income by working overtime. There are lots of career options and good advancement potential. The increasing demand for law enforcement officers provides pretty good job security.

More importantly, you have the satisfaction of a career that matters. You ensure public safety. You prevent crimes from happening. You investigate and solve crimes. You capture criminals and help bring them to justice. You make a difference - every single day you go to work, you make a difference. That's what makes the job worth doing.


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