If you can see yourself chasing shoplifters through the mall or helping a lost child be reunited with a family, you should consider a career in law enforcement as a cop. But if your career interest is more along the lines of tracking down serial killers or computer hackers, the FBI could be looking for a woman just like yourself. Whatever path you decide, one thing is for certain, the job will never be boring.
Enforcing the Law
The education of a traditional cop concentrates primarily in the area of state law. As a cop you will learn a curriculum comprised of state laws and regulations. You will be responsible for knowing local ordinances and what is considered a violation of those ordinances in the jurisdiction you patrol. You may find yourself busting house parties for underage drinking or noise violations as a cop. Some days you may be the person everyone curses at as you spend your day sitting in a speed trap and writing traffic tickets. FBI agents do not focus on enforcing local laws and ordinances. An FBI agent looks into more serious crimes, mostly felonies, and deals with violations of federal law. A typical day for an FBI agent may have you following suspected terrorists or tracking down criminals in an auto theft ring.
The path to becoming a cop is much less time consuming than the path to becoming an FBI agent. Cops are required to attend police academies, which are usually located near their hometown or within a reasonable distance. Police academies often train new recruits for a period of 12 to 14 weeks and have varying training standards as requirements differ from state to state. Some states require an education or degree in criminal justice, while others only require a high school diploma. Training for FBI agents is done at a central location in Quantico, Virginia. New agent training is considered intense and takes approximately 20 weeks to complete. The curriculum for FBI agents involves training in firearms, physical activity, case law and leadership. Special agents must meet stricter requirements, including holding a bachelor's degree and to be no less than 23 years old and no older than 37 years old at the time of appointment.
The salary of cops and agents differs drastically as the money comes from different pots, so to speak. Most cops are paid out of a local township or state budget. The median salary of a cop is $55,180 and the growth potential in the law enforcement field is positive, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. FBI agents earn between $61,100 and $69,900 for their first field office assignment, depending upon the assignment and location. Federal officers are also eligible for perks such as relocation pay and for regular cost of living increases.
Being an FBI agent can put you in unique and more dangerous situations than that of being a cop. The FBI is known world-over for busting criminal enterprises, which include drug and arms dealers. FBI agents deal with terrorism, cybercrime, organized and violent crime, and cases of public corruption. Local police aren’t likely to be conducting such in-depth operations within a municipality, but still have important jobs that keep people safe. Both cops and FBI agents work together with other law enforcement agencies to get the job done. One thing is for sure, no two days will be the same on either job. Law enforcement officers have an ever-changing and important role in the communities they serve. If you would like to work in your hometown, you should consider being a cop. You could work everyday in a job you like and protect a community you know. On the other hand, if you like to travel, being an FBI agent has its perks. Agents travel to crimes in areas where they are needed, which can take you across the country or even the world to investigate at U.S. foreign embassies.
Shannon Jones is a news editor and writer based in Michigan. Her work has received several writing awards, including the Richard Lacourse Award for investigative journalism. Jones holds master's degrees in both administration and marketing.