Law enforcement has long been among the world's most dangerous, demanding and stressful professions. However, for some people these drawbacks are less important than pursuing a higher calling, which is why they become police officers. The chance to make meaningful contributions to society's well-being is a powerful incentive, as well as the pay, prestige and opportunities for professional advancement that come from wearing the uniform and the badge.
Camaraderie and Teamwork
The nature of police work -- which demands that officers constantly support each other in dangerous situations -- promotes a sense of camaraderie unique to the profession. Officers work amid constant reminders of sacrifice, as former Chicago police sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith observes, in a January 2008 "PoliceOne" column. An enduring example is the 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 72 police officers, a toll believed to be the highest ever seen in law enforcement.
Challenge of the Work
Coping with change is a reality of police work. An officer is constantly adjusting her mental and physical perceptions of events that can shift at a moment's notice. Whether it's taking complaints, counseling a runaway girl or helping an elderly person, there's no such thing as a routine call, as the National Center for Women & Policing notes. However, the job's varied, challenging nature is also attractive for candidates who don't want to feel stuck behind a desk.
One of the most common motivations for choosing a police career is the desire to help others. Police officers are respected in many communities. This is why many people solicit their assistance in times of crisis. Unlike many other fields, an officer's status as an authority figure allows her to affect people's lives on a daily basis. This aspect of the job is especially compelling to applicants with strong people skills.
Professional Development Opportunities
Police work offers numerous opportunities for professional development. Before joining her first police agency, a new officer must complete extensive classroom and field training in civil rights, constitutional law, emergency response, first aid, traffic control and use of firearms and other subjects. Many police departments also expect officers to upgrade their skills through continuing education classes, for which financial aid is often provided.
Police work pays significantly better than many private sector jobs. As of May 2010, police officers earned a median wage of $55,010. The bottom 10 percent earned $32,440 or less, while the top 10 percent earned $88,870. For officers moving on to more specialized assignments, such as detectives and criminal investigators, the median wage was $68,820.
- National Center for Women & Policing: Becoming a Police Officer
- PoliceOne: Visiting the Wall
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Outlook Handbook; Police and Detectives; How to Become a Police Officer or Detective
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Outlook Handbook; Police and Detectives; Pay
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.