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A career guide to law enforcement


What comes to your mind when you think about law enforcement? To many, it’s a uniformed police officer who serves valuable roles within society and the police force. However, you can build a career outside of the police force as there are many other opportunities within law enforcement.

Choosing a course in law enforcement is a big decision. Many people want to enter the law enforcement field but are unsure of what route to take. It’s important to find a program that suits your individual needs and interests.

There are many law enforcement courses available that specialize in different areas of law enforcement. For instance, a degree in law enforcement prepares you for several career choices in criminal justice, emergency management and public safety. The course equips you with criminal justice methods and philosophies, as well as with practical applications related to working in this field.

What is it like to work in law enforcement?

Law enforcement careers in the US are often high paying, stressful and fast-paced. A law enforcement career can be a rewarding experience if you’re willing to put in the necessary time, effort and training to advance within it.

At both the federal and state levels, the law enforcement career is strong. According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of detectives and police is expected to grow by 5% by 2029 – a faster rate than the average for all other occupations.

The current focus on homeland security, combined with recent technological advances, has increased the need to face national threats through law enforcement officers. Some of the key duties of law enforcement officers include handling everything from keeping cities’ streets safe to solving national criminal cases by analyzing forensic evidence.

In addition to an array of career prospects, a career in law enforcement will offer you a higher-than-average salary plus other competitive benefits. The  national median salary  for detectives and police officers is $65,170 per annum. While pay rates vary depending on the specific location and role of law enforcement, the lowest 10% earn below $37,710, and the highest 10% earn over $109,620.

Are you new to law enforcement or already established and looking to advance your career? If so, you have plenty of options. No matter your current role, now is a good time to develop your career within it.

Law enforcement work areas

Law enforcement consists of departments and individuals that serve in varied positions. They congregate to maintain safety in our communities on a federal, state and local level. In some jobs, you only need a high school diploma, but higher-ranking jobs within this field require a bachelor’s degree, which can help advance your career quickly.

Becoming a law enforcement officer requires an intense amount of physical, emotional and mental stamina. While some join the force to make the world a better place, others may simply want to make a living that pays well and offers additional benefits. Regardless of your goals or the area you wish to work in, you will need to complete a basic police academy program in order to begin your career.

Here are a few examples of law enforcement areas:

Uniformed officers

These officers are responsible for enforcing street laws, protecting the community, ensuring safety and maintaining order. Their roles primarily rely on their knowledge of the law, their ability to speak with people, and their command of firearms. They are also responsible for serving warrants and court summonses while on duty.

In most cases, uniformed officers start their shift without knowing what will exactly happen over the course of it. One key role that they usually perform is investigating. They might respond to domestic violence calls, pursue and arrest suspected criminals, help resolve problems within the community, assist at scenes of accidents, and provide first aid.

There exist different types of uniformed officers in law enforcement, responsible for serving in different capacities. Here are a few types of uniformed officers:

  • Special jurisdiction police officer
  • State trooper
  • Local police officer
  • Deputy sheriff
  • Fish and game warden
  • Border patrol agent

Detectives and investigators

The detection and investigation units are responsible for investigating crimes, solving crimes and anticipating criminal activity. These officers attempt to gather information from various sources in order to uncover the identity of a suspect or perpetrators of a crime, catch suspects in the act, or resolve conflicts.

They focus primarily on gathering evidence through interviews, documents and physical evidence. The collected information is then used as evidence against criminals in court proceedings. This helps courts determine what charges will be levied against defendants.

Detectives and investigators also concentrate on whether a suspect or defendant is guilty of a crime. They attempt to communicate with witnesses, contact victims and family members, collect and examine the evidence, take statements from suspects/defendants, and research the case to identify other suspects who could be connected to a crime.

Plainclothes officers

Plainclothes officers are often the first line of approach when a suspect notices a uniformed officer. They work in plain clothes, mainly because it increases their chances of catching someone who has committed a crime. In some cases, they may assist uniformed officers during an arrest and then attempt to obtain information that helps in the investigation.

They serve more of a supporting role within law enforcement. They do not wear uniforms or other items that reveal to other people that they are with the police. This enables them to collect information and evidence while undercover so that they can arrest suspects or get their statements.

Here are some types of plainclothes officers:

  • Immigration inspector
  • Detective
  • Air marshal
  • FBI agent
  • Secret Service agent
  • Investigator

Support positions in law enforcement

The support staff of law enforcement consists of individuals who assist in the management or operation of law enforcement agencies. These officers typically do not enforce laws themselves but are just as important to the overall success of a department.

These positions are responsible for evidence investigation and categorization, running experiments, and performing lab tests to help solve crimes. Most law enforcement support staff work for large agencies or crime labs.

These positions can be filled by law enforcement agents and police officers who want to transition from a front line position and advance as well as other individuals who have the right skil lset. To become an expert, additional training and experience are needed as many of these positions require a specified skill set.

Support staff members can perform several jobs such as:

  • Firearms examiner
  • Criminal analyst
  • Intelligence analyst
  • Handwriting examiner
  • Crime lab technician
  • Evidence technician
  • Investigative assistant

Forensic scientists

Forensic scientists are a type of scientist that performs criminal investigation using forensic science procedures. These procedures include interviews, investigation through proper documentation, examination of evidence, and analysis of evidence.

They also perform community outreach, educating other citizens about the importance of evidence collection and preservation in order to eliminate any false claims during investigations. Forensic scientists work for both government agencies and private organizations.

In order to become a forensic scientist, individuals must acquire a Bachelor of Science degree in the forensic science field from an accredited college or university. They must also pass the Forensic Science Society certification exam and work under an experienced forensic scientist for three years.

Another option for becoming a forensic scientist is by completing undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry or psychology and then getting a Master of Science degree in the forensic science field from an accredited college or university.

Correctional officers 

Correctional officers are responsible for ensuring the safety, security, treatment and rehabilitation of inmates in correctional facilities. Officers keep order and also monitor the movements of inmates.

The goal of correctional officers is to prepare inmates for successful reintegration into society. Some inmates will lie and say that they are doing well in prison and are just an ordinary citizen who was unjustly imprisoned.

Correctional officers must be trained in security procedures and policies in order to be qualified to become one. Some key positions in the department of corrections include:

  • Correctional treatment specialists
  • Bailiffs
  • Probation officers
  • Warden
  • Correctional officers

Advancing your career in law enforcement

Law enforcement careers have proven to be very rewarding and satisfying. Many people enjoy the challenge of putting their lives in danger every day, saving others from danger, and making a difference in the community. The job of law enforcement is challenging and rewarding at the same time.

There are many different opportunities for advancement within a law enforcement agency. The more experience you have, the better your chances for advancement. A law enforcement officer can advance to positions such as sheriff, police chief or detective through experience and knowledge.

Education is another important factor for advancing in a law enforcement career. An officer may decide to go back and get a bachelor’s or master’s degree if the current position requires that they have one. This may involve going back to school full-time while still working as a law enforcement officer, or it may mean taking classes online while still working full-time.

As a law enforcement professional, you may look for ways to advance your career. There are many different ways that you can move up the ranks within various agencies. Here are some suggestions on how to advance your career:

  • Become an expert in one particular field of police work and become an expert in that field.
  • Work for another agency or become a consultant and learn how to train other officers.
  • Work for the major police agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and local police departments.
  • Become an expert in one particular area of policing such as investigation, traffic patrol or SWAT team duties.
  • Volunteer your time at a local organization where you can lend your assistance to charitable causes such as supporting children’s programs or animal welfare organizations.

What does it take to become an FBI agent?

Working for a federal agency is one way to advance your career. The FBI has a strong system that determines who becomes an agent and who does not. First, it is necessary to pass a background check plus a series of tests to qualify for any role with the FBI.

Being a federal security agency and not a police force, the FBI offers plenty of job opportunities, including accountants, writers, lawyers and technical professionals. To qualify for the special agent position as a field agent whose work is protect communities, you must pass a very stringent physical fitness test, and other specific qualifications.

All you have to is to apply, and if you qualify, you will need to learn what it entails to become an  FBI agent  by attending a 12-week training course. You will then continue training at the FBI Academy after basic training. You will then be assigned your position and you can begin your career officially in the FBI.

Bottom line

Every individual who decides to enter the field of law enforcement has a desire to help people. There is no doubt that this is a challenging and difficult job, but it can also be very rewarding. The advances in law enforcement are always growing, with better technology and equipment becoming available every day. Law enforcement professionals have helped society to become safer by making it harder for criminals to commit their crimes.

The majority of law enforcement officers can have a satisfying career because they have the opportunity to make a difference in their community. Officers also enjoy a lot of independence and flexibility when it comes to hours and schedules, which helps them have more control over their time.

The general career outlook for law enforcement officers is excellent because as the population grows, so does the need for protection. Law enforcement careers are rewarding in the sense that an officer makes a difference in this world by saving lives and protecting people’s rights. Officers can make a difference by preventing crime, stopping crime and putting criminals behind bars.

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