Many people are drawn to careers in law enforcement for highly personal reasons, and oftentimes, those reasons include a deep desire to be of service to the greater good. For example, is your desire to serve your own local community, or do you want to protect the security of the whole nation? Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team? Depending on your preferences, there are many job options available as you explore a career in law enforcement.
10 Law Enforcement Careers and Police Officer Jobs to Consider
- Local Police Officer Jobs
- ATF Special Agent | ATF Jobs
- CIA Agent Jobs
- Correctional Officer Jobs
- Border Patrol Agent Jobs
- Private Investigator Jobs
- Fish and Game Warden Jobs
- K9 Officer Jobs
- Military Police Officer Jobs
- Coast Guard Officer Jobs
The great news is that you can pursue justice for society in a wide variety of capacities within law enforcement careers – many of which you may have not even considered yet. You just need to ask yourself some key questions about your passions, your skill set, and your desire to make a difference.
This list can help provide you with insight into the variety of careers available to those who would like to pursue a calling to protect and serve public safety – whether on a local, state or federal law enforcement career path.
- Police Officer Jobs
For those who are committed to making a difference within their own communities, becoming a member of a local police department is a sure way to have a lasting impact.
Police Officer Education/Experience – Police officer education and experience requirements can range from a high school diploma to a specialized bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree, depending on the program. Most aspiring police officers study criminal justice before applying.
Pros of Becoming a Police Officer – With the chief duty of protecting the streets of his/her jurisdiction, a local peace officer is a key component of a healthy and vibrant community. If you’re looking for a close-knit, team environment and are passionate about helping your local community, this may be the path for you.
Cons of Becoming a Police Officer – A police force is likely to be first at a crime scene and is often called upon to respond to a variety of criminal behaviors – ranging from benign motor vehicle violations and domestic violence to the most brutal of crimes. The job can be dangerous and also stressful.
Police Officer Salary – Depending on the type and level of police job duties, the pay can range widely. In addition, a police officer can typically expect many opportunities for promotions and overtime pay. Labor statistics show that the median salary for uniformed officers is $55,000, while the police chief is likely to earn $74,000.
Police Officer Hours – Local law enforcement officers typically work a 40-hour week, but at times they are required to work nights, weekends and holidays, and overtime is quite common. Because of the vital nature of police officer duties, shift work, unsocial hours and emergency call-outs are part of the job.
Police Officer Certifications – While specific certifications aren’t necessarily a requirement for a law enforcement officer, prior to taking on any assignment, all officers must complete training through a police academy, which generally lasts around 12 to 14 weeks. In addition, all applicants must pass a thorough background check and usually a drug screening.
Federal special agents serving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives may work in field offices all over the country to investigate federal law violations. This criminal activity can be related to alcohol, explosives, firearms and/or tobacco.
Investigator Education/Experience – Most special agent positions require a bachelor’s degree or at least three years of prior work experience related to law enforcement or criminal investigations. Ideal fields of study include criminal justice, law enforcement, and criminology. Some agents may even attend law school.
Pros of an ATF Job – Becoming an ATF special agent is a tremendously satisfying way to help protect the entire nation. ATF agents conduct surveillance, execute search warrants, interview suspects and witnesses, and arrest perpetrators, along with providing valuable court testimony.
Cons of an ATF Job – The work can be physically demanding, dangerous and often life-threatening.
ATF Investigator Salary – Salaries can range widely, with a recent median annual salary reported at $76,000.
ATF Agent Hours – For the most part, ATF special agents work regular business hours, but these can vary depending on the specific assignment. In addition, ATF agents are required to travel extensively.
Investigator Certifications – In order to become certified as an ATF special agent, you must have a valid driver’s license, have successfully completed ATF special agent exams and be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 21 and 37. Applicants must also demonstrate extreme physical fitness and successfully complete ATF basic training – a two-part, 27-week program.
- CIA Jobs
CIA agents help protect United States interests by gathering and interpreting foreign intelligence related to everything from foreign governments and industries to terrorist cells and other national security threats. These are some of the most coveted federal law enforcement jobs.
Experience – Formal education in specific programs is typically a requirement for many CIA jobs. In addition, extensive experience in law enforcement, the military, investigation, and security or police services are often required and certainly preferred for CIA agent positions.
Pros of Becoming a CIA Agent – This job can be full of excitement and international intrigue. If you’ve always had romantic notions of being a spy, this may be the field for you.
Cons of Becoming a CIA Agent – The life of a CIA agent entails a great deal of undercover work, which isn’t for everyone. And because the work is top-secret, there’s little public recognition, even for a job well done. In addition, undercover work can be dangerous and requires extensive travel.
CIA Salary and Pay – Salaries for CIA agents can range anywhere from roughly $46,000 to upwards of $135,000, depending on the specific nature of the work and years of experience.
CIA Agent Hours – Many CIA agents work regular weekday hours, while those who work undercover may work unusual shifts/hours, depending on the specific mission.
CIA Jobs: Helpful Certifications – Requires the successful completion of a written examination and a thorough background investigation. Because the CIA has such a broad reach, it employs professionals in more than 50 areas, each with its own requirements and certifications. Broad fields include data science, engineering, cybersecurity, legal services, auditing, public affairs, and information management.
- Correctional Officer Jobs
Correctional officers have the primary charge of establishing and maintaining a sense of order within a variety of criminal justice facilities, including jails and federal prisons.
Correctional Officer Experience – A formal degree is not required to become a correctional officer, but the role does require extensive on-the-job training and experience. Sometimes, candidates who lack the relevant experience can compensate with relevant training from a training center or police academy.
Pros of Becoming a Correctional Officer – There is a tremendous amount of job security in the role of a correctional officer. In addition, correctional officers have the satisfaction of knowing they help establish justice and order within society.
Cons of Becoming a Correctional Officer – The amount of training involved to become a correctional officer is tremendous, and working conditions are often less than ideal. In addition, the work can be dangerous, and the physical and emotional strain of working with the inmate population can be profound.
Correctional Officer Salary – Salaries for correctional officers can range anywhere from roughly $38,000 to around $53,000.
Correctional Officer Hours – A correctional officer’s working hours largely depend on tenure and experience. Prisoners must be guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so newer officers can expect to pick up odd-hour shifts that include evenings, weekends and holidays. As more tenure accumulates, an officer can expect to have better shift choices. Most shifts are eight hours.
Helpful Certifications for Correctional Officers – All candidates for correctional officer positions must pass a background investigation and entrance exam, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In addition, some positions may require both physical and psychological tests to make sure a candidate possesses high moral character and can handle the physical, mental, and emotional burden that often comes with working with inmates.
- Border Patrol Agent Jobs
These officers serve to protect the physical borders of the United States, while also helping regulate legitimate international trade, commerce, and travel. Responsibilities encompass agricultural protection while enforcing laws on customs, trade, and immigration. This is a career that requires integrity, professionalism, and good moral character in all situations.
Border Patrol Experience – To be considered as a border patrol agent, applicants must show previous experience and accomplishments that illustrate their capacity to make sound decisions as both a leader and a team member. An applicant with no experience may substitute a four-year degree in any field. Some levels of hiring require at least 12 months of prior law enforcement training or experience.
Border Patrol Pros – The work of a Border Patrol agent is gratifying and filled with variety. No two days are the same, and agents have the satisfaction of knowing they help protect the United States from foreign threats.
Border Patrol Cons – U.S. Border Patrol agents routinely face dangerous situations as the front line of defense against criminal acts and terrorist activities.
Border Patrol Salary – The median salary for a U.S. Border Patrol agent is listed at $56,810.
Border Patrol Hours – Work hours for a Border Patrol agent typically consist of 40 hours of regular time, plus another nine to 10 hours of overtime. Sixty-hour work weeks and 10- to 16-hour days are not uncommon in this setting.
Border Patrol: Helpful Certifications – While not specific certifications, requirements to become a border patrol agent include being a U.S. citizen with a driver’s license, passing an entrance exam and oral interview, being a U.S. resident for at least three years, being under age 37 and of good moral character with no disqualifying criminal history – felony convictions, for example. In most cases, the entrance exam includes a proficiency test in Spanish. Accepted candidates must also complete a 55-day basic resident course at the CBP Border Patrol Academy.
- Private Investigator and Private Detective Jobs
Private investigators, or private detectives, may work for private investigation agencies or be contracted by local or federal law enforcement agencies. Many are self-employed and work directly for their own clients. Investigators typically conduct background checks, study crime scenes, testify in court, and conduct surveillance activities on behalf of clients.
Private Investigator Education/Experience – There is no single path to becoming a private investigator. While a degree in criminal justice may be helpful, some agencies hire private investigators with a high school diploma or equivalent.
Pros of Being a Private Detective – The work is intellectually stimulating and varied. In addition, once you’ve established yourself, you have a great deal of freedom to choose the hours and the cases you want to work. In addition, the work can be gratifying and rewarding.
Cons of Being a Private Detective – It’s a competitive field, crowded with many retired law enforcement personnel. In addition to law enforcement savvy and experience, you’ll also need street smarts and a good head for business in order to stand out and get clients.
Private Investigator Salary – According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for private investigators and detectives is roughly $46,000, but salaries can vary widely.
Private Detective Hours – Private investigators often work long and irregular hours – this includes nights, weekends, and holidays.
Helpful Certifications for Private Investigators – Most states require private detectives to obtain a license in order to practice, and some cities require licensure as well. Those wishing to become a private investigator should be at least 18 years old and have no criminal record. Some specialties can earn certification – for example, a private investigator who specializes in criminal defense can be certified through the National Association of Legal Investigators.
- Fish and Game Warden Jobs
Also known as conservation or wildlife officers, fish and game wardens enforce fishing, trapping, hunting, and boating laws in their respective areas. With the chief goal of protecting wildlife, they patrol assigned hunting and fishing areas, investigate complaints, collect data and pursue prosecution when laws are broken. These may be state or federal-level positions.
Fish and Game Warden Education/Experience – Fish and game wardens typically have an associate’s degree as part of minimum qualifications, and many have earned a bachelor’s degree in ecology, biology, wildlife management or natural resource management. Some also hold degrees in criminal justice. One key point to note: If you’re interested in a federal-level position, make sure to pursue a bachelor’s degree. In general, you may need to work as a certified police officer for up to two years before you can apply as a fish and game warden.
Pros – If you love being in the outdoors, this may be a field for you. Game wardens spend much of their time outdoors in remote areas, hiking on wilderness paths, or even piloting boats.
Cons – Because they spend so much time outdoors, game wardens are subject to the hardships of dealing with the elements – extreme heat and cold, rain, sleet, snow, etc. In addition, fish and game wardens are often at risk of the same dangers as police officers, with the added risk of interacting with wild animals — many of whom may be surprised or in pain.
Fish and Game Warden Salary – Fish and game wardens are typically well compensated, with the top 10 percent earning around $71,000 annually. In addition, they receive comprehensive benefits packages.
Fish and Game Warden Hours – Fish and game wardens often enjoy flexible schedules depending on the areas they patrol and the tasks at hand. They may also be called out to help rescue people or animals in trouble within their jurisdiction. They also typically enjoy generous paid vacation time.
Helpful Certifications for Fish and Game Warden Jobs – While not a formal certification, fish and game wardens should be physically fit and may need to pass a physical agility test. The job may require hiking through rugged or dangerous terrain. If you’re working in a remote area where it’s hard to get assistance, you’ll need to have basic knowledge of first aid and survival skills.
- K9 Officer Jobs
K9 officers serve as specialized law enforcement professionals who partner with highly trained police dogs to complete a variety of missions and assignments for the department. They help with everything from detecting illegal substances to tracking suspects and helping find missing persons. In addition to serving as the K9’s partner, the officer has the added responsibility of caring for and training their canine partner.
K9 Officer Job Experience – K9 police officer job openings are, in general, hard to come by – they’re few in number and highly competitive. Those who aspire to be K9 officers generally start as police officers, usually completing at least two years of patrol experience before they’re eligible to transfer to a K9 unit. Depending on local policies and preferences, those with an associate degree or bachelor’s degree may be more competitively positioned for this type of transfer.
Pros of Becoming a K9 Officer – Most K9 officers love working with their dogs, so if you’re a dog-lover, you may enjoy this law enforcement career. Police dogs are generally extremely smart, easily obey commands, and are friendly and loving. And since your partner comes home with you, you’ll develop a tremendously close relationship. Once you gain experience as a K9 officer, you’ll find many opportunities to advance your career. Take Matthew Noar, for example. Matthew has been a successful K9 officer since 2011, and he currently sits on the Board of Directors of Search Dog I Organization of North America (SDONA) leading training events for the organization.
Cons of Becoming a K9 Officer – All K9 officers must work hard to care for the dog, providing a safe home environment, healthy diet, flea and tick protection and more to accommodate their canine partner. You’re never really off-duty and are responsible for caring for your dog 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You should also be prepared to constantly be on standby for emergencies and be committed to frequent training in order to keep your dog in shape and make sure the animal performs as expected.
K9 Officer Salary – As with many criminal justice jobs, salary is consistent with training and experience. The median salary for a K9 handler hovers around $60,000 per year.
k9 Officer Hours – For the most part, hours are typically normal workdays, with the exception of being called out to have your K9 partner help with emergencies, such as tracking missing persons.
Helpful Certifications for K9 Officers– Applicants who are selected for K9 officer duty must undergo additional preparation and training for the role. K9 officers must be trained in crowd control, safety, dog obedience, appropriate canine care, and the art of tracking. The United States Police Canine Association offers appropriate certification for K9 officers.
- Military Police Officer Jobs
Every branch of the U.S. military employs military police officers, who are charged primarily with security, law enforcement, crime investigation, and safety.
Military Police Officer Education/Experience – Qualifications vary from branch to branch, so the first step is to visit with a recruiter. He or she can give you the particular requirements specific to that branch of the military.
Pros of Becoming an MP – Those who choose to become military police officers enjoy the full gamut of military benefits – travel, tuition assistance, a strong team environment, and an intellectually challenging job.
Cons of Becoming an MP – Military police often have no say over where they’re stationed. Prepare to spend long stretches of time away from family, and you may find the rigid structure and lack of freedom stifling.
Military Police Officer Salary – Base pay for military police officers across all branches ranges from roughly $36,000 to near $193,000, depending on experience and tenure. In addition to receiving a base salary, military police officers also receive food and housing, medical care, vacation, and sick leave.
Military Police Officer Hours – Like many law enforcement officials, military police officers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While they may work typical eight-hour shifts while on duty, they can be called out for an emergency at any point. In addition, the work is often dangerous and stressful.
Helpful Certifications for Military Police Officers – As part of the hiring process, all applicants must complete the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, pass a medical examination, possess high moral turpitude, and be U.S. citizens. In addition, they must complete basic training, followed by the Military Police Basic Officers Course.
- Coast Guard Officer Jobs
The U.S. Coast Guard is one of the oldest branches of the U.S. military and holds the responsibility of securing U.S. shores and helping with rescue operations.
Coast Guard Officer Education/Experience – Coast Guard officers typically earn a commission through the Coast Guard Academy, Officer Candidate School, the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative or direct commissioning. Roughly 75 percent of academy graduates walk away with degrees in areas such as mathematics, science, and engineering.
Pros of Becoming a Coast Guard Officer – Those who join the Coast Guard are serving their country as part of the U.S. military, but without having to ship overseas. In fact, most Coast Guard reservists are stationed within 100 miles of their homes.
Cons of Becoming a Coast Guard Officer – Active Coast Guardsmen, on the other hand, don’t get to choose where they’re stationed. You could end up on the Gulf Coast in the middle of a hot and muggy summer or in Alaska during the most frigid of winters. In addition, sometimes the work can be hazardous, especially when dealing with drug traffic, illegal immigration, and protecting U.S. waters against terrorist threats.
Coast Guard Salary – Base pay for Coast Guardsmen ranges from roughly $35,000 to $43,000. They also receive housing allowances, along with retirement benefits and generous vacation time, starting at 30 days per year.
Coast Guard Officer Hours – Like many law enforcement officials, Coast Guardsmen are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While they may work typical eight-hour shifts while on duty, they can be called out for an emergency at any time.
Helpful Certifications for a Coast Guard Officer – All applicants for the Coast Guard program must be physically qualified, possess high moral turpitude and be U.S. citizens.
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Professional Law Enforcement and Police Officer Association and Organizations
There are a variety of professional law enforcement associations that are dedicated to assisting the efforts of police departments and employees. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with some of the most noteworthy organizations, as you’ll likely find that they offer valuable resources and advice while you’re seeking employment and after you’ve been hired.
Organizations you may want to investigate include the following:
- Professional Law Enforcement Association – The Professional Law Enforcement Association primarily exists to provide legal assistance to police officers who find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
- National Association of Police Organizations – The National Association of Police Organizations is a coalition of police unions and associations that seeks to advance the interests of law enforcement professionals around the country.
- Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association – The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association is a non-profit, non-partisan association that is dedicated to representing federal law enforcement officers and advancing their goals.
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Law Enforcement & Police Officer Gear
Police work is a gear-intensive profession, and you’ll need plenty of equipment to carry out your duties while working for the department. Some of the most vital gear police officers and other law enforcement professionals carry include the following:
- Law Enforcement Firearms – Most law enforcement officers will be required to carry a firearm, and some jurisdictions will encourage their officers to carry (and be proficient with) more than one. So, you’ll want to attain the necessary training to use a firearm and familiarize yourself with some of the most popular brands and manufacturers. These include Glock, Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Walther and Sig Sauer, among others.
- Non-Lethal Law Enforcement Tools – In addition to firearms, police officers must often use “less-than-lethal” tools, such as pepper spray and electrical weapons. Consequently, you’ll need to learn how these tools work and what you need to do to use them safely. Some of the biggest manufacturers of these types of tools include Taser, Sabre and Zap Stick.
- Law Enforcement Tactical Clothing and Equipment – Many law enforcement officers prefer to wear tactical clothing while working, so you’ll want to learn about the various options available. Currently, manufacturers offer several different types of tactical garments, ranging from pants and shirts to hats and shoes. Some of the best-known tactical apparel manufacturers include 5.11, Rothco and Tru-Spec.
Law Enforcement Careers to Consider
A career in law enforcement is undoubtedly challenging. You’ll have to endure long hours on patrol, brave dangerous situations, and learn to interact with people who may not have a positive view of the police. It isn’t a particularly lucrative career, and you’ll also need to obtain a considerable amount of training before you even get started.
Nevertheless, many people find careers in the law enforcement field to be rewarding and learn to take the challenges of the profession in stride. Many law enforcement professionals also enjoy the appreciation they receive from grateful citizens and the chance to help make their community a safer place to live.
While there are a variety of requirements you’ll need to complete before becoming a police officer, you may be able to start leveraging the knowledge and skills you already have. For example, ExpertVoice.com provides those with expert education the chance to share their knowledge and advice, while working with top brands to evaluate and recommend police-related gear and equipment. There are many perks and benefits to partnering with brands. Their law enforcement special pricing program through ExpertVoice is a great way to score the latest gear at a great deal.
If you are already knowledgeable about firearms, tactical apparel, martial arts or any other law-enforcement related skills, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity – it’s easy to sign up and get started.