|98-99 Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|
Nature of the Work
* Police work can be dangerous and stressful.
* The number of qualified candidates exceeds the number of job openings in Federal law enforcement agencies and in most State, local, and special police departments.
* Opportunities will be best in those urban communities whose departments offer relatively low salaries and where the crime rate is relatively high.
The safety and well being of our Nation's citizens greatly depends on the police officers, detectives, and special agents responsible for enforcing statutes, laws, and regulations. Duties vary widely by the size and type of organization but in most jurisdictions, whether on or off duty, law enforcement officers are expected to exercise their authority whenever necessary. And, regardless of where they work or what they do, police, detectives, and special agents must spend considerable time writing reports and maintaining records that are needed when legal actions require them to testify in court.
Police officers who work in small communities and rural areas have general law enforcement duties. In the course of a day's work, they may direct traffic at the scene of a fire, investigate a burglary, or give first aid to an accident victim. In large police departments, by contrast, officers usually are assigned to a specific type of duty. Most officers are detailed to patrol a designated area to prevent crime. Patrols generally cover an area such as business districts or outlying residential neighborhoods. Officers may work alone, but in large agencies they usually patrol with a partner. They attempt to become thoroughly familiar with conditions throughout their patrol area and, while on patrol, remain alert for anything unusual. Suspicious circumstances, such as open windows or lights in vacant buildings, as well as hazards to public safety are noted. They identify, pursue, and arrest suspected criminals, resolve problems within the community, and enforce traffic laws. Officers are becoming more involved in community policingbuilding partnerships with the citizens of local neighborhoods and mobilizing the public to help the police fight crime.
Some police officers specialize and become experts in chemical and microscopic analysis, firearms identification, handwriting and fingerprint identification. Others may work with special units such as mounted and motorcycle patrol, harbor patrol, canine corps, special weapons and tactics or emergency response teams, or task forces formed to combat specific types of crime.
Detectives and special agents are plainclothes investigators who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. They conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in raids or arrests.
Some local departments provide security officers, sometimes called bailiffs, to maintain order in courtrooms.
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs enforce the law on the county level. In metropolitan areas where there are also regular police departments, the sheriffs' department may perform specialized duties such as serving legal documents or operating the jail. A sheriffs' duties resemble those of a local or county police chief, but the department is generally on a smaller scale. Most sheriffs' departments employ fewer than 25 sworn officers, and many employ fewer than 10.
State police officers (sometimes called State troopers or highway patrol officers) patrol highways and enforce motor vehicle laws and regulations. They issue traffic citations to motorists who violate the law. At the scene of an accident, they may direct traffic, give first aid, and call for emergency equipment. They also write reports that may be used to determine the cause of the accident. In addition, State police officers may provide services to motorists on the highways, such as calling for road service for drivers with mechanical trouble.
State police also enforce criminal laws. They are frequently called upon to render assistance to officers of other law enforcement agencies. In rural areas that do not have a police force or a local deputy from the sheriff's department, the State police are the primary law enforcement agency, investigating any crimes that occur, such as burglary or assault.
The Federal government maintains a high profile in many areas of law enforcement. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents are the Government's principal investigators, responsible for investigating violations of more than 260 statutes. Agents may conduct surveillance, monitor court-authorized wiretaps, examine business records to investigate white-collar crime, track the interstate movement of stolen property, collect evidence of espionage activities, or participate in sensitive undercover assignments. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents specialize in enforcement of drug laws and regulations. Agents may conduct complex criminal investigations, carry out surveillance of criminals, and infiltrate illicit drug organizations using undercover techniques. U.S. marshals and deputy marshals provide security for Federal courts, including judges, witnesses, and prisoners, and apprehend fugitives. U.S. Border Patrol special agents are responsible for protecting more than 8,000 miles of international land and water boundaries. Their primary mission is to detect and prevent the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented aliens into the United States and to apprehend those persons found in violation of the immigration laws. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents facilitate the entry of legal visitors and immigrants to the United States and detain and deport those arriving illegally.
Special agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the U.S. Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Secret Service. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms special agents investigate violations of Federal firearms and explosives laws, as well as Federal alcohol and tobacco regulations. Customs agents inspect cargo, collect appropriate duties or fees, and intercept contraband while ensuring that all goods entering the United States comply with United States laws and regulations. Internal Revenue Service special agents collect evidence against individuals and companies that are evading the payment of Federal taxes. U.S. Secret Service special agents protect the President, Vice President, and their immediate families, Presidential candidates, ex-Presidents, and foreign dignitaries visiting the United States. Secret Service agents also investigate counterfeiting, the forgery of Government checks or bonds, and the fraudulent use of credit cards.
Various other Federal agencies employ police and special agents with sworn arrest powers and the authority to carry firearms. These agencies include the U.S. Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior, and Federal Air Marshals under the Department of Transportation. Other police agencies generally evolved from the need for security for the agency's property and personnel. The largest such agency is the General Services Administration's Federal Protective Service, which provides security for Federal buildings and property nationwide.
Police work can be very dangerous and stressful. In addition to the obvious dangers of confrontations with criminals, the need to be constantly alert and ready to deal appropriately with any situation can be very stressful. Police, detectives, and special agents usually work a 40-hour week, but paid overtime work is common. Shift work is necessary because police protection must be provided around the clock. Junior officers frequently must work weekends, holidays, and nights. Police officers, detectives, and special agents are subject to call at any time their services are needed and may work long hours during investigations. All law enforcement officers are required to file reports of their activities, often involving long hours of paperwork. In most jurisdictions, whether on or off duty, officers are expected to be armed and to exercise their arrest authority whenever necessary.
The jobs of some Federal agents such as U.S. Secret Service and DEA special agents require extensive travel, often on very short notice. They frequently relocate a number of times over the course of their career. Some police, detectives, and special agents with agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol must work outdoors for long periods in all kinds of weather.
Police, detectives, and special agents held about 704,000 jobs in 1996. About 63 percent of police detectives and investigators were employed by local governments, primarily in cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants. Some cities have very large police forces, while hundreds of small communities employ fewer than 25 officers each. State police agencies employed about 10 percent of all police, detectives, and investigators; various Federal agencies employed the other 27 percent.
Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and detectives in practically all State and large city agencies and in many smaller ones. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 20 years of age, and must meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications. Eligibility for appointment generally depends on performance in competitive written examinations as well as on education and experience. Physical examinations often include tests of vision, hearing, strength, and agility.
Because personal characteristics such as honesty, judgment, integrity, and a sense of responsibility are especially important in law enforcement work, candidates are interviewed by senior officers, and their character traits and background are investigated. In some agencies, candidates are interviewed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or given a personality test. Most applicants are subjected to lie detector examinations or drug testing. Some agencies subject sworn personnel to random drug testing as a condition of continuing employment. Although police, detectives, and special agents work independently, they must perform their duties in accordance with the law and departmental rules. They should enjoy working with people and meeting the public.
In larger police departments, where the majority of law enforcement jobs are found, applicants usually must have at least a high school education. Federal agencies generally require a college degree. A few police departments accept applicants as recruits who have less than a high school education, but the number is declining.
The Federal agency with the largest number of special agents is the FBI. To be considered for appointment as an FBI special agent, an applicant either must be a graduate of an accredited law school; be a college graduate with a major in accounting; or be a college graduate with either fluency in a foreign language or 3 years of full-time work experience. All new agents undergo 16 weeks of training at the FBI academy on the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
Applicants for special agent jobs with the U.S. Department of Treasury's Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms must have a bachelor's degree or a minimum of 3 years' work experience which demonstrates the ability to deal effectively with individuals or groups, among other things. Prospective special agents undergo 8 weeks of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, and another 8-11 weeks of specialized training with their particular agencies.
Applicants for special agent jobs with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must have a college degree and either 1 year of experience conducting criminal investigations, 1 year of graduate school, or have achieved at least a 2.95 grade point average while in college. DEA special agents undergo 14 weeks of specialized training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Police departments are encouraging applicants to take postsecondary school training in law enforcement. Many entry level applicants to police jobs have completed some formal postsecondary education and a significant number are college graduates. In 1993, the most recent year for which data are available, 12 percent of local police departments required new officer recruits to have at least some college education. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or administration of justice. Other courses helpful in preparing for a career in law enforcement include accounting, finance, electrical engineering or computer science, and foreign languages. Physical education and sports are helpful in developing the courage, competitiveness, stamina, and agility needed for law enforcement work. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many agencies.
Some large cities hire high school graduates who are still in their teens as police cadets or trainees. They do clerical work and attend classes, and can be appointed to the regular force at the conclusion of their training, usually in 1 to 2 years, upon reaching the minimum age requirement.
Before their first assignments, officers usually go through a period of training. In State and large local departments, recruits get training in their agency's police academy, often for 12 to 14 weeks. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional or State academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional law and civil rights, State laws and local ordinances, and accident investigation. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in patrol, traffic control, use of firearms, self-defense, first aid, and handling emergencies.
Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period ranging from 6 months to 3 years. In a large department, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective or specialize in one type of police work such as laboratory analysis of evidence or working with juveniles. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to a candidate's position on a promotion list, as determined by scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance.
Continuing training helps police officers, detectives, and special agents improve their job performance. Through police department academies, regional centers for public safety employees established by the States, and Federal agency training centers, instructors provide annual training in defensive tactics, firearms, use-of-force policies, sensitivity and communications skills, crowd-control techniques, legal developments that affect their work, and advances in law enforcement equipment. Many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to work toward degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration of justice, or public administration, and pay higher salaries to those who earn such a degree.
The opportunity for public service through law enforcement work is attractive to many. The job is challenging and involves much personal responsibility. Furthermore, in many agencies, law enforcement officers may retire with a pension after 20 or 25 years of service, allowing them to pursue a second career while still in their 40s. Because of relatively attractive salaries and benefits, the number of qualified candidates exceeds the number of job openings in Federal law enforcement agencies and in most State, local, and special police departmentsresulting in increased hiring standards and selectivity by employers. Competition is expected to remain keen for the higher paying jobs with State and Federal agencies and police departments in more affluent areas. Persons having college training in police science, military experience, or both should have the best opportunities. Opportunities will be best in those urban communities whose departments offer relatively low salaries and where the crime rate is relatively high.
Employment of police officers, detectives, and special agents is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. A more security-conscious society and concern about drug-related crimes should contribute to the increasing demand for police services. At the local and State levels, growth is likely to continue as long as crime remains a serious concern. However, employment growth at the Federal level will be tempered by continuing budgetary constraints faced by law enforcement agencies. Turnover in police, detective, and special agent positions is among the lowest of all occupations; nevertheless, the need to replace workers who retire, transfer to other occupations, or stop working for other reasons will be the source of most job openings.
The level of government spending determines the level of employment for police officers, detectives, and special agents. The number of job opportunities, therefore, can vary from year to year and from place to place. Layoffs, on the other hand, are rare because retirements enable most staffing cuts to be handled through attrition. Trained law enforcement officers who lose their jobs because of budget cuts usually have little difficulty finding jobs with other agencies.
In 1996, the median salary of nonsupervisory police officers and detectives was about $34,700 a year. The middle 50 percent earned between about $25,700 and $45,300; the lowest 10 percent were paid less than $19,200, while the highest 10 percent earned over $58,500 a year.
Police officers and detectives in supervisory positions had a median salary of about $41,200 a year, also in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between about $29,200 and $38,400; the lowest 10 percent were paid less than $22,500, while the highest 10 percent earned over $64,500 annually.
Sheriffs and other law enforcement officers had a median annual salary of about $26,700 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between about $20,300 and $37,800; the lowest 10 percent were paid less than $15,900, while the highest 10 percent earned over $48,400.
Federal law provides special salary rates to Federal employees who serve in law enforcement. Additionally, Federal special agents receive availability pay or administratively uncontrolled overtime (AUO)equal to 25 percent of the agent's grade and stepawarded because of the large amount of overtime that these agents are expected to work. For example, in 1996 FBI agents started at a base salary of $33,800 a year, earning $42,250 a year with availability pay. Other Justice and Treasury Department special agents started at about $25,000 or $30,700 a year, earning $31,300 or $38,400 per year including availability pay, depending on their qualifications. Salaries of Federal special agents progress to $55,600 including availability pay, while supervisory agents started at $66,100 including availability pay. Salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. Because Federal agents may be eligible for a special law enforcement benefits package, applicants should ask their recruiter for more information.
Total earnings for local, State, and special police and detectives frequently exceed the stated salary due to payments for overtime, which can be significant. In addition to the common benefitspaid vacation, sick leave, and medical and life insurancemost police and sheriffs' departments provide officers with special allowances for uniforms. In addition, because police officers generally are covered by liberal pension plans, many retire at half-pay after 20 or 25 years of service.
Information about entrance requirements may be obtained from Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Further information about qualifications for employment as an FBI Special Agent is available from the nearest State FBI office; the address and phone number are listed in the local telephone directory.
Further information about qualifications for employment as a DEA Special Agent is available from the nearest DEA office, or call 1-800 DEA-4288.
Information about career opportunities, qualifications, and training to become a deputy marshal is available from:
United States Marshals Service, Employment and Compensation Division, Field Staffing Branch, 600 Army Navy Dr., Arlington, VA 22202.
An overview of career opportunities, qualifications, and training for U.S. Secret Service Special Agents is available from:
U.S. Secret Service, Personnel Division, Room 912, 1800 G St. NW., Washington, DC 20223.
|98-99 Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|