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What are the Different Police Officer Careers?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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While they may seem straightforward and self-explanatory, there are many different types of police officer careers focusing on a wide range of applications. Those looking into police work as a career should find themselves with many different options to choose from. However, in many locations, jobs are assigned based on seniority, so those starting a career may need to wait to get into the more desired lines of work.

Furthermore, the requirements of some jobs may be such that a young officer must spend some time gaining proper experience before being trusted with more responsibility. The main thing to consider, when looking at police officer careers, is to get the proper initial training, which will likely include a state-licensed police academy. From there, jobs will be available.

Police officer careers include being a patrol officer, a supervisor, an administrative officer, or a detective. Similar to the police administration track is also the job of sheriff. While the sheriff is the head of a law enforcement agency, this is done by election in many states. Therefore, not only is the sheriff the top law enforcement officer in a county, he or she will also need to be a politically astute individual.

As far as those embarking on a career path, the patrol officer is often the first opportunity they will have. While many may serve their entire life in such a capacity, they will likely move up in ranking from an officer, to a lieutenant and sergeant. These officers often still patrol, but also work to train other officers and may also move into supervisory positions.

Once a patrol officer has had some time on the job, and possibly received further formal education and investigative techniques, they may be able to become a detective. As far as police officer careers go, this may be one of the most interesting jobs. The job of the detective is to solve crimes, gather evidence, and do so in an entirely legal and ethical way so as not to jeopardize a case in the court system. This type of career requires paying attention to each small detail and making sure exact procedures are followed. Cases can be lost in court just because a piece of evidence is logged improperly.

Those looking at police officer careers may also be interested in administrative roles. Police administrators, such as the chief, assistant chief and other such hierarchy, often work themselves up through the ranks of the force. In such cases, it could take years to get enough experience to be considered. However, for those who truly love police work, this is not really much of a sacrifice.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Ocelot60 — On Jan 22, 2015

@raynbow- Every department, town, and city has different policies when it comes to promoting patrol police officers to detectives. Tell your brother to study hard, dedicate himself to his career, and devote his life to his community. These objectives will help him advance to the career he wants, and create a successful and rewarding position for him in the community.

By Rundocuri — On Jan 22, 2015

@raynbow- I have a cousin who is a detective, and it took him seven years of work as a patrol officer before he got his current position. He loves working in the field of law enforcement though, and also found his work in patrol to be very rewarding.

I think that the amount of time a person has to work as a patrol officer before moving up the ladder to detective depends on his work performance and his formal education. I do think that it is possible that police officers who have more education are more likely to advance to being detectives in fewer years than those with less education. But patrol officers with great work records and knacks for solving crimes are also needed in the detective field.

By Raynbow — On Jan 21, 2015

Does anyone know how long someone typically has to work as a patrol officer before becoming a detective? My brother has his heart set on being a detective, but he is not really looking forward to working as a patrol officer. He is currently taking law enforcement classes to prepare for his future career goals.

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