Bureau of Labor Statistics

Police and Detectives

police and detectives image
Police officers, detectives, and game wardens enforce laws to protect people and their property.
Quick Facts: Police and Detectives
2017 Median Pay $62,960 per year
$30.27 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 807,000
Job Outlook, 2016-26 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 53,400

Summary

What Police and Detectives Do

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

Work Environment

Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Police officers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Working around the clock in shifts is common.

How to Become a Police Officer or Detective

Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.

Pay

The median annual wage for police and detectives was $62,960 in May 2017.

Job Outlook

Employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by location.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for police and detectives.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of police and detectives with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about police and detectives by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Police and Detectives Do

Police and detectives
Police officers use computers to check license information.

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

Duties

Police officers, detectives, and criminal investigators typically do the following:

  • Respond to emergency and nonemergency calls
  • Patrol assigned areas
  • Conduct traffic stops and issue citations
  • Search for vehicle records and warrants using computers in the field
  • Obtain warrants and arrest suspects
  • Collect and secure evidence from crime scenes
  • Observe the activities of suspects
  • Write detailed reports and fill out forms
  • Prepare cases and testify in court

Job duties differ by employer and function, but all police and detectives write reports and keep detailed records that will be needed if they testify in court. Most carry law enforcement tools, such as radios, handcuffs, and guns.

The following are examples of types of police and detectives: 

Detectives and criminal investigators are uniformed or 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 and arrests. Detectives usually specialize in investigating one type of crime, such as homicide or fraud. Detectives are typically assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and trial are completed or until the case is dropped.

Fish and game wardens enforce fishing, hunting, and boating laws. They patrol fishing and hunting areas, conduct search and rescue operations, investigate complaints and accidents, and educate the public about laws pertaining to the outdoors. Federal fish and game wardens are often referred to as Federal Wildlife Officers.

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers are the most common type of police and detectives, and have general law enforcement duties. They wear uniforms that allow the public to easily recognize them as police officers. They have regular patrols and also respond to emergency and nonemergency calls. During patrols, officers look for signs of criminal activity and may conduct searches and arrest suspected criminals.

Some police officers work only on a specific type of crime, such as narcotics. Officers, especially those working in large departments, may work in special units, such as horseback, motorcycle, canine corps, and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Typically, officers must work as patrol officers for a certain number of years before they may be appointed to a special unit.

Transit and railroad police patrol railroad yards and transit stations. They protect property, employees, and passengers from crimes such as thefts and robberies. They remove trespassers from railroad and transit properties and check IDs of people who try to enter secure areas.

Work Environment

Police and detectives
Police and detectives regularly work at crime and accident scenes.

Police and detectives held about 807,000 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up police and detectives was distributed as follows:

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers 684,200
Detectives and criminal investigators 110,900
Fish and game wardens 7,000
Transit and railroad police 4,900

The largest employers of police and detectives were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 78%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 11
Federal government 7
Educational services; state, local, and private 3

Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Officers must be alert and ready to react throughout their entire shift. Officers regularly work at crime and accident scenes and encounter suffering and the results of violence. Although a career in law enforcement may be stressful, many officers find it rewarding to help members of their communities.

Some federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Secret Service, require extensive travel, often on short notice. These agents may relocate a number of times over the course of their careers. Some special agents, such as U.S. Border Patrol agents, may work outdoors in rugged terrain and in all kinds of weather.

Injuries and Illnesses

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They may face physical injuries during conflicts with criminals and other high-risk situations.

Work Schedules

Police and detectives usually work full time. Paid overtime is common, and shift work is necessary because the public must be protected at all times.

How to Become a Police Officer or Detective

Police and detectives
Police and detectives must use good judgment and have strong communication skills when gathering facts about a crime.

Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualification standards. A felony conviction or drug use may disqualify a candidate.

Education

Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, although many federal agencies and some police departments require some college coursework or a college degree. Many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and geographical regions.

Fish and game wardens typically need a bachelor’s degree; desirable fields of study include wildlife science, biology, or natural resources management.

Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation also typically require prospective detectives and investigators to have a bachelor's degree.

Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates.

Training

Candidates for appointment usually attend a training academy before becoming an officer. Training includes classroom instruction in state and local laws and constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.

Federal law enforcement agents undergo extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Detectives normally begin their careers as police officers before being promoted to detective.

FBI special agent applicants typically must have at least 3 years of professional work experience in areas ranging from computer science to accounting.

Other Experience

Some police departments have cadet programs for people interested in a career in law enforcement who do not yet meet age requirements for becoming an officer. These cadets do clerical work and attend classes until they reach the minimum age requirement and can apply for a position with the regular force. Military or police experience may be considered beneficial for potential cadets.

Cadet candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, and meet specific physical qualifications. Applicants may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility, as well as written exams. Previous work or military experience is often seen as a plus. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take lie detector and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.

Advancement

Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. In large departments, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Police and detectives must be able to speak with people when gathering facts about a crime and to express details about a given incident in writing.

Empathy. Police officers need to understand the perspectives of a wide variety of people in their jurisdiction and have a willingness to help the public.

Good judgment. Police and detectives must be able to determine the best way to solve a wide array of problems quickly.

Leadership skills. Police officers must be comfortable with being a highly visible member of their community, as the public looks to them for assistance in emergency situations.

Perceptiveness. Officers, detectives, and fish and game wardens must be able to anticipate a person’s reactions and understand why people act a certain way.

Physical stamina. Officers and detectives must be in good physical shape, both to pass required tests for entry into the field, and to keep up with the daily rigors of the job.

Physical strength. Police officers must be strong enough to physically apprehend offenders.

Pay

Police and Detectives

Median annual wages, May 2017

Police and detectives

$62,960

Law enforcement workers

$54,520

Total, all occupations

$37,690

 

The median annual wage for police and detectives was $62,960 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,230.

Median annual wages for police and detectives in May 2017 were as follows:

Detectives and criminal investigators $79,970
Transit and railroad police 70,280
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers 61,050
Fish and game wardens 56,410

In May 2017, the median annual wages for police and detectives in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $84,660
State government, excluding education and hospitals 65,880
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 61,340
Educational services; state, local, and private 52,080

Uniformed officers, detectives, agents, and wardens usually work full time. Paid overtime is common. Shift work is necessary because the public must be protected at all times.

Other Compensation and Benefits

Many agencies provide officers with an allowance for uniforms, as well as extensive benefits and the option to retire at an age that is younger than the typical retirement age. Some police departments offer additional pay for bilingual officers or those with college degrees.

Union Membership

Most police and detectives belonged to a union in 2016.

Job Outlook

Police and Detectives

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Total, all occupations

7%

Police and detectives

7%

Law enforcement workers

1%

 

Employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

While a continued desire for public safety is expected to result in a need for more officers, demand for employment is expected to vary depending on location, driven largely by local and state budgets. Even with crime rates falling in recent years, demand for police services to maintain and improve public safety is expected to continue.

Job Prospects

Job applicants may face competition because of relatively low rates of turnover. Applicants with a bachelor's degree and law enforcement or military experience, especially investigative experience, as well as those who speak more than one language, should have the best job opportunities.

Because the level of government spending determines the level of employment for police and detectives, the number of job opportunities can vary from year to year and from place to place.

Employment projections data for police and detectives, 2016-26

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational Title

Police and detectives

SOC Code
Employment, 2016807,000
Projected Employment, 2026860,300
Percent Change, 2016-267
Numeric Change, 2016-2653,400
Employment by Industry
Occupational Title

Detectives and criminal investigators

SOC Code33-3021
Employment, 2016110,900
Projected Employment, 2026115,900
Percent Change, 2016-265
Numeric Change, 2016-265,000
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Fish and game wardens

SOC Code33-3031
Employment, 20167,000
Projected Employment, 20267,300
Percent Change, 2016-264
Numeric Change, 2016-26300
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers

SOC Code33-3051
Employment, 2016684,200
Projected Employment, 2026731,900
Percent Change, 2016-267
Numeric Change, 2016-2647,800
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Transit and railroad police

SOC Code33-3052
Employment, 20164,900
Projected Employment, 20265,300
Percent Change, 2016-266
Numeric Change, 2016-26300
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of police and detectives.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2017 MEDIAN PAY
Correctional officers

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. Bailiffs are law enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in courtrooms.

High school diploma or equivalent $43,510
EMTs and paramedics

EMTs and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings. People’s lives often depend on the quick reaction and competent care provided by these workers. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities.

Postsecondary nondegree award $33,380
Firefighters

Firefighters

Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Postsecondary nondegree award $49,080
Private detectives and investigators

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

High school diploma or equivalent $50,700
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services to assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.

Bachelor's degree $51,410
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers patrol and protect property against theft, vandalism, and other illegal activity.

High school diploma or equivalent $26,960
emergency management directors image

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also help lead the response during and after emergencies, often in coordination with public safety officials, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

Bachelor's degree $72,760
Forensic science technicians

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in various types of laboratory analysis.

Bachelor's degree $57,850
Fire inspectors and investigators

Fire Inspectors

Fire inspectors examine buildings in order to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators, another type of worker in this field, determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess outdoor fire hazards in public and residential areas.

See How to Become One $56,670

Contacts for More Info

For more information about federal law enforcement, visit

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Drug Enforcement Administration

Federal Bureau of Investigation

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S. Marshals Service

U.S. Secret Service

CareerOneStop

For career videos on police and detectives, visit

Fish and Game Wardens

Police Patrol Officers

O*NET

Criminal Investigators and Special Agents

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Fish and Game Wardens

Immigration and Customs Inspectors

Intelligence Analysts

Police Detectives

Police Identification and Records Officers

Police Patrol Officers

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs

Transit and Railroad Police

Last Modified Date: Friday, April 13, 2018

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm (visited June 23, 2018).

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, PSB Suite 2135, 2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20212-0001

www.bls.gov/ooh | Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 | Contact OOH

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