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Law-Related Career Center

Law Enforcement

hearts_policePolice Officer/Sheriff’s Deputy

Police officers and sheriffs are trained in law enforcement. Their responsibilities include maintaining the peace, investigating crimes, making sure people obey laws, responding to emergency situations (even when off-duty), finding and arresting criminal suspects, and testifying in court about cases they have worked on.

Police officers work for a city government, while sheriffs work for county government. The county sheriff is generally an elected public official. Deputy sheriffs work under the supervision of the county sheriff.

Police officers and sheriffs must complete high school and, for some departments, also must have some college education. Police officers and sheriffs must attend an academy for several months, where they receive special training in law, firearms, investigation techniques, tactical driving, and human relations.

The minimum age to apply to become a police officer is usually 20½ so that accepted applicants are 21 once they start working. They must be U.S. citizens and have a valid driver’s license issued by the state in which they work. Applicants must also pass visual, hearing, physical, and psychological tests.

In May 2010, the median annual pay for police officers was $55,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries depend on rank within the police department, length of service, and size of the department. See the Los Angeles Police Department Career Ladder for an example of a police department pay scale.

Probation/Parole Officer

Probation officers supervise persons convicted of crimes who are serving all or part of their sentence outside of a jail or prison. Parole officers supervise convicted felons who have successfully been released early from prison. Their primary role is to make sure that offenders comply with the law and follow any special rules ordered by a judge or parole board. They maintain regular meetings with the offenders, investigate whether offenders have engaged in prohibited activities, and report their findings. They can also recommend specific sentences to courts. This job tends to include travel and extensive paperwork.

A college degree is required in most areas to become a probation or parole officer. Departments usually offer on-the-job training. Oral, written, and psychological tests are required.

In May 2010, the median annual salary for probation officers was $47,200, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

911 Operator

A 911 operator takes calls and dispatches emergency personnel to crimes, fires, and medical emergencies. They receive and record vital information from persons who call 911, including date, time, address, suspected crime or offense, identity of suspect, and whether medical assistance is needed. They play an important role in assisting people in distress, often serving as the first line of communication for someone who needs help. They are responsible for transmitting all relevant information to the appropriate authorities. These operators commonly communicate with fire stations, police departments, and hospitals.

To become a 911 operator, applicants must pass an oral, written, and performance test created by the state or local authority administering the test. They must also obtain certification and attend mandatory courses, which usually last anywhere from three to nine months, to learn radio procedures, communication skills and technology, medical dispatching, criminal law, and crisis intervention.

In May 2010, the annual median pay for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers was $35,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

FBI Special Agent

Special agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are federal law enforcement officers. They investigate federal crimes such as bank robberies, terrorism, political corruption, tax evasion, espionage, drug trafficking, Internet crimes, and organized crime. Their responsibilities vary greatly due to differences in rank and division assignment. Generally speaking, agents familiarize themselves with a particular criminal or group of criminals, conduct research, investigate, and compile information for prosecution or further action. Travel is often required.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, FBI agents must be at least 23 years of age, be a U.S. citizen, have a valid driver’s license, have three years of professional work experience, and complete a 20-week training program in Quantico, Virginia. They must pass a background check and both physical and psychological tests. Most agents have previous work experience in law enforcement. Fluency in a foreign language is not mandatory, but highly desired. New agents also receive 18 weeks of training before going out into the field.

In May 2010, the annual median pay for police and detectives, including federal investigators, was $55,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. See the Federal Bureau of Investigation Career web site for more information.

Photo: Mark Ide