How to Become a Police Officer: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Police officers have a lot of jobs to do. They enforce federal, state and local laws—everything from traffic infringements to laws dealing with major criminal offences. Police seek to ensure public safety by patrolling communities, responding to emergencies, and helping people who seem to be in trouble. They investigate crimes. They give citations and arrest suspects, gather and secure evidence, and testify against alleged criminals in court. It’s not an easy job, but it’s an important one, and good police work is extremely worthwhile.


Annual salaries for police officers will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for police officers working in the U.S. was $58,720 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for police officers, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work as a Police Officer

California leads the nation in employment of police officers with 68,340 serving officers making an average salary of $86,040 annually. Texas is second, with 56,890 police officers earning an average salary of $53,030.

The metro areas employing the most police officers are:

  • New York-White Plains (36,160)
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach (24,290)
  • Chicago-Joliet (21,960)

The metro areas employing the highest concentration of police officers are:

  • Hinesville-Fort Stewart, GA (11.97 jobs per thousand)
  • Prescott, AZ (9.13 jobs per thousand)

The metro areas employing the best-paid police officers are:

  • San Francisco (average annual salary $99,000)
  • Oakland, CA (average annual salary $97,300)

Employment and Salary Information for Police Officers

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a police officer. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Police Officer

Why Become A Police Officer?

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. And if you’re tough, resourceful, ethical, and a good communicator, that someone could be you.

  • Protect the public. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s something to be proud of.
  • Lots of positions. There were about 780,000 police officers in the U.S. in 2012. Although job growth is slower than the average, we still need a lot of police.
  • Don’t get struck behind a desk. While there are some administrative posts for police officers, police are usually out on patrol, or interviewing suspects, or doing any number of non-desk-bound tasks.
  • Wide variety of jobs. Ever considered becoming a transit police officer? How about fish and game, or drug enforcement? Police officers aren’t just out patrolling the streets, but dealing with many other problems as well.
  • Tell all your friends what the cop shows get wrong. Your friends may get sick of it. But you’ll enjoy it.

Police Officer: What You Need To Know

Police officers need to be prepared for a wide variety of situations, some dangerous, some not. A good police officer can help resolve or defuse a situation, but must have the skills to keep themselves and others safe if the need arises. A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Knowledge of Laws and Civil Rights
  • Driving and Traffic Control
  • Self Defense and Firearms
  • Interviewing
  • Dealing with the Public

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about police officer careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Police Officer Careers

High School Diploma / Police Academy

Police officers must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and pass certain physical and psychological tests. They usually have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Before becoming a police officer, candidates receive training from other officers while serving as a recruit. Training usually includes constitutional law, civil rights, state laws and local ordinances, and the ethics of police work, along with practical experience such as patrolling, traffic control, firearm usage, self-defense, and first aid emergency response.


Many agencies will specifically seek out candidates who have at least attended college, or obtained a degree, if that gives the potential officer an advantage or is needed or a specialist role.