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Law Enforcement: Protect-and-Serve Career Choice

Ensuring public safety and enforcing the laws of the land are the heart of a law enforcement career. Nearly 850,000 dedicated citizens work as police officers or detectives in the United States. About 80 percent of those officers work in our local communities and county sheriff's offices. The remainder work for Federal or State police agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects law enforcement jobs to grow at a faster rate than most other job categories through 2012, because of public concern about crime.

In general, the minimum requirements for a law enforcement career in the U.S. include being a U.S. citizen, being at least 20 years old, meeting physical requirements and having successfully completed at least a high school education. Federal law enforcement agencies require a college degree, while most local and State units prefer at least some college. Military experience and/or college work in criminal justice areas increase the chances of finding satisfying work combating crime.

Law Enforcement Offers Challenging Careers

Good character and honesty are important attributes for those seeking law enforcement careers. Background checks, drug testing and psychological screenings may be part of the recruiting process. Physical exams usually include tests for strength, agility, hearing and vision.

Although recruits do receive lots of training in physical skills such as self defense and use of firearms, they must also be prepared to learn the laws they will enforce in detail and handle plenty of paperwork and clerical duties. Officers' work usually includes routine patrolling as well as investigating accidents and crime scenes. They must testify in court as well as chase a fleeing suspect at the scene of a crime. The work is not always filled with action, but rarely are any two days nearly the same.

The median pay for an average of all police and sheriff's officers across the country was between $32,300 and $53,500 in 2002. Police and detective supervisors median pay averaged between $47,210 and $74,610. Detective and criminal investigator median pay averaged between $39,000 and $65,980.

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