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Patrol Officer

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(6.1 out of 10)

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Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

1.2 percent

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Best Social Services Jobs #12
The 100 Best Jobs #69

Hollywood has generated a wildly romantic image of the police officer’s life. The reality, depending on where you work and for whom, is probably somewhere between Dirty Harry and Barney Fife. Much of policing, in fact, involves the tedium of writing reports and updating records. When you’re not behind a desk, you’ll be on patrol, making your presence known in the community and responding to incident reports. There is clearly a public service element to the job that you could reasonably call heroic, but there’s also a cost to your personal life. Officers work long hours and suffer high rates of job-related injury. Still, for those with the right character, the protect-and-serve profession can be very rewarding.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 38,800 new positions will be added between 2012 and 2022, employment growth for patrol officers will reach only 5.9 percent, which is much slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for patrol officers will vary by location and will largely depend on local and state budgets. However, there will always be a need for officers to protect citizens and keep communities safe.


The BLS reports the median annual salary for patrol officers was $55,270 in 2012. The best-paid 10 percent in the field made $89,310, while the bottom 10 percent made $32,350. State governments pay police officers the highest in the country, offering an average salary of $62,810 in 2012. California compensates officers the best, as the highest-paid in the profession work in three California metropolitan areas: San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $72,480
Median $55,270
25th Percentile $41,480


Each jurisdiction has its own educational requirements for patrol officers. In some, a high school diploma is sufficient. Others demand a college degree. In any event, you probably won’t use a lot of textbook knowledge on the job. Before becoming an officer, you’ll go through some form of training academy, where you’ll learn about key legal codes, first aid, firearms, patrol protocol and more. You’ll also have to pass a rigorous physical exam. Those who want to become a federal law enforcement agent should expect even more intensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Glynco, Ga. You’ll need to be a U.S. citizen for any of these positions, and you should have a clean criminal record.

Reviews & Advice

Candidates must be at least 21 years old and have a driver’s license. Military experience is often viewed as an asset. Maj. Mark Brown, chief training officer for the Florida Highway Patrol, wrote in an email that the FHP looks for “a solid work history, a desire to help others, a willingness to work through a difficult academy and the ability to work anywhere in the state.” Police organizations generally put candidates through a thorough vetting process. Brown said applicants to the FHP can expect “a rigorous background check, polygraph examination, psychological test, physical ability test, a written test and they will be screened by a physician (including a drug screen).”

Officers who spend years in the field often become eligible for advancement. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain are usually determined by test scores and job performance. In some cases, officers may advance in the ranks and become a detective.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility good Above Average
Stress Level poor High
Flexibility poor Below Average
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Last updated by Stephanie Steinberg.

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