Law Enforcement Careers

Why choose law enforcement careers?

Law enforcement is an important part of the US criminal justice system. With global terrorism and the increasing importance given to homeland security nowadays, there is a high demand for law enforcement professionals who are armed with the latest skills and technology to meet all kinds of challenges pertaining to national, regional and local security.

Types of Law Enforcement Careers

There are three categories of law enforcement careers, namely;

Uniformed Officers: These include local police officers, state troopers, deputy sheriffs, and border patrol agents.

Investigators: These include plainclothes detectives as well as State and Federal agents.

Support positions: These individuals usually help with the investigations. Crime lab technicians, intelligence analysts, ballistics examiners, handwriting examiners and evidence technicians all come under the broad category of support positions.

Law enforcement agencies usually operate at three levels; local, state and federal. All three categories of the above mentioned law enforcement jobs fall under these three levels of law enforcement agencies. Below is a brief description of the three categories of law enforcement careers and a discussion on which is the ideal career path for you.

Uniformed Officers

Uniformed police patrol officers are responsible for protecting the life and property of the general public and targeting crime. They are also responsible for enforcing the local, state or federal laws and regulations. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the everyday duties of police officers include patrolling their assigned areas, directing traffic, responding to emergency calls, investigating accidents, issuing out arrest warrants and apprehending suspects as well as doing all the necessary paperwork such as writing detailed reports.  In order to become police officers, candidates need to have at least a high school qualification. They also need to complete a training program from a police training academy. Moreover, candidates also need to be US citizens, be at least 21 years old and successfully measure up to all physical and personal requirements.

Median pay (2012): $ 55,270 (BLS)

According to O Net Online, state police officers, also called state troopers or highway patrol officers are responsible for effectively maintaining law and order and enforcing motor vehicle laws on highways.

Median annual pay: $47,600 (state trooper

Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs are also responsible for maintaining general law and order, usually in unincorporated districts and counties. They may also be responsible for patrolling courthouses, guarding courts and safely escorting defendants among their everyday duties.

Annual average salary (first year): $58,935 (


Detectives and criminal investigators may be uniformed or plainclothes investigators. They are usually responsible for analyzing criminal cases and gathering related facts and evidence. Detectives usually specialize in one particular area of crime investigation such as fraud or homicide. They are usually assigned work on a rotating basis and continue with their case until an arrest or a trial verdict is reached or until the case is dropped.

Median pay (2012): $74,300 (BLS)

Federal agents, while performing similar duties to police officers, usually have authority and control across state lines.  Many federal agents have highly specialized jobs. Some examples of federal agencies include:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation: FBI agents are responsible for conducting confidential national security investigations. They are also responsible for investigating terrorist acts, cyber crime, public corruption, white collar crime as well as violent crimes and major thefts.

Median pay: $ 65,690 (

  • Drug Enforcement Administration: DEA agents are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to use and possession of illegal drugs. According to the US Drug Enforcement administration website, DEA agents are usually hired at the GS-7 or GS-9 level, depending upon prior education and experience.

Approximate Median pay: $49, 746 (GS-7 level), $ 55,483 (GS-9 level)

  • Federal Air Marshals: Federal Air Marshals are responsible for providing and ensuring air security by being vigilantly on guard against any attacks directed at US aircrafts, passengers or crews. Federal Air Marshals are usually paid under the SV grading system which differs from other federal systems paid under the GS systems.  According to, although the pay grades are dependent on education and experience, typically, entry level air marshal salaries begin with the grade G.

Approximate salary range (pay band G): between $39,358 and $60,982.

Approximate salary range (pay band M- {highest band}): between $120236 and $ 155500. (www.

  • United States Secret Service: United States secret service agents are basically responsible for safeguarding all national and visiting foreign leaders as well as undertaking investigative missions targeting high end financial crimes. New secret service agents are usually hired at the GL-7 or GL-9 federal pay grade according to The highest performance level for secret service agents is GL-13. The pay scale usually depends on the locality, education and experience of a potential candidate.

Approximate salary range 2012 (GL-7): between $38,511 and $48,708,

Approximate salary range 2012 (GL-9): $42,948 and $55,413.

Approximate salary range 2012 (GL-13):   $84,000 and $106,000.

Support Positions

Crime lab technicians, intelligence analysts, ballistics examiners and evidence technicians all fall under the broad category of support positions of law enforcement agencies. They are basically responsible for documenting evidence and performing varying degrees of forensic analysis. The pay scale of these support positions usually varies by rank, education, experience and locality.

Median annual pay of Forensic science technicians (May 2012): $52,840 (BLS).

What are the general hiring procedures candidates have to go through?

While the specific hiring procedures may vary with different law enforcement agencies, a general list of standard hiring procedures used by all agencies include:

  • Issuance of Job Announcements: these state the job vacancies in particular departments as well as the minimum qualifications and experience required of the candidates. Candidates must make sure that they meet the eligibility criterion before applying.

  • Issuance of Application Packets: application packets are issued by different agencies in order to collect all necessary documents that will be required as part of the evaluation and hiring process.

  • Written Test: candidates will be required to take a standardized written test. Passing the test will be a main requirement in order to continue with the hiring process.

  • Oral Board Interview: candidates will have to appear before a panel of interviewers from a particular law enforcement agency they are applying to. Each member would score the candidate based on their answers to different questions. The scoring may be numerical or rated on a pass/ fail basis.

  • Physical Agility Test: candidates may be required to take the physical agility test in order to ascertain their fitness and stamina to bear strenuous work requirements. Agencies that take the test will usually score the candidate with a pass or fail.

  • Background Investigation: Agencies will conduct a thorough back ground check of candidates who move up the hiring process. This is done in order to validate all documents presented to the agency and to ascertain that there is no disqualifying information which may remove the candidate from consideration. Candidates may have to undergo a polygraph and a psychological exam as part of this investigation.

  • Medical Examination: All candidates who are being seriously considered for employment with the respective agency will have to undertake and pass a medical examination. This examination is conducted in order to ensure that candidates are medically fit to perform their duties and that they do not have any medical conditions which might hinder their performance.

  • Job Offer: Successful applicants will be offered a job offer, based on the belief that all information provided by the candidate was accurate and truthful. If any information is proven inaccurate or incorrect, the applicant might be terminated if he is already hired.

Which would be the ideal career path for you- local, state or federal law enforcement?

Before deciding to pursue a career in law enforcement, it is important to understand that certain agencies, particularly federal law enforcement agencies,  might require the candidates to sign “mobility agreements’ which is a stipulation that the candidates will be willing to relocate to any post and place of duty as per the needs of the agency. Candidates who wish to stay in their home towns should apply in local law enforcement agencies.

Candidates who apply to state agencies, for the position of state troopers for example, may not know which area they will be assigned to. So, before deciding upon local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, candidates need to take into consideration factors such as job mobility and willingness to relocate to other districts.

Qualities that will prove helpful in law enforcement careers

For individuals hoping to pursue careers in law enforcement, the following important qualities will prove to be immensely helpful:

  • Good communication skills: Good communication and writing skills will help with collecting evidence and writing reports.

  • Empathy: A strong feeling to empathize with the public will help law enforcement agents perform their duties better.

  • Good judgment and leadership skills: These qualities will help law enforcement agents to tackle all kinds of problems in the best possible manner.

  • Physical stamina: Law enforcement agents should possess good physical stamina, both to pass all required tests for entry into the field, as well as to keep up with all the rigorous demands of their job.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Law Enforcement Officer?

If you wish to pursue a career in Law Enforcement, you must have a high school diploma or a GED certificate at least. However, for better career prospects, many people opt for a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. Subjects such as Behavioral Psychology, Criminology, Forensic Sciences and Criminal Justice lead to a career in law enforcement. To become a Police Officer, you need to pass the state-conducted entrance exam and complete training at the Police Academy.

What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Law Enforcement Officer?

The requirements for becoming a law enforcement officer vary depending on the type of position you want to achieve. There are a few basic requirements that apply to almost all careers in law enforcement. For example, all candidates must:

  • Be at least 18 or 21 years of age.
  • Possess a valid driving license and be US citizens.
  • Not have any criminal record.
  • Clear all background checks, physical exams & psychological tests.
  • Pass the drugs test.

There may be additional requirements based on the position you aim for. For instance, a career as a Police Officer, a Forensic Science Technician, an FBI Agent and a CIA Agent all require different educational degrees.

How Much Can I Make after Becoming a Law Enforcement Officer?

After meeting all the relevant requirements, you may be able to work as a Police Officer, a Detective, a Forensic Science Technician, a Fish & Game Warden, an FBI/CIA Agent, etc. The salary of FBI and CIA Agents is not disclosed to the public. However, in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the annual median salary for the following careers as:


Median Salary

Fish & Game Wardens

$57,710 per year

Forensic Science Technicians

$58,230 per year

Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers

$61,380 per year

Police and Detectives

$63,380 per year

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

$81,920 per year

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What is the job outlook for Law Enforcement professionals?

A:Law enforcement professionals such as police officers, homeland security officers, investigators, and detectives are employed in state based, federal and private agencies. The job prospects for these professionals may vary from location to location. However, owing to the rising crime rate in most states, the demand for skilled law enforcement personnel has risen considerably and the job prospects for police officers and detectives are likely to rise by 10% through 2018.

Q:What are the contents of the course on Crime & Security in the U.S. in the Law Enforcement schools in Minnesota?

A:The Law Enforcement schools in Minnesota have dedicated course on Crime & Security in the U.S. This course is usually of around 4 credit. It highlights on the basic definition of crime and the levels of private as well as public crimes along with the methods of protection. Students are briefed on the public and private law enforcement.

Q:As I read on the careers in law enforcement, there was mention of the course on Business Analysis. What are the contents of this course?

A:It is common to get to read about the course on Business Analysis while going through the Careers in Law Enforcement. This course is worth 2 credits in total and is structured to provide students with ample understanding of the algebraic concepts of solving the problems of a business environment.

Q:What jobs can I get with a law enforcement degree?

A:A degree in law enforcement will open up a variety of career opportunities for you. You can work as the FBI agent or the United States Secret Service agent. You will also be able to work in the local police departments, state troops' agencies, department of homeland security and other state law enforcement organizations. Graduates can also join private security contractors and law firms.

Q:To pursue a career in investigation, do I need some sort of a degree?

A:Investigation careers mostly fall in the sector of law enforcement and criminal justice. You need to have at least a bachelor degree criminal justice or any related field. Education is necessary as you need to know what crime prevention or investigation techniques are being used. You also need to develop a good set of skills for this career.

Q:Can you tell me about the academic knowledge required by police officers?

A:If you want a career in law enforcement, policing and investigation, you will need an accredited associate's or a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Courses such as criminal justice, investigation methods, criminal law, and emergency planning and management can help you a lot in your career as a police officer.

Q:Can you name a few of the law enforcement careers?

A:Law enforcement careers are suitable for individuals who want to protect their nation and mitigate crime. There are a number of agencies that offer career opportunities in law enforcement such as the police division, border patrol, corrections, and even the homeland Security department. Students can choose from careers as a police officer, investigator, border patrol agent, Security agent, and more.

Q:Can I do a BS in Justice Studies for a Career in Law Enforcement?

A:Bachelor of Science (BS) in Justice Studies, degree program focuses widely on both facets of the legal system as well as their use in the justice system and law enforcement. Students study courses such as philosophy, policing, psychology, sociology and law and legal processes in the U.S. For a career in law enforcement, this will be a suitable degree.

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