Law enforcement careers in the United States can be highly rewarding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 68,500 openings for police officers and detectives are projected each year between 2021 and 2031, with a total growth of three percent over the decade.
The law enforcement industry offers a wide range of opportunities for individuals seeking a public service career. Jobs are available at local, state and federal levels of government, giving job seekers the option of many different positions to pursue. The four main types of law enforcement careers are outlined below.
1. Uniformed Officers
When most people envision a job in law enforcement, they think about a uniformed police officer. To become a uniformed officer, a person may need a high school diploma or college degree, depending on the position.
Uniformed officers may also be required to attend an academy for approximately 12 to 14 weeks, as well as undergo an assessment by a police or state department. Drug screening and background checks are also common requirements.
Uniformed police officers often work in the field and wear uniforms that represent their particular department or agency. These law enforcement professionals have a variety of duties, such as responding to emergency calls and patrolling local communities.
Uniformed officers may work in either rural or urban settings on foot, horse, motorcycle or other vehicle, either independently or with a partner. Examples of common uniformed jobs in law enforcement include:
- Police officers
- State troopers
- Parks ranger
- Game warden
- Deputy sheriffs
- School police officers
- Tribal police officers
- Airport police officers
2. Plainclothes Officers
The next largest group of law enforcement are plainclothes officers, which generally include investigators, special agents and detectives. Plainclothes officers are responsible for analyzing crime scenes and collecting information for investigative purposes. This may involve observing suspects, interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence. Some plainclothes officers also work with interagency task forces to handle certain types of crimes.
Similar to uniformed officers, plainclothes officers can be hired at local, state or federal levels. Plainclothes officers often start their careers as uniformed officers before working up to more specialized roles, such as investigators or detectives.
Climbing the career ladder may require an officer to pass certain exams or continue their education. Some plainclothes officers may need a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. Examples of plainclothes officer jobs in law enforcement include:
- Criminal investigators
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents
- Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents
- Air marshals
- Secret Service agents
- Immigration inspectors
3. Legal Positions
Some law enforcement positions are performed within the courts and our judicial system. The primary purpose of U.S. courts is to determine the innocence or guilt of suspected criminals. Individuals who choose to enter the law enforcement industry may also choose to work in other fields, such as forensic science or social work.
Legal positions in law enforcement are generally in-office positions in either the private or public sector. These jobs typically do not require optimal physical fitness like other law enforcement jobs, such as police officers.
However, to pursue a career in the legal sector, a person may need a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate degree, depending on the position. Examples of legal positions in law enforcement include:
- Court reporter
- City attorney
- Public defense attorney
- Legal assistant
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attorney
- Judicial clerk
4. Support Positions
Nearly all law enforcement sectors require support personnel to carry out important duties, such as processing and storing evidence, performing lab testing, reconstructing crime scenes and other vital responsibilities. Support positions are generally filled by individuals who are hired to assist officers or agents.
Individuals working in support positions in law enforcement are highly trained professionals. These positions may require a person to have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or even a doctorate degree. Similar to other law enforcement career groups, support positions are available at local, state and federal levels. Examples of support positions in law enforcement include:
- Crime lab technicians
- Financial investigators
- Handwriting examiners
- Fingerprint technicians
- Crime scene analysts
- Firearms specialists
- Police records specialists
- Cybercrime detectives
- Surveillance specialists
- Intelligence analysts
- Temporary security specialists
- Management analysts
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