For the right person, being a police officer can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Under the right circumstances, working as a police officer means getting to help people on a daily basis, doing work that really matters, and receiving a decent salary for it. At the same time, it can mean taking a fair amount of abuse on a day to day basis from citizens, receiving little respect, and being put in harm’s way regularly. Of course, the experience police work can vary widely, depending on what kind of officer one becomes, who one is, and where one works.
When most people think of being a police officer, they think of being a beat cop. These street patrol officers are the officers people see on a day to day basis, walking or driving the streets, keeping their eyes open for laws being broken. They respond to calls to take care of everything from armed robberies, to domestic disputes, to accidents. Depending on where a patrol officer is stationed, the work may be intense and dangerous, or may be fairly mundane and boring.
In a small town, a patrol officer may have the vast majority of their work made up of taking care of petty infractions. Catching people vandalizing walls, youth out after curfew, and jaywalking are all small things that being a police officer can mean taking care of. Car accidents will also usually require a police officer to make sure everything is okay, and sometimes to help manage traffic. Police officers may also take responsibility for traffic violations within city limits, pulling over motorists who are speeding, driving while intoxicated, or driving recklessly.
Even small towns often also have officers who are detectives. Being a police officer of this type entails a bit more specialized work, looking into crimes behind the scenes to try to determine what went on. Although modern detectives have little in common with fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, they nonetheless do get to do their fair share of actually solving crimes, and many analytically-minded people may find this to be the job for them.
In larger cities, there are many different types of police officers, each specializing in a particular area of law enforcement. Some officers focus on homicide, for example, and so the vast majority of their work involves dealing with murders or manslaughter. Although this can be a rough field to work in, as one is often surrounded with extremely gruesome deaths, it can also be very rewarding, as criminals can be brought to justice and a sense of peace can be granted to the bereaved family.
People who find themselves drawn to a more dangerous and adventurous type of law enforcement may decide that going into either a narcotics division, or a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team is the move for them. In addition to normal law enforcement courses, joining something like a SWAT team often involves much more rigorous training, and ideally a background in something like the military. Pay for such specialized branches tends to be higher than that of normal patrol cops, but the risk involved can also be much higher.