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What is It Like Being a Police Officer?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon315869 — On Jan 25, 2013

I have always wanted to be a police officer, and have had experience with a somewhat dangerous career anyway, but I do not want to patrol. I want to do something that is a bit more then that.

By anon256050 — On Mar 20, 2012

Please keep in mind being a police officer and a firefighter means you have a high chance of being in harm's way. Every officer knows that, as do the firefighters. They accept that and do it for the greater good. It's not about yourself. I know this because my father was a cop.

By anon165472 — On Apr 05, 2011

I've always wanted to become a police officer, fighting crime etc. I'm 15, and i have seen a lot of bad things in my life. i can expect graphic deaths, fights, fires, etc. i do not know how to become a officer. do i go to my local police station and sign up? i would love it if someone could tell me. --jon

By turtlez — On Sep 20, 2010

@Pimiento - I wouldn't want to become a firefighter myself because there are so many things that could go wrong. I understand that there is a more graphic nature involved in being a police officer, but I think firefighters could potentially end up putting themselves in harms way without realizing it - which is even worse.

By Pimiento — On Sep 20, 2010

@abiane - There is an article here on wise geek that can really help you out. I think it's called "How to Become a Policeman" or something to that extent. I have also known people that become officers that moonlight in firefighting since they have all the appropriate training. I'm not sure which one is more devastating to the psyche, however.

By abiane — On Sep 20, 2010

I have been thinking about going into law enforcement now for about a year - I think I can handle it. I'm not sure how to become a cop, though, and was wondering if anyone could help me out? I am getting a lot of contradicting information.

By doppler — On Sep 20, 2010

Becoming a cop means that your day changes and no two days are going to be the same. Expect to see graphic deaths, beatings, fights, erratic behavior and all those other things than make humans seem like monsters. Literally.

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