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What They Won't Tell You About Becoming a Cop

What They Won't Tell You About Becoming a Cop

By John Rossheim

What does it take to become a police officer? Mental and physical strength and agility, patience for a lengthy application process, graduation from a police academy – and a relatively clean police record.

Indeed, for a job that pays a middling wage, is potentially dangerous and sometimes involves long and strange hours, policing is a demanding career. That’s why city police and state troopers tend to be a dedicated, close-knit bunch who do their jobs for the love of serving the public.

The services of police officers are likely to be in high demand for the foreseeable future. Although crime in major cities has declined in recent decades, the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers is expected to drive police departments to hire at a rapid pace through 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There were about 840,000 sworn police officers – both uniformed patrol officers and plainclothes detectives – in 2002, says the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.

From growing towns in the Southwest (police officers start at about $46,000 base pay in Mesa, Arizona) to the metropolises of the Northeast (New York City rookies can start at $64,000), there are diverse opportunities in police work. “There are about 18,000 police departments in the United States, but they’re not all recruiting all the time,” says John Doherty, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Police Work in the 21st Century

Some police chiefs point to recent trends that have changed the job of the patrol officer. Examples include community policing and use of information technology to analyze crime patterns and better allocate law enforcement resources.

But overall, police work is the same as it’s always been. “The job of being a police officer hasn’t changed greatly,” says James Stinchcomb, author of Opportunities in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Careers. “You still do a considerable amount of time on patrol; it’s very reactive.”

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