The different stages of a career in law enforcement

For most people, the different stages of a career in law enforcement are fairly standard.  While many people in police careers spend their entire career as a patrol officer, many move up the ranks to advanced positions. If you’re considering a career in law enforcement, it’s entirely up to you as to how far you move up the ranks, however, like with any job, in order to get a promotion, you must have a proven track record of performance at a high standard of excellence.

The first stage of a career in law enforcement is the position of patrol officer.  After completing training school, a patrol officer goes to work for a police or sheriff’s department.  The duties of a patrol officer include enforcing local, state and federal laws within the community, as well as protecting the public from crime and promoting good relations between the community at large and the police department. Some officers patrol in cars in specific neighborhoods, while others do their job on horseback, motorcycles or on foot.  Patrol officers are often the first responders on the scene of an emergency, whether it’s a robbery, a car accident, a domestic dispute or a homicide, so they must be able to stay cool and think clearly in the face of stressful situations.  Even though a patrol officer is essentially the lowest rung on the ladder of the police force, this first stage of a career in law enforcement is an extremely important one. 

The next stage of a career in law enforcement is to advance from a patrol officer to that of a detective or crime scene investigator.  Most police departments require that a patrol officer work at least two years on the job before they can apply to become a detective.  Some larger police forces have a requirement of five years on patrol before you can apply.  In order to advance to detective, you need to have an excellent performance record.  You also need to take a test in order to move up the ladder to detective.  Most large city departments now require detectives to have some college level schooling in criminal justice before they can apply for the job.  Police detective jobs are extremely sought after within departments, so the applicant with the best qualifications is the likeliest to advance to this next stage of a career in law enforcement.

For those looking to advance beyond detective to the next stage of a career in law enforcement, seeking a promotion to detective supervisor is the next step up the ladder.  A supervisory position means you’re in charge of other detectives and are responsible for assigning cases, relaying information, disciplining officers and making sure that the department is running smoothly. 

Once an officer has reached the level of supervisor, the next stage of a career in law enforcement is that of police sergeant.  After that, provided one has an exemplary record of performance, one can move up the ladder to lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and chief.  The highest ranking officer in a police force is commissioner.  In large cities, the commissioner is often appointed by the mayor.

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