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Choosing a Police Career the Life of a Police Officer

Aug 17, 2007
Police officers face many dangers in their jobs. Police officers are constantly being faced with the unknown and the unpredictable. They never truly know the outcome of any situation they enter into. This can make policing a dangerous profession. Dangers faced by police include death, increased risk of infectious diseases, and serious and minor trauma, both physical and emotional. These dangers are encountered in many different situations i.e. apprehension/arrest and investigation of criminals, conducting vehicle stops, investigating people and crimes, protecting the public from dangerous situations or individuals, investigating traffic accidents and witnessing the carnage that often results from those accidents, responding to suicides and directing traffic.

Individuals are drawn to police work for many reasons. Among these often include a desire to protect the public and social order from criminals and danger; a desire to hold a position of respect and authority; a disdain for or antipathy towards criminals and rulebreakers; the professional challenges of the work; the employment benefits that are provided with civil service jobs in many countries; the sense of camaraderie that often holds among police; or a family tradition of police work or civil service. An important task of the recruitment activity of police agencies in many countries is screening potential candidates to determine the fitness of their character and personality for the work, often through background investigations and consultation with a psychologist.

A police officer is a person who works for a police force. It usually only refers to those who have been sworn in as law enforcement officers, and does not include civilian support personnel. A police officer is employed in most cases by federal, state/provincial or municipal governments and has the responsibility (or duty) of enforcing federal, state/provincial laws along with municipal/city ordinances. They also have the responsibility of keeping the public peace. This is usually done by uniformed pro-active patrolling within their jurisdiction looking for and investigating law breakers, and by responding to calls for service. Police officers are required to keep notes of all situations in which they take action and appear as witnesses during both criminal prosecutions and civil litigation. One of the lesser-known but most time-consuming duties of officers is completion of documentation of activity ("reporting").

It must be noted that the responsibilities of a police officer are extremely broad and not in any way limited to the duties mentioned above. Police are expected to be able to respond in some fashion to any and all situations that may arise while they are on duty. Also police must act as government officials in the cases of investigation. In some communities rules and procedures governing conduct and duties of police officers requires that they act if needed even when off duty.

The major role of the police is to maintain order, keeping the peace through enforcement of laws and societal norms. They also function to discourage deter and investigate crimes, with particular emphases on crime against persons or property and the maintenance of public order, and if able to apprehend suspected perpetrator(s), to detain them, and inform the appropriate authorities. Police are often used as an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, and search and rescue situations. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often coordinate their operations with fire and emergency medical services. In many countries there is a common emergency service number that allows the police, firefighters or medical services to be summoned to an emergency.

Police are also responsible for reporting minor offences by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Police sometimes involve themselves in the maintenance of public order, even where no legal transgressions have occurred.

Candidates for the police force must have completed some formal education. Increasing numbers of people are joining the police force who possess tertiary education and in response to this many police forces have developed a "fast-track" scheme whereby those with university degrees spend 2-3 years as a police constable before receiving promotion to higher ranks, such as plain clothes detective. Police officers are also recruited from those with experience in the military or security services. Most law enforcement agencies now have measurable physical fitness requirements for officers. In the United States, state laws codify state-wide qualification standards regarding age, education, criminal record, and training.

Police agencies are usually semi-military in organization, so that with specified experience or training qualifications officers become eligible for promotion to a higher supervisory rank, such as sergeant. Promotion is not automatic and usually requires the candidate to pass some kind of examination, interview board or other selection procedure. Although promotion normally includes an increase in salary, it also brings with it an increase in responsibility and for most, an increase in administrative paperwork.

After completing a certain period of service, officers may also apply for specialist positions, such as detective, police dog handler, mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, water police officer, or firearms officer (in forces which are not routinely armed).

In addition to any formal qualifications required, potential police officers should have a genuine interest in working with the public and possess an inquiring mind.

Most all police officers work in a police station. A police station is a building which serves as the headquarters of a police force or unit which serves a specific district. These buildings typically contain offices, various accommodations for their personnel and their vehicles (such as locker rooms and a maintenance garage), temporary holding cells, and interview/interrogation rooms. Alternative terms include precinct or precinct house for regional facilities of the New York City Police Department and other urban police departments in the United States, and detachment for local facilities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or division by the Toronto Police Service in Toronto, Ontario. District offices are used by the California Highway Patrol, and substations are used by county sheriff forces with more than one facility. A police precinct is a form of division of a geographical area patrolled by a police force.
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