Police officer

A police officer arresting a suspect


Police officers use investigation methods to prevent crime, to pursue and apprehend criminals, and protect the public from violent and criminal activities. They perform surveillance and patrol activities to prevent crimes and apprehend offenders. They provide support to victimised parties and the public at large, and fulfill administrative duties.

Police officers typically do the following:

  • Patrol neighborhoods on foot, by bicycle, or in a vehicle to prevent crime, respond to calls for service, and investigate potential criminal activity
  • Conduct investigations into crimes such as homicides, burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes
  • Respond to emergency calls for assistance such as fires, public disorder, violent situations, or domestic violence incidents
  • Interview witnesses and suspects, take statements from witnesses or victims, and collect evidence at crime scenes
  • Provide first aid to injured individuals until an ambulance arrives
  • Prepare reports about investigations conducted and incidents encountered while on duty
  • Conduct traffic stops to issue citations or make arrests for violations of traffic laws
  • Patrol specific areas on foot or in a vehicle to enforce laws, respond to citizen calls for service, or provide security at public events
  • Direct traffic, issue parking tickets, and help pedestrians cross the street during busy times

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to police officer:

state police officer
law enforcement officer
police constable
public roads surveillance officer
mounted police officer
railroad police officer
highway patrol officer
railway police officer
patrol officer
state trooper

Working conditions

Police officers work in a variety of settings, including patrol cars, motorcycles, foot beats, and bicycles. They also work in office settings, where they may fill out paperwork or interview witnesses and victims. Some police officers work in undercover operations, where they may pose as drug dealers or prostitutes. Others work in schools, teaching children about drug abuse and gang violence.

Injuries and Illnesses

Police officers and transit and railroad police officers have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They may face physical injuries during conflicts with criminals and other high-risk situations.

Work Schedules

Most police and detectives work full time. Paid overtime is common, and shift work is necessary to protect the public at all times.

Minimum qualifications

Police officers are typically required to have a high school diploma. Some police departments prefer to hire candidates who have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Many aspiring police officers choose to earn a degree in criminal justice or another closely related field. These programs typically include coursework in criminal law, criminology, police procedures, forensics, ethics and psychology.

Police officers receive extensive training in the police academy. The training includes learning about the laws they will enforce, self-defense, firearms, emergency response, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), ethics, community relations and more.

Police officers also receive on-the-job training to learn about the specific laws and regulations of their jurisdiction, how to use the department’s equipment and how to handle different situations.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Police officer is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Police officer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to police officer.

street warden
juvenile correctional officer
prison officer
civil enforcement officer
airport security officer

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of police officer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of police officer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

police detective
police inspector
immigration officer
court bailiff
customs and excise officer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of police officer.

  • Law enforcement: The different organisations involved in law enforcement, as well as the laws and regulations in law enforcement procedures.
  • Legal use-of-force: The characteristics of the use-of-force, which is a legal doctrine employed by police and army forces, to regulate acts of violence during interventions. Use-of-force is ought to balance security needs with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects.
  • Road traffic laws: Understand road traffic laws and the rules of the road.
  • First response: The procedures of pre-hospital care for medical emergencies, such as first aid, resuscitation techniques, legal and ethical issues, patient assessment, trauma emergencies.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of police officer.

  • Apply first response: Respond to medical or trauma emergencies and care for the patient in a manner compliant with health and safety regulations, assessing the legal and ethical issues of the situation, and provide proper pre-hospital care.
  • Handle evidence: Handle evidence important for a case in a manner compliant with regulations, in order to not affect the state of the evidence in question and to ensure its pristine condition and usability in the case.
  • Comply with legal regulations: Ensure you are properly informed of the legal regulations that govern a specific activity and adhere to its rules, policies and laws.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Comply with the principles of self-defence: Observe the principles according to which a person should only use so much force as is required to repel an attack. The use of deadly force is limited to situations where attackers are using deadly force themselves.
  • Ensure compliance with types of weapons: Use different kinds of firearms and other types of weapons and their matching ammunition, in compliance with legal requirements.
  • Identify security threats: Identify security threats during investigations, inspections, or patrols, and perform the necessary actions to minimise or neutralise the threat.
  • Instruct public: Give instructions to the public during situations where they behave in a manner which is not compliant with laws and regulations, or to guide them during abnormal situations.
  • Detain offenders: Keep back offenders and trespassers in a certain area.
  • Patrol areas: Patrol a designated area, watch out for and respond to suspicious and dangerous situations, and communicate with emergency response organisations.
  • Ensure law application: Ensure the laws are followed, and where they are broken, that the correct measures are taken to ensure compliance to the law and law enforcement.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of police officer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Railway law: The laws and regulations governing the activities and functioning of the railway system.
  • Diving operation requirements: The operational plan and the contingency plan for the diving operation, the diving equipment to be used in the diving operation, the diving signals to be used in the diving operation, the in-water decompression procedures to be used in the diving operation, and any emergency procedures that might have to be used in the diving operation.
  • Safe horseback riding principles: Safe horseback riding and training principles.
  • Physical characteristics of railways: Familiar with all physical aspects of the railway, including train stations, the incline and decline of the right-of-way and speed limits.
  • Illegal substances: The forbidden substances which cannot be transported from one area to another, or carried by an individual, as well as their nature and how to handle them.
  • Investigation research methods: The methods and strategies used to conduct police, government intelligence or military investigation research, as well as the research regulations specific to the operation.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of police officer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Assess railway operations: Review and study existing railroad equipment, facilities, systems and processes in order to improve railway safety and efficiency, increase quality, and reduce costs.
  • Restrain individuals: Restrain, or control by force, individuals who violate regulations in terms of acceptable behaviour, who present a threat to others, and who perform acts of violence, to ensure the individual is unable to proceed in this negative behaviour and to protect others.
  • Conduct frisk: Conduct frisks, or pat downs, with individual to ensure there are no illegal or dangerous items concealed on their person, in a manner appropriate and compliant with regulations.
  • Drug investigations: Perform investigations to try and halt the distribution of drugs through illegal and criminal measures, as well as arrest the distributors of illegal drugs.
  • Analyse legal evidence: Analyse evidence, such as evidence in criminal cases, legal documentation regarding a case, or other documentation that can be regarded as evidence, in order to obtain a clear image of the case and reach resolutions.
  • Present evidence: Present evidence in a criminal or civil case to others, in a convincing and appropriate manner, in order to reach the right or most beneficial solution.
  • Investigate forgery cases: Investigate the illegal altering, copying or imitation of articles or goods (for example currency, public records or works of art) used for criminal purposes.
  • Anticipate foreseeable problems on the road: Anticipate problems on the road such as punctures, pursuit driving, understeering or, oversteering.
  • Perform underwater investigations: Perform investigative activities, searches, or rescue missions underwater by using diving equipment and complying with safety regulations.
  • Ensure public safety and security: Implement the relevant procedures, strategies and use the proper equipment to promote local or national security activities for the protection of data, people, institutions, and property.
  • Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
  • Maintain order at scenes of accidents: Maintain order at emergency scenes dispersing crowds and keeping family and friends from touching the patient.
  • Provide care for horses: Provide care for horses includes cleaning, housing, preparing horses and ponies for riding, fixating and leading horses, taking into account the safety regulations for horses and people, specific requirements of horse at hand; using proper methods and equine tools and equipment.
  • Examine crime scenes: Examine crime scenes upon arrival to ensure they are not tampered with, and to perform the initial assessments and analyses of what may have occurred, as well as examining the nature of the evidence present.
  • Control crowd: Control a crowd or riot, ensuring people do not cross to areas they are not allowed to access, monitoring the crowd’s behaviour and responding to suspicious and violent behaviour.
  • Conduct drug abuse tests: Conduct alcohol and drug tests according to government and company policies and procedures. Conducts random, reasonable suspicion, and post-accident testing using basic equipment.
  • Manage major incidents: Take immediate action to respond to major incidents that affect the safety and security of individuals in private or public places such as road accidents.
  • Educate public on road safety: Develop and execute educational and promotional plans to educate the public on road safety in order to raise awareness and tackle issues such as the proper attitude to adopt as a pedestrian, cyclist or driver and the ability to identify hazards.
  • Regulate traffic: Regulate the flow of traffic by using assigned hand signals, assisting travellers on the road, and aiding people to cross the street.
  • Respond to enquiries: Respond to enquiries and requests for information from other organisations and members of the public.
  • Analyse road traffic patterns: Determine the most efficient road traffic patterns and peak times in order to increase schedule efficiency.
  • Handle conflicts: Mediate in conflicts and tense situations by acting between parties, such as service users, important others like families, and institutions, striving to effect an agreement, reconciliate, and resolve problems.
  • Apply knowledge of human behaviour: Practice principles related to group behaviour, trends in society, and influence of societal dynamics.
  • Check official documents: Check an individuals’ official documentation, such as driver’s licenses and identification, to ensure compliance with legal regulations, and to identify and assess individuals.
  • Hear witness accounts: Hear witness accounts during a court hearing or during an investigation to assess the significance of the account, its impact on the case under scrutiny or investigation, and to aid in reaching a conclusion.
  • Train animals for professional purposes: Train animals for specific activities in order to help humans carry out their professional tasks.
  • Follow given instructions: Follow instructions to achieve goals and meet deadlines.
  • Maintain diving equipment: Perform maintenance actions, including small repairs, on diving equipment.
  • Write situation reports: Write reports according to specifications and regulations of an organisation on the situation which needs to be reported on, such as the status of an investigation, of intelligence gathering, or of missions and operations.
  • Check diving equipment: Check diving equipment for valid certification to ensure its suitability. Ensure that any diving equipment is examined by a competent person before use, at least once on each day on which it is to be used. Ensure that it is adequately tested and repaired.
  • Issue fines: Recognise a violation in legislation, and issue the appropriate fine to the offender compliant with regulations and ensuring the person is aware of the specific violation they performed.
  • Investigate road accidents: Investigate road vehicle accidents and conduct post-accident debriefing conferences. Analyse the exact circumstances of the accident and present conclusions to the authorities. Provide recommendations on how future accidents may be prevented.
  • Manage theft prevention: Apply theft and robbery prevention; monitor security surveillance equipment; enforce security procedures if needed.
  • Ride horses: Ride horses, and pay attention to ensuring the safety of the horse and rider, and applying proper horseback riding techniques
  • Practice vigilance: Practice vigilance during patrol or other surveillance activities in order to ensure safety and security, to look out for suspicious behaviour or other alarming changes in patterns or activities, and to respond quickly to these changes.

ISCO group and title

5412 – Police officers

  1. Police officer – ESCO
  2. Police and Detectives : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Police Officer in Canada | Job Description – Job Bank
  4. Police Constable Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  5. Featured image: Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels
Last updated on November 3, 2022

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