Police officer

Last updated

Police officer
Very friendly MPS officers in London.jpg
Synonymspoliceman (PL: policemen)
policewoman (PL: policewomen)
Activity sectors
Law enforcement

public safety, civil service, public service, rescue,

protection of private property


Education required
Secondary or tertiary education
Fields of
Public areas
Related jobs
gendarmerie, military police, security guard, bodyguard, detective

A police officer (also called a policeman or policewoman) is a warranted law employee of a police force. In most countries, "police officer" is a generic term not specifying a particular rank. In some, the use of the rank "officer" is legally reserved for military personnel.

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers conversing with other officers in a police car Cops on Patrol (5930810489).jpg
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers conversing with other officers in a police car

Police officers are generally charged with the apprehension of suspects and the prevention, detection, and reporting of crime, protection and assistance of the general public, and the maintenance of public order. Police officers may be sworn to an oath, and have the power to arrest people and detain them for a limited time, along with other duties and powers. Some officers are trained in special duties, such as counter-terrorism, surveillance, child protection, VIP protection, civil law enforcement, and investigation techniques into major crime including fraud, rape, murder, and drug trafficking. Although many police officers wear a corresponding uniform, some police officers are plain-clothed in order to pass themselves off as members of the public. In most countries police officers are given exemptions from certain laws to perform their duties. For example, an officer may use force if necessary to arrest or detain a person when it would ordinarily be assault. In some countries, officers can also violate traffic code to perform their duties. [1]


The word "police" comes from the Greek politeia, meaning government, which came to mean its civil administration. The more general term for the function is law enforcement officer or peace officer. A sheriff is typically the top police officer of a county, with that word coming from the person enforcing law over a shire. A person who has been deputized to serve the function of the sheriff is referred to as the deputy.

Police officers are those empowered by government to enforce the laws it creates. In The Federalist collection of articles and essays, James Madison wrote: "If men were angels, no Government would be necessary". These words apply to those who serve government, including police. A common nickname for a police officer is "cop"; derived from the verb sense "to arrest", itself derived from "to grab". Thus, "someone who captures", a "copper", was shortened to just "cop". [2] It may also find its origin in the Latin capere, brought to English via the Old French caper. [3]

Duties and functions

A Hokkaido Prefectural Police officer conducting a routine inspection in Ashibetsu 2021-09-08 Hokkaido Prefectural Police officers in Ashibetsu city (Bei Hai Dao Jing Jing Cha Guan niyoruXun Hui Lian Luo )S0158477.jpg
A Hokkaido Prefectural Police officer conducting a routine inspection in Ashibetsu

The responsibilities of a police officer are varied, and may differ greatly from within one political context to another. Typical duties relate to keeping the peace, law enforcement, protection of people and property and the investigation of crimes. Officers are expected to respond to a variety of situations that may arise while they are on duty. Rules and guidelines dictate how an officer should behave within the community, and in many contexts, restrictions are placed on what the uniformed officer may wear. In some countries, rules and procedures dictate that a police officer is obliged to intervene in a criminal incident, even when off-duty. Police officers in nearly all countries retain their lawful powers while off duty. [4]

In the majority of Western legal systems, the major role of the police is to maintain order, keeping the peace through surveillance of the public, and the subsequent reporting and apprehension of suspected violators of the law. They also function to discourage crimes through high-visibility policing, and most police forces have an investigative capability. Police have the legal authority to arrest and detain, usually granted by magistrates. Police officers also respond to calls for service, along with routine community policing.

Hong Kong Police Force officers overseeing a demonstration Keeping an eye on things.jpg
Hong Kong Police Force officers overseeing a demonstration

Police are often used as an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, search and rescue operations, and traffic collisions. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often coordinate their operations with fire and emergency medical services. In some countries, individuals serve jointly as police officers as well as firefighters (creating the role of fire police). In many countries, there is a common emergency telephone number that allows the police, firefighters, or medical services to be summoned to an emergency. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have introduced command procedures for use in major emergencies or disorder. In the UK, The Gold Silver Bronze command structure is a system set up to improve communications between ground-based officers and the control room. Typically, a Bronze Commander would be a senior officer on the ground, coordinating the efforts in the center of the emergency, Silver Commanders would be positioned in an 'Incident Control Room' erected to improve better communications at the scene, and a Gold Commander would be in overall command in the Control Room.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary officers guarding the scene of a traffic collision involving a lorry and a bridge Accident involving a high lorry and a low bridge - geograph.org.uk - 658054.jpg
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary officers guarding the scene of a traffic collision involving a lorry and a bridge

Police are also responsible for reprimanding minor offenders by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Traffic enforcement is often, but not always, accomplished by police officers on police motorcycles—called motor officers, these officers refer to the motorcycles they ride on duty as simply motors. Police are also trained to assist persons in distress, such as motorists whose cars have broken down and people experiencing a medical emergency. Police are typically trained in basic first aid such as CPR.

Some park rangers are commissioned as law enforcement officers and carry out a law-enforcement role within national parks and other back-country wilderness and recreational areas, whereas military police perform law enforcement functions within the military. [5]

Entry and promotion qualifications

Somali Police Force cadets during a graduation ceremony at a police academy in Mogadishu Somali Police Cadets Graduation 02.jpg
Somali Police Force cadets during a graduation ceremony at a police academy in Mogadishu

In most countries, candidates for the police force must have completed some formal education. [6] Increasing numbers of people joining the police possess tertiary education [7] qualifications and in response to this, many police forces have developed a "fast-track" scheme whereby those with university degrees spend two to three years as a constable before receiving promotion to higher ranks, such as sergeants or inspectors. (Officers who work within investigative divisions or plainclothes are not necessarily of a higher rank but merely have different duties.)[ citation needed ] Police officers are also recruited from those with experience in the military or security services. In the United States, state laws may codify statewide qualification standards regarding age, education, criminal record, and training, but in other countries requirements are set by local police agencies. Generally, each police agency has different requirements. 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. There is no stigma in shunning promotion, as experienced line patrol officers are highly regarded.

Dependent upon each agency, but generally after completing two years of service, officers may apply for specialist positions, such as detective, police dog handler, mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, water police officer, or firearms officer (in countries where police are not routinely armed).

In some countries, including Singapore, police ranks are supplemented through conscription, similar to national service in the military. Qualifications may thus be relaxed or enhanced depending on the target mix of conscripts. Conscripts face tougher physical requirements in areas such as eyesight, but minimum academic qualification requirements are less stringent. Some join as volunteers, again via differing qualification requirements.


In some societies, police officers are paid relatively well compared to other occupations; their pay depends on what rank they are within their police force and how many years they have served. [8] In the United States, an average patrol officer's salary was $64,610 in 2021. [9] In London, capital of the UK, a police officer's average basic salary in 2020 was £36,773 per annum. [10] In the Netherlands, the average police officer working on the street is ranked in salary scale 6 to 9, €27,584 to €54,177 gross (€23,805 to €38,037 net) per year. Apart from these scales, there are higher functions which can increase an officer's salary. [11]

In some towns of Fairfield County, Connecticut, Police officers have earned $178,000-$312,000 with overtime. [12] [13] Similar pay rates have made reports for New Jersey and Oakland, California police officers. [14] [15]

Occupational safety and health

There are numerous concerns affecting the safety and health of police officers, including occupational stress and death in the line of duty. On August 6, 2019, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of the first U.S. state-wide program to support the mental health of police officers. The goal of the program is to train officers in emotional resiliency and to help destigmatize mental health problems. [16]

Application of force

Norwegian Police Service officers arresting a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement during a neo-Nazi demonstration in Gothenburg Police arrest a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement.jpg
Norwegian Police Service officers arresting a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement during a neo-Nazi demonstration in Gothenburg

Individual cases

Almost universally, police officers are authorized to use force, up to and including deadly force, when acting in a law enforcement capacity. [17] Although most law enforcement agencies follow some variant of the use of force continuum, where officers are only authorized to use the level of force required to match situational requirements, specific thresholds and responses vary between jurisdictions. [18] While officers are trained to avoid excessive use of force, and may be held legally accountable for infractions, the variability of law enforcement and its dependence on human judgment have made the subject an area of controversy and research. [19] [20]


In the performance of their duties, police officers may act unlawfully, either deliberately or as a result of errors in judgment. [21] Police accountability efforts strive to protect citizens and their rights by ensuring legal and effective law enforcement conduct, while affording individual officers the required autonomy, protection, and discretion. As an example, the use of body-worn cameras has been shown to reduce both instances of misconduct and complaints against officers. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Police</span> Law enforcement body

The police are a constituted body of persons empowered by a state, with the aim to enforce the law, to ensure the safety, health, and possessions of citizens, and to prevent crime and civil disorder. Their lawful powers include arrest and the use of force legitimized by the state via the monopoly on violence. The term is most commonly associated with the police forces of a sovereign state that are authorized to exercise the police power of that state within a defined legal or territorial area of responsibility. Police forces are often defined as being separate from the military and other organizations involved in the defense of the state against foreign aggressors; however, gendarmerie are military units charged with civil policing. Police forces are usually public sector services, funded through taxes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military police</span> Police organization part of the military of a state

Military police (MP) are law enforcement agencies connected with, or part of, the military of a state. In wartime operations, the military police may support the main fighting force with force protection, convoy security, screening, rear military reconnaissance, logistic traffic management, counterinsurgency, and detainee handling.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Highway patrol</span> Police unit

A highway patrol, or state patrol is either a police unit created primarily for the purpose of overseeing and enforcing traffic safety compliance on roads and highways, or a detail within an existing local or regional police agency that is primarily concerned with such duties. They are also referred to in many countries as traffic police, although in other countries this term is more commonly used to refer to foot officers on point duty who control traffic at junctions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Law enforcement in India</span> Overview of law enforcement in India

Indian law is enforced by a number of agencies. Unlike many federal nations, the constitution of India delegates the maintenance of law and order primarily to the states and territories.

Special police usually describes a police force or unit within a police force whose duties and responsibilities are significantly different from other forces in the same country or from other police in the same force, although there is no consistent international definition. A special constable, in most cases, is not a member of a special police force (SPF); in countries in the Commonwealth of Nations and often elsewhere, a special constable is a voluntary or part-time member of a national or local police force or a person involved in law enforcement who is not a police officer but has some of the powers of a police officer.

<i>Militsiya</i> Soviet and Eastern Bloc police force

Militsiya was the name of the police forces in the Soviet Union and in several Eastern Bloc countries (1945–1992), as well as in the non-aligned SFR Yugoslavia (1945–1992). The term continues in common and sometimes official usage in some of the individual former Soviet republics such as Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the partially recognised or unrecognised republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, DNR and LNR.

Fire police are fire brigade/company members who, based upon their jurisdictional authority, receive sworn police powers, special training, and support firefighting efforts at emergency incidents. In addition to securing firefighting equipment, incident and fire scenes, and the station itself, fire police perform traffic and crowd control. In some jurisdictions, fire police are exterior firefighters and may be called upon at fire scenes to perform any of the duties of an interior firefighter except those that require a self-contained breathing apparatus. On occasion, fire police also assist regular police: they perform road closures, traffic control, crowd control at public events, missing persons searches, parade details, salvage, security, and other miscellaneous tasks as requested.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Police academy</span> Training school for police recruits

A police academy, also known as a law enforcement training center, police college, or police university, is a training school for police cadets, designed to prepare them for the law enforcement agency they will be joining upon graduation, or to otherwise certify an individual as a law enforcement officer, typically a police officer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Border guard</span> Government service concerned with security of national borders

A border guard of a country is a national security agency that performs border security. Some of the national border guard agencies also perform coast guard and rescue service duties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Law enforcement in Germany</span> Overview of law enforcement in Germany

Law enforcement in Germany is constitutionally vested solely with the states, which is one of the main features of the German political system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Law enforcement in the United States</span> Major component of the American criminal justice system

Law enforcement in the United States is one of three major components of the criminal justice system of the United States, along with courts and corrections. Although each component operates semi-independently, the three collectively form a chain leading from an investigation of suspected criminal activity to the administration of criminal punishment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oklahoma Highway Patrol</span> Law enforcement agency

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) is a major state law enforcement agency of the government of Oklahoma. A division of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, the OHP has traffic enforcement jurisdiction throughout the state. OHP was legislatively created on July 1, 1937, due to the growing problem of motor vehicle collisions, the expansion of highway systems, and the increase in criminal activities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Provost (military police)</span>

Provosts are military police (MP) whose duties are policing solely within the armed forces of a country, as opposed to gendarmerie duties in the civilian population. However, many countries use their gendarmerie for provost duties.

Law enforcement in Spain is carried out by numerous organizations, not all of which operate in the same areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyprus Police</span>

The Cyprus Police, is the National Police Service of the Republic of Cyprus and is under the Ministry of Justice and Public Order since 1993.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Law enforcement in Switzerland</span> Overview of law enforcement in Switzerland

Law enforcement in Switzerland is mainly a responsibility of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, who each operate cantonal police agencies. Some cities also operate municipal police agencies as provided for by cantonal law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Department of Defense police</span>

United States Department of Defense Police are the uniformed civilian police officers of the United States Department of Defense, various branches of the United States Armed Forces, or specific DoD activities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Department of the Army Civilian Police</span>

The Department of the Army Civilian Police (DACP) are the civilian federal law enforcement bodies of the Department of the Army of the United States of America. There is no centralized DACP agency, with all civilian law enforcement agencies of the Army falling under the “DACP” title. The DACP are controlled jointly by the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense and as such, they are commonly referred to as DoD Police.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Department of the Air Force Police</span> Civilian uniformed police service of the United States Air Force

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States Marine Corps Civilian Police</span> Law enforcement agency

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