Police Patrol Officer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Police Patrol Officers Career Video

Insider Info

dotPolice officers come in many forms: deputy sheriffs, constables, marshals, community service officers, troopers and rangers. It all depends on which organization hires them.

dotWhatever their title, most police officers spend much of their time responding to crimes in progress, patrolling assigned areas to maintain public safety, interviewing witnesses and suspects, apprehending fugitives, collecting evidence, writing reports and providing testimony in court.

dotIn small communities and rural areas, police officers are less specialized and have general law enforcement duties. In the course of a day, they may direct traffic at the scene of a fire, investigate a burglary or give first aid to an accident victim.

In large police departments and federal agencies, officers are often assigned to a specific detail. Some may become experts in firearms, handwriting and fingerprint identification. Or they might serve on mounted and motorcycle patrol, harbor patrol, canine patrol or emergency response teams.

Police officers in all areas are required to file reports of their activities, often involving long hours of paperwork. "You wouldn't believe the amount of paperwork," says Constable Allan Lucier.

dotIn the U.S., the role of the police officer has changed over the last decade. These days, the emphasis of law enforcement is on community policing.

Community policing means police encourage people in the community to help identify and solve recurring problems. It's viewed as proactive rather than reactive policing.

dotPolice officers work for city and community police departments, as well as state or federal law enforcement agencies.

dotPolice officers usually work a 40-hour week, but paid overtime work is common. Shift work is often necessary because police protection must be provided around the clock.

dotPolice officers need to meet physical agility, strength, fitness and vision requirements. They also need to be prepared for the risks associated with pursuing speeding motorists, apprehending criminals and dealing with public disorders.

This might be difficult for a physically disabled person.

"If you're disabled, it's more than likely that you're not going to be able to pass the physical agility test," says Sergeant Bill Smith. He adds that in some of the larger agencies, there might be specialized work that a disabled person might be able to do.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Investigate crime and accidents

  • Community policing is becoming more important
  • Report writing is an important part of the job
  • You need at least a high school diploma