Police officer

For the film, see Police Officer (film). For other uses, see Policeman (disambiguation).
Police officer

Police officers in South Australia
Activity sectors
Law enforcement, public safety, civil service, public service rescue
Competencies Physical fitness, sense of justice, knowledge of the law, communication skills, brave, quick thinking under pressure, competence at legal paper work, problem solving
Education required
Secondary or tertiary education
Related jobs
gendarmerie, military police, security guard, bodyguard
German state police officer in Hamburg
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in the force's distinctive dress uniform
Police officer patrolling a Metro station in Montreal, Canada
Mounted Tourist-Police officers in Petra, Jordan

A police officer, also known as a policewoman, policeman, police agent[1][2] is a warranted law employee of a police force. In the United States, "officer" usually is the formal name of the lowest police rank. In many other countries, "officer" is a generic term not specifying a particular rank, and the lowest rank is often "constable". In some nations the use of the rank "officer" is legally reserved for military personnel. Police officers are generally charged with the apprehension of criminals and the prevention and detection 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 police officers may also be 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 dissimulate as ordinary citizens.[3]


The word police comes from the Greek politia meaning government, which came to mean its civil administration.[4] Police officers are those empowered by government to enforce the laws it creates. In The Federalist Papers (#51), James Madison wrote "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." These words apply to those who serve government, including police.

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.[5] A person who has been deputized to serve the function of the sheriff is referred to as the deputy. A common nickname for a police officer is COP or Constable on Patrol; the common rank of an officer within the police who practices criminal law enforcement. The term copper is originally used in Britain to mean "someone who captures". (In British English the term Cop is recorded (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) in the sense of 'To Capture' from 1704, derived from the Latin 'Capere' via the Old French 'Caper'.)[6] The common myth is that it's a term referring to the police officer's buttons which are made of copper. The word Cop derives from a Gaelic word which has the equivalence of saying, protector, leader, or chief. The terms are almost nearly homophonic but have similar meanings. The term County Mountie is used specifically in reference to county police officers or county sheriff's deputies in the United States. As with Canadian Mounties, the term mountie comes from police who serve while mounted on horseback (see cavalry).

It was reported that when the 110th chemical element was being named, the name politzium was considered because 110 is the emergency telephone number for the police in Germany, where the element was first synthesized.[7]

Duties and functions

A group of Garda officers in the Republic of Ireland
A British police officer on a police motorbike

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 wears. In some countries, rules and procedures dictate that a police officer is obliged to intervene in a criminal incident, even if they are off-duty. Police officers in nearly all countries retain their lawful powers while off duty.[8]

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 emergency calls, along with routine community policing.

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 situations, and road 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 service number that allows the police, firefighters, or medical services to be summoned to an emergency. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom have outlined command procedures, for the use in major emergencies or disorder. The Gold Silver Bronze command structure is a system set up to improve communications between ground based officers and the control room, typically, 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 who would be in the Control Room.

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 and effectively accomplished by police officers on 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 car has broken down and people experiencing a medical emergency. Police are typically trained in basic first aid such as CPR.

In addition, 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.

Entry and promotion qualifications

In most countries, 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 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.) 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 places requirements are set by local police agencies. Each local Police agency has different requirements.

Officers of the Polizia Municipale from Piacenza, Italy

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 attached to this, as experienced line patrol officers are highly regarded.

Dependent upon each agency, but generally after completing two years 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 countries where police are not routinely armed).

In some countries such as in Singapore, police ranks may also be supplemented through conscription, similar to national service in the military. Qualifications may thus be relaxed or enhanced depending on the target mix of conscripts. In Singapore, for example, conscripts face tougher physical requirements in areas such as eyesight, but are less stringent with minimum academic qualification requirements. Some police officers join as volunteers, who again may do so 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.[9] In the United States, a police officer's salary averaged $52,810 in 2008.[10] In the United Kingdom for the year 2011–12 a police officer's average salary was £40,402.[11]

Occupational safety and health

There are numerous issues affecting the safety and health of police officers, including line of duty deaths and occupational stress.

Abuse of power

Individual cases

Police sometimes act with force up to and including deadly force when they are brought into situations where they are afraid of injury. Sometimes this is warranted.[12] they must carry out this use of force to quickly de-escalate a situation which they were called into because of an individual who has recently committed a crime or is in the commission of a crime but refuses to comply with those that enforce the law. Often these criminals are repeat offenders.,[13] or in other circumstances.[14]


Some publishers have recommended the usage of civilian measures in order to ensure police accountability for their actions and to curb corruption in the justice department. Examples that have been suggested include suggestions that civilians should videotape police officers when they suspect the officers doing something inappropriate or if they suspect the officers might do so.[15]

See also


  1. "Police ranks and pay in England and Wales". Police-information.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  2. "Police rank structure and other information in Scotland". Scotland.gov.uk. 1994-12-31. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  3. Black Police in America - Page 21, W. Marvin Dulaney - 1996, W. Marvin Dulaney - 1996
  4. definition of the word police
  5. definition of the word sheriff
  6. Partridge, Eric (1972). A Dictionary of Historical Slang. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 014051046X.
  7. Element of the week: darmstadtium - What do ununnilium, wixhausium and politzium share in common?
  8. "Educational Requirements for Police Officers". education-portal.com. 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  9. "Police Pay". Police-information.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
  10. "Police Officer Salary – Police Test Guide | Police Officer Test". Police Test Guide. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
  11. Doyle, Jack (2012-01-10). "Generous Pay and Perks mean Police Officers are in the top 20% of Earners.". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
  12. McManus, Bob (2014-12-04). "Blame only the man who tragically decided to resist". nypost.com. Retrieved 2014-12-16.
  13. "The police often argue that the tough 'interviewing' of suspects is the best way to extract the truth. But such strategies are exactly the sort to provoke false confessions". New Scientist. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  14. Malkin, Bonnie (25 March 2010). "Dozens of Australian police officers under investigation over racist and pornographic emails". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  15. Graycar, Adam (2013). Understanding and Preventing Corruption. p. 97.
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