Police officer

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Police officer
SA police force.jpg
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
Women Police officers in Chennai, India in 2010
Mounted Tourist-Police officers in Petra, Jordan

A police officer (also known as a policeman or police agent in some forces, particularly in the United Kingdom[1][2] and other Commonwealth nations) 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]

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.[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 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.[citation needed] Increasing numbers of people are joining the police force who possess tertiary education[citation needed] 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 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.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. 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.[5] In the United States, a police officer's salary averaged $52,810 in 2008.[6] In the United Kingdom for the year 2011–12 a police officer's average salary was £40,402.[7]

Occupational hazards

Line of duty deaths

Memorial to a fallen police officer at the Texas Department of Public Safety Houston Webster Office in Houston[8]

Line of duty deaths are deaths which occur while an officer is conducting his or her appointed duties. Despite the increased risk of being a victim of a homicide, automobile accidents are the most common cause of officer deaths. Officers are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents because of their large amount of time spent conducting vehicle patrols, or directing traffic, as well as their work outside their vehicles alongside or on the roadway, or in dangerous pursuits. Officers killed by suspects make up a smaller proportion of deaths. In the U.S. in 2005, 156 line of duty deaths were recorded of which 44% were from assaults on officers, 35% vehicle related (only 3% during vehicular pursuits) and the rest from other causes: heart attacks during arrests/foot pursuits, falling from heights during foot chases, diseases contracted either from suspects' body fluids or, more rarely, from window period emergency blood transfusions received after motor vehicle accidents, shootings, stabbings, accidental gun discharges or falls that result in blood loss.[9][3]

Police officers who die in the line of duty, especially those who die from the actions of suspects or in accidents or heart attacks, are often given elaborate funerals, attended by large numbers of fellow officers. Their families may also be entitled to special pensions. Fallen officers are often remembered in public memorials, such as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in the U.S., the National Police Memorial in the U.K. and the Scottish Police Memorial, at the Scottish Police College.

In the United Kingdom, in the 10 years from April 2000 there were 143 line of duty deaths: 54 in road accidents travelling to or from duty, 46 in road accidents on duty, 23 from natural causes on duty, 15 from criminal acts, and 5 in other accidents.[10] In Great Britain, police do not normally carry firearms. Officers in Northern Ireland are routinely armed.

The Singapore Police Force registered just over 100 deaths in a century up to the year 2000. There have been 28 New Zealand police officers killed by criminal act since 1890.[11]

Work stress


Standard police uniform in a majority of U.S. States during the 1930s

The actual presence of stress in police work is well documented and evidenced by certain statistics. Researchers typically use suicide, divorce and alcoholism rates as three key indexes of stress in a group of people.[12] These factors paint a compelling picture of police officers demonstrating signs of significant stress, for example:

  • A study in the United States, by National Surveillance of Police Suicide Study (NSOPS), showed 141 suicides in 2008 and 143 in 2009. This yields a suicide rate of 17/100,000, a figure that holds up under scrutiny and is consistent with CDC/NOMS data.[13] The overall suicide rate in the United States was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.[14] There is some speculation or controversy that this official rate may understate the actual rate as it is often other police officers that report facts that lead to a cause of death determination, and death benefits, institutional image, and other factors may be incentives to misreport incident facts. It is speculated that some suicides are reported by fellow officers as accidents or as deaths in the line of duty perpetrated by unknown assailants. Also, many jurisdictions simply don't keep suicide statistics. Even though the information is incomplete, the available statistics suggest that police officers are more likely to commit suicide than the general population. However, there is still controversy in the interpretation of these statistics. When comparisons are made within age, gender, and racial cohorts, the differences are much less dramatic.[15][16] Although suicides may be notably more prevalent among police, it is not clear whether police suicides are the result of work stress or the consequence of other variables, such as the influence of a subculture of violence[17]
  • Police officers are not more likely to experience interpersonal relationship problems. In a 2009 study, the divorce rates of law enforcement personnel were compared with the rates for other occupations, where data was analyzed from the 2000 U.S. Census. The results of the analysis indicate that the divorce rate for law enforcement personnel is lower than that of the general population, even after controlling for demographic and other job-related variables.[18] The propensity to domestic violence is also thought to be higher for police officers than the general population, though the statistics are very fuzzy and controversial. Police officers also seem to have relationship problems at work, typically with superiors or with political oversight, though the evidence is largely anecdotal and controversial.
  • Alcoholism is considered another aberrant statistic for police officers. Although the statistics are fuzzy, clinically treated alcohol addiction rates are usually calculated to be about twice as high for police officers than for the general population in the United States. In contrast, statistics documenting alcohol abuse are less precise. Rates for arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI or DWI, are somewhat higher for police officers than for other drivers, but the statistics are not widely trusted outside of the insurance industry since it is other police officers that make DUI arrests. Some departments and even some individual officers tend to hold police officers to a higher behavioral and ethical standard while others will recognize a 'blue line' behind which those within the 'brotherhood' are not held to the same standards as the rest of society. Despite the controversies in the interpretation of the statistics, it is generally considered evident that police officers are more susceptible to alcohol abuse than other occupations. The same conclusions are usually made regarding the police abuse of other substances, though the statistics are even less accurate, and even though the higher rates of substance abuse may be due in part to the more ready access to drugs and the more permissive atmosphere 'behind the blue line' rather than to occupational stresses.

Hans Selye, the foremost researcher in stress in the world[citation needed], said that police work is "the most stressful occupation in America even surpassing the formidable stresses of air traffic control."[12]

Other researchers, though, claim that police officers are more psychologically healthy than the general population. Police officers are increasingly more educated, more likely to engage in a regular program of exercise and to consume less alcohol and tobacco, and increasingly family-oriented. Healthy behavior patterns typically observed at entry training usually continue throughout the career of an officer. Even though the presence of occupation related stress seems to be well documented, it is highly controversial. Many within the law enforcement industry claim the propagation of incorrect suicide, divorce, and substance abuse statistics comes from people or organizations with political or social agendas, and that the presence of these beliefs within the industry makes it hard for health workers to help police officers in need of treatment to deal with the fear of negative consequences from police work which is necessary to enable police officers to develop a healthy expectancy of success in treatment.[19]

  • In August 2014, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that 8 out of every 10 law enforcement officers are overweight. This sparked some Police Departments to improve their officers overall fitness. Garland Assistant Chief Jeff Bryan stated that "I think it's important for all of us to keep the weight down and stay in shape-especially this job. The stress that we incur at this job... this is a great way to relieve stress and to keep the blood pressure down."[20] Indonesian policemen are required to participate in an exercise program because. In 2009, Mexican police also "set up a nutrition education program." In 2011, Russia's interior ministry warned its police officers, "lose weight or lose your job."


Polish police (riot control squad)

Even though the presence of occupational stresses appear to be well documented, though not without controversy, the causes of workplace stress are comparatively unclear or even a matter of conjecture.

Although individual policemen and institutional public relations typically cite the risks of being killed in the line of duty as the predominant source of stress for individual policemen, there is significant controversy regarding the causes of personal workplace stress due to the fact that the actual risk of being killed is so small relative to other occupations.

It is charged that the myth of the high risks of occupational mortality connected with police work is often propagated by the law enforcement community as part of its institutional advancement and a central element in its public relations. Actual homicides of police are comparatively rare, but the reports of such incidents are typically reported in the press along with quotes by police officials or police officer family members stressing the notion that police officers 'put their lives on the line for the public' or 'risk their lives everyday', making it look like individual policemen routinely place themselves in mortal danger for low pay and little recognition, and that the view of police work as 'combat' is the source of police occupational stress indications.

Another explanation often advanced is the idea that police officers will undergo some traumatic experience in their police work that they never recover from, leading to suicide, divorce, etc. However, since the effects of such traumatic stresses is readily recognized, there are usually proactive programs in place to help individual police officers deal with the psychological effects of a traumatic event. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that such programs are actually ineffective, especially group therapies, may re-traumatize the participant, weaken coping mechanisms, and contribute to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[21][22][23]

Observations where police officers and other emergency workers, such as firemen, experience the same traumatic event, it is more likely that the police officer will have difficulty dealing with the long term emotional effects of the traumatic event. On this observation, some of the academic literature suggests that along these lines the causes of occupational stress is more complex for police officers. Stress in police work is often present in other occupations, but not in an ongoing capacity. One line of thinking is that the individual stresses of police work produce a condition of chronic stress. Police officers encounter stressors in call after call which sap their emotional strength. Debilitation from this daily stress accumulates making officers more vulnerable to traumatic incidents and normal pressures of life. The weakening process is often too slow to see; neither a person nor his friends are aware of the damage being done. The effects of chronic stresses is two-fold:

  • First, prolonged stress causes people to regress. Their psychological growth reverses, and they become more immature. They rapidly become more childish and primitive, much like a person being sick for several days becoming more irritable and childish in its demands on other people.
  • Second, chronic stress numbs people's sensitivity. They can't stand to continually see human misery. They must stop feeling or they won't survive. The mind has this defense mechanism so people can continue working in horrible situations. If they kept their normal sensitivity, they would fall apart. As they become insensitive to their own suffering, they become insensitive to the suffering of others. When treated with indignity, they lose not only a sense of their own dignity but also the dignity of others. The pain of others stops bothering them, and they are no longer bothered when they hurt others.

The daily work of a police officer involves certain paradoxes and conflicts which may be difficult to deal with, the predominant examples are[12]

  • Interaction with the public, whether socially or officially, such as in a traffic stop, involves a risk of physical harm. Being on guard for an attack and treating every interpersonal situation with affirmative commands makes the police officer appear brutal and detached, limits his actual effectiveness with the public and engenders chronic stress.
  • A police department is a paramilitary organization. Policies, regulations, and procedures cover every facet of police work. Everything is expected to be done by the book with substantial repercussions, including civil and criminal liability, for varying from the expectations of operating procedures. Often the facts of a situation require a course of action that does not follow procedures. If he follows procedures exactly, he knows he won't fully help the public, and the public will think he is shirking his responsibility. If the officer follows his own judgment, he is taking a risk. The community and department expect officers to use judgment, but when they do, there is a danger they will be disciplined; another unnatural no-win situation engendering chronic stress.[citation needed]
  • Police officers tend to become socially isolated. The reasons given for this isolation are lack of department support, a perceived sense of alienation from the residents of the community where they patrol, the degree of urbanism ("Big City"), and "anti-police" judicial verdicts. When a group of people are isolated they become disoriented and confused. Ironically an isolated class are usually the ones losing real world wisdom and tend to judge from a very limited perspective, leading to more stress.[24]

A more anecdotal view looks at specific sources of stress in police work.[25] The sources of stress most often actually cited are:

  • The fear of killing someone in the line of duty.
  • Feeling at least partially responsible for getting your partner or somebody else killed in the line of duty.
  • Lack of support by the department or superiors.
  • The scheduling of work and irregular work demands resulting in a disruption of family time or family events or activities.

Other more academic studies have produced similar lists, but may include items that the more anecdotal surveys do not reveal, such as 'exposure to neglected, battered, or dead children.'[26]

Again, the actual fear of occupational death or physical harm is not high on the list of stress sources.

There have been numerous academic studies on the specific sources of police stress, and most conclude organizational culture and workload as the key issues in officer stress.[27] Traumatic events are usually concluded to not be of sufficient scope or prevalence to account for prevalence of suicide, divorce, and substance abuse abnormalities.

Abuse of power

Systematic cases

Police officers are faced with protecting others and themselves from serious bodily injury and sometimes must use deadly force to do so. The abuse of the authority to use deadly force in the discharge of their duties is a serious problem as it typically erodes the trust the public has in their law enforcement officers. The problems caused when police officers abuse their authority are often exacerbated by the fact that very, very few officers are ever indicted let alone prosecuted or convicted for the crimes they comitt, even when there is very clear and damning evidence against them. In dictatorial, corrupt, or weak states, police officers may be forced to carry out use of force acts for their own safety or safety of civilians or colleagues while exercising diligence. Strong ethics have been found in modern police forces.[28]

Individual cases

Police sometimes act with force up to and including deadly force when they are brought into life-safety dangerous situations when dealing with criminals who attack them or resist arrest,[29] 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.,[30] or in other circumstances.[31]


Some publishers[who?] 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.[32]


One example of the abuse of power by police officers that has received substantial media coverage is racism (especially in the United States). For instance, some publishers have described how black people are more likely to be stopped for drugs searches, blacks get searched and arrested at four times the rate.[33] Brown and black people are also more likely to be frisked. Black men are almost ten times more likely to be shot by the police than white men.[34][not in citation given]

Trigger happiness

Individual officers, or sometimes whole units, can be authorized to use force; this occasionally happens in many forces (specifically the United States), but is particularly problematic where police work in crime-infested areas where criminals have very little to no respect for the laws of which the officers are sworn to enforce.[35] However, this usage of force has sometimes led to controversy, for instance during situations where the usage of force is premature or unneeded.[36]

See also


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  3. Black Police in America - Page 21, W. Marvin Dulaney - 1996, W. Marvin Dulaney - 1996
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  8. "Houston Dacoma Driver License office to close for expansion." Texas Department of Public Safety. October 29, 2008. Retrieved on June 16, 2009.
  9. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. See also 2011 figures
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  15. Aamodt MG, Stalnaker NA. Police officer suicide: frequency and officer profiles. In Sheehan D, Warren J, eds. Suicide and Law Enforcement. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office;2002:383-98
  16. Sheehan D, Warren J, eds. Suicide and Law Enforcement. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002
  17. W C Terry, Police Stress – The Empirical Evidence, Journal of Police Science and Administration Volume:9 Issue:1 Dated:(March 1981) Pages:61–75.
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  19. [1] Archived April 15, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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  21. Rose S, Bisson J, Wessely S. Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Cochrane Review). In The Cochrane Library, Issue 3. Oxford: Update Software, 2001.
  22. Kaplan Z, Iancu I, Bo E. A review of psychological debriefing after extreme stress. Psychiatr Serv 2001;52:824-7.
  23. Raphael B, Wilson JP, eds. Psychological Debriefing: Theory, Practice and Evidence. Cambridge University Press;2000:357
  24. Ankony, Robert C., "Community Alienation and Its Impact on Police," The Police Chief, Oct. 1999, 150–53. [2]
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  33. Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood, Peter Medoff, 1994
  34. Black Youths, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice - Page 81, Janice Joseph - 1995
  35. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  36. On Thermonuclear War - Page 159, Herman Kahn - 2011

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