Police officers, detectives, and criminal investigators typically do the following:
Job duties differ by employer and function, but police and detectives are required by law to write detailed reports and keep meticulous records. Most carry law enforcement equipment such as radios, handcuffs, and guns.
The following are examples of types of police and detectives:
Detectives and criminal investigators are uniformed or plainclothes officers who gather facts and collect evidence related to criminal cases. They conduct interviews, examine records, monitor suspects, and participate in raids and arrests. Detectives typically investigate serious crimes, such as assaults, robberies, and homicides. In large police departments, detectives usually specialize in investigating one type of crime, such as homicide or fraud. They are typically assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and trial are completed or until the case is dropped.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, sometimes called special agents, investigate and pursue criminal cases that violate federal law. FBI agents are responsible for crimes against public agencies, such as Medicare fraud, or that cross state lines. In addition, federal agents may join or take over investigations of certain types of state cases, such as those related to prescription drugs or large sums of money.
Fish and game wardens enforce fishing, hunting, and boating laws. They patrol fishing and hunting areas, conduct search and rescue operations, investigate complaints and accidents, and educate the public about laws pertaining to the outdoors. Federal fish and game wardens are often referred to as Federal Wildlife Officers.
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers are the most common type of police and detectives, and they have general law enforcement duties. They wear uniforms that allow the public to easily recognize them as police officers. They have regular patrols and also respond to emergency and nonemergency calls. During patrols, officers observe people and activities to ensure order and safety.
Some police officers work only on a specific type of crime, such as narcotics. Officers, especially those working in large departments, may work in special units, such as mounted (horseback), motorcycle, or special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Typically, officers must work as patrol officers for a certain number of years before they are appointed to a special unit.
Transit and railroad police patrol train yards and transportation hubs, such as subway stations. They protect property, employees, and passengers from crimes such as thefts and robberies. They remove trespassers from railroad and transit properties and check IDs of people who try to enter secure areas.
Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, although some federal agencies and police departments may require that applicants have completed college coursework or a college degree. Many community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and geographical regions.
Fish and game wardens typically need a bachelor’s degree; desirable fields of study include wildlife science, biology, or natural resources management. Federal Wildlife Officers and some state-level fish and game wardens typically do not need a bachelor’s degree.
Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation may require prospective detectives and investigators to have a bachelor's degree.
Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have completed some college coursework, and a significant number are college graduates.