Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Police Officer?

Here are the top reasons people end up joining the force

FBI Police Vehicles
FBI Police Vehicles at Hoover Building. Matti Blume/Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I meet a new person and tell them I am a police officer, they almost always say something to the effect of, "Wow, I don't know how you do it. I could never do that job." To most non-cops, the day-to-day job of a law enforcement officer is dangerous, tiring, disturbing and sad, not to mention having to face the seemingly growing anti-police sentiment from the public. In fact, many active officers might tell you the same thing.

So why on Earth, then, would anyone ever choose to be a police officer?

Negative Aspects of Police Officers' Jobs

Let's get this out of the way: there are plenty of negative aspects of a cop's job. From the risk of getting hit by a car to getting physically attacked and even to getting shot, there's no getting around the fact that it's a dangerous profession.

Often, people aren't happy when they encounter police, and they're fine to let them know it. Moreover, officers have to see and deal with gruesome scenes and tragedy on a regular basis. But despite all that, people still choose to be police officers. Why? Because for many, the good that can come from the job far outweighs the bad.

Looking Into Why People Become Police Officers

A 2013 look into why police departments have difficulty hiring officers and keeping them on the force once hired involved a survey that asked officers why the took the job in the first place.

The reasons the officers cited were (from most important to least) the opportunity to help others and the chance to make a difference; general work environment; job stability; health and retirement benefits; and, finally, salary.

Police Officers Make a Difference and Help Others

Though it may seem that most interactions with police officers are negative (trying to get out of traffic stop comes to mind), many officers will tell you they view their roles in these situations in a positive light.

Safety education, arresting dangerous criminals or impaired drivers and showing compassion when delivering tragic news are all a big part of the helping hand police offer on a daily basis.

The Work Environment for Police Officers

A lot of current police officers came from other careers. They've worked in retail, sales and high-rise offices. To them, the work environment for police is a better alternative because it offers more freedom to be proactive, to get outside and to interact with different kinds of people.

Job Stability for Police Officers

There's no such thing as a truly recession-proof job, but law enforcement careers are among the closest you can get. Even when public coffers run dry, police and other public safety positions are among the last to see cuts, making a career in law enforcement a tempting profession for those seeking stability in their job and their income.

Health and Retirement Benefits for Police Officers

The specifics from state to state and agency to agency will vary, but generally speaking, police officers enjoy generous health insurance benefits and retirement packages.

Those thinking long term recognize that even if the pay for police officers isn't all its cracked up to be, the opportunity to retire after 20 or 25 years as opposed to 40-plus years is tough to beat.

Salary and Pay for Police Officers

Police officers, on average, earn around $60,000 per year depending on where they work and for how long they've been on the force. Starting salary is typically between $30,000 and $50,000.

For all the talk of how low police pay is compared to the risks they take, people who choose to be officers recognize the salary can still provide a comfortable lifestyle and a good opportunity to raise a family.

Police Are Generally Good People Looking for Good Careers

Despite speculation by academics and the public that people who want to be police officers do so because they want to have power and authority, most officers are good people who want to work in a meaningful career. If this appeals to you, then you may want to learn how to become a police officer.