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What are the Duties of a Police Officer?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 23, 2024
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People tend to simplify the duties of a police officer. Some might think all that they do is issue traffic tickets, while others might limit their duties to handling emergency 911 calls. The truth is that there are most police officers have many duties, some of which are very dangerous while others can seem rather benign and tedious. Not all police officers share the same list of duties, however, and they do not necessarily do them in the same capacity.

Factors that can affect what a police officer does include his or her rank, location, jurisdiction, education, job history, occupational specialty, and more. Whether a police officer is on or off duty, he or she is expected to protect the lives and property of people, and this might be considered to be the primary duty of all police officers. They also patrol areas to catch people who are breaking the law and then to arrest them, warn them of their actions, or to give them a citation depending on the severity of their crime or misdemeanor. One important and time-consuming duty of a police officer is paperwork — writing police reports and keeping records of their activities.

There are also many minor duties of a police officer, all of which are also important within the greater scheme of keeping law and order intact. A common example is directing traffic, whether it is at the scene of an accident or at a particularly busy intersection. At the scenes of accidents, the police officer must also sometimes administer first aid to victims until paramedics arrive. Another minor, yet important, duty of a police officer is that of patrolling areas for the purpose of keeping them secure. He or she may school campuses, stores, shopping malls, public transportation facilities and more, all of which are also often patrolled by off duty police officers who do security work to earn extra income.

A police officer may also have special duties within a particular field. For example, some police officers train other officers and civilians about guns and gun safety. They may work with police dogs, or in forensic analysis, water patrol, or emergency response. Some police officers are actively involved in the community, building relationships and offering their services to local community organizations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon334544 — On May 13, 2013

Police the world over have, in effect, five principles: protect life; protect property; prevent crime; detect crime; uphold the peace.

How they do that is determined by things like Human Rights (UK) or the US Constitution.

Everything a police officer does will in some way relate back to the above principles. Hope that helps.

By anon322957 — On Mar 02, 2013

I was concerned about the police duties because they are not willing to prevent crimes they told me they can only come when one is already committed. Come on now. I pay my hard earned tax dollars so you can come after it's over when it could have been prevented?

By cardsfan27 — On Sep 04, 2012

I think it would be more fun to have one of the alternative police jobs. When I was in high school, there was an officer there who was sort of a security person and also did all of the anti-drug programs. I think that would be a fun job if you liked to try to make a difference among younger people.

There are also things like conservation officers that deal with much different situations. I have a friend who does that, and he always has interesting stories. A lot of people don't think about it, but those situations can often be more hostile, because hunters always have guns and don't like being told they're doing something illegal. A lot of alcohol comes into play, as well, when people are outdoors.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 03, 2012

I think the community an officer works in would also have a lot to do with daily responsibilities. I went to college in an area where about 60% of the 100,000 people were tied to the university in some way.

The police there spent a lot of time dealing with college students getting into trouble, which I'm sure is much, much different than dealing with domestic violence cases or robberies like you might in some places.

I don't think the environment where crimes happen makes the police less important, though. When I was in college, yes, a lot of what some officers did was write tickets for underage drinking or public intoxication, but one thing people don't think about is that college areas also have higher instances of rape and "muggings," because drunk people aren't the most intelligent.

It's ironic, because although drunk people cause a lot of hassle for police, the officers still have to spend a lot of time keeping them safe from others trying to take advantage of them.

By jmc88 — On Sep 02, 2012

I guess I never thought too much about all of the additional responsibilities a cop would have. It's really odd. I have definitely seen officers patrolling school zones and directing traffic, but I never really thought of that as a main part of the job. In reality, those small jobs probably are the main part of the job. It's very rarely that most officers have to deal with high speed chases and shootouts.

By JimmyT — On Sep 01, 2012

@wecallherana - You're very right. I have lived in places as small as 1000 people and as large as 500,000. There is a huge difference in the amount of training they go through and the daily responsibilities. A lot of the training is just related to daily job duties.

The officers I knew in smaller towns usually just had a 2 year degree. I think that is fine considering that most of what they do is investigate less violent crimes like assaults, burglary, etc. I grew up in a small town for 20 years, and there were never any armed robberies that the police had to get involved in. Every few of years someone would rob one of the banks, but the police never had to take anyone on.

In the larger cities where police could easily have to deal with armed criminals, I think it's good that they get a couple extra years of training to learn how to handle those things instinctively.

By lmorales — On Oct 12, 2010

@gameaddicted - There is an article on wiseGEEK about how to become a cop for anyone that needs an additional reference. Many officers go through rigorous training while others simply go through a minimum requirements kind of thing.

On the other side of it most of the "paper pushers" are involved with college degrees and such like those in Criminal Justice. It is a requirement for Forensics and things like being a Detective, of course.

By gameaddicted — On Oct 12, 2010

@wecallherana - I have been thinking the same thing since my boyfriend said he wanted to become a policeman. It is a scary profession, yes, but it is also honorable despite whatever the general public thinks. Not all officers are "pigs" and abuse their power. Like the article states, there are different folks out there. Some are Sheriffs, some have county jurisdiction, some do routine traffic stops, some respond to 911 calls, all are CPR certified I can assure you that much. It is really a profession that you must love and not fear or it will get the best of you.

By wecallherana — On Oct 12, 2010

The simplest way to put things is that Police Officers are responsible for enforcing laws and ensuring the safety of everyone around them. Becoming a cop is different no matter where you go, though, and you might be surprised to find that some officers go to school for years while others are only trained for a few months. It's scary to know that in only a few months not only will they learn to protect the public, but also themselves.

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