Police work has been described as hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. The reality lies somewhere in between those extremes. Dealing with both sides of this broad spectrum is really where the challenge lies in this profession. It’s a job that involves learning something daily, and hopefully, applying what has been learned when it’s most needed.
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For local and state police agencies, all police officer positions start at the patrol level or in a detention facility. Sheriff’s departments usually manage and staff local jails and courthouses. Those entry-level jobs are focused on custody issues. The purpose here is to provide a police officer job description of police officer assigned to patrol.
The primary function of a police officer is to protect life and property. While that description seems quite straightforward, dealing with the public is never easy or predictable. In order to get a full picture, it must be broken down into many facets, some of which are:
While some of these duties are quite straightforward, a few areas would benefit from some further explanation. The primary duty is to keep the peace. This could mean restraining neighbors from getting into a physical confrontation over a tree limb hanging precariously over the property line. It could mean keeping a raucous juvenile party from pouring into the street and breaking out into fights and a mini-riot. As you might imagine, these scenarios are nearly endless and are played out several times a day in the life of a police officer. Regardless of the circumstances, it all comes down to that most basic level-has peace, for the moment, been established?
Police officers are called upon to enforce a variety of laws other than criminal laws. For instance, situations of child welfare are often contained in codes unique to the welfare of minors and may include crimes against children. Police academy cadets are taught only the most frequently violated laws, so when new officers hit the streets, the learning continues. Being fully informed about enforceable laws is important in order to have the mental tools to do the job effectively.
Regardless of the size of the department, most patrol officers are going to do some investigation at the scene in cases like low grade assault, burglary, theft, damage to property and traffic accidents. These types of investigations require the ability to obtain good victim statements and seek out potential witnesses. Locating and packaging physical evidence found at the scene will also aid in the identification of suspects and ultimate prosecution of these crimes.
Patrol officers are first on the scene of major crimes as well. Homicides require that the scene be secured immediately. If a suspect is believed to be at large, one or more officers will break from securing the scene to pursue a suspect. Responding units may also call for a perimeter to be established to contain the suspect in an area that can be methodically searched. In situations where the suspect is unknown, it is up to the officer to secure the crime scene and make sure that it is untouched until detectives and forensics arrive. During that time, officers also need to be on the alert for spontaneous statements uttered by involved parties. Detectives and crime scene analysts do not arrive at the location quickly, as they always seem to on television. Most agencies do not have the manpower to staff detectives on a 24 hour basis, so many important duties can fall to patrol.
While public event security usually means a form of crowd control, it can’t be forgotten that political campaigns visit small towns, dignitaries from other countries may be tour a national monument and even rock concerts can create a need for many police officers. While it is true that most of these situations involve private or federal security, they can’t enforce local laws. A local police presence is, therefore, mandatory.
Finally, search warrant service is usually within the purview of detectives, but they never serve a warrant without a uniformed presence. Today, many search warrants require patrol officers as well as SWAT teams to be in attendance. In cases where danger isn’t so high as to require SWAT, uniformed officers will be at the front door with detectives and will enter first to secure the premises and detain those present while the warrant is served.
“Other duties as assigned” is a very important phrase because it can be a catchall. It may surprise some people as to what other duties might entail. Most cities and towns have what is called “mutual aid.” In more rural areas, the distance between towns or cities can be quite great. A call for help from another jurisdiction may involve a 300-mile drive to the next county to assist on a major emergency. Recall the response to the Boston bombings where many agencies participated in that multi-day effort. This was the result of mutual aid agreements between departments.
The job of police officer is rarely boring, but it can become “routine,” just like any other profession. The most challenging part of this job is to avoid complacency during long periods of routine work. Complacency can lead to real danger. It can’t be forgotten that people are unpredictable and the police officer has to maintain a level of alertness rarely required in most other professions.
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