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What does a Police Officer do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A police officer enforces prevailing laws, attempts to prevent crime, and generally looks out for the health and safety of a community. The exact job requirements for a police officer are actually quite diverse, depending on the region in which he or she works and the exact position in which the police officer is employed. Some are beat cops, for example, patrolling a regular route to look out for infractions of the law, while others specialize in dog handling, bomb disposal, and various other fields of law enforcement.

Many people primarily think of police officers as the people who hand out tickets and citations for legal infractions. However, this job is actually much more complex. Police officers work to prevent lawbreaking by patrolling, offering youth education, and coordinating community efforts like neighborhood watch associations. They also respond to complaints ranging from noise complaints to emergency calls for help, and they investigate crimes, collecting evidence and arresting people of interest in criminal cases. Many police officers also testify in court at some point.

Police officers may conduct traffic stops.
Police officers may conduct traffic stops.

There are a number of specialties within police work. Some police officers work as support staff at a station, dispatching calls and performing other important clerical work. Others remain on-call for emergent situations like bomb threats, hostage crises, and drug busts. Police officers use cars, bicycles, horses, boats, and motorcycles in the course of their work, depending on where they are employed and what they do. Some are certified as canine handlers, using their dogs to detect dangerous substances.

Police officers are responsible for gathering information from suspects.
Police officers are responsible for gathering information from suspects.

In many communities, active police officers also assist with public education and outreach. They visit schools to talk with students, and they network with community organizations with law enforcement goals. Many communities have Police Activities Leagues and other groups which are aimed at connecting members of law enforcement and regular citizens, to foster positive relationships between the police and the people they work with.

A police officer's job can include patrolling and coordinate community crime-prevention efforts.
A police officer's job can include patrolling and coordinate community crime-prevention efforts.

The work of a police officer can be very dangerous. Cops in the field must contend with constantly changing situations, and routine calls which can go bad quickly. They also pursue dangerous and sometimes desperate criminals who make poor decisions out of panic. A police officer must be able to rapidly assess a situation and make sound choices which will benefit the community, using the tools at his or her disposal, which can range from riot gear to ticket books.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


In computer science we have "refactor" as a term.

It's actually one of the main tasks in building software.

Public services are much like software, in that they are built out of pieces like lego blocks.

Refactoring is looking at the lego castle you built, and looking at how it can be improved.

Your apps always have updates, because people find they want somethings new and want to fix / change somethings old to adapt to what users want.

Right now, police are the catch-all for public requests. If there are stray dogs, the police are called. If there is a person with a mental illness, police are called.

Because of these misappropriated duties, they are misappropriated money.

"Defunding the police" really means "refactoring the police".

Take a look at what they are doing which they do not want to do and build a new process with reallocated resources.

The police in America have become in many places catch-all service.

Of course, this is on a state-by-state and county-by-county basis. There are many different situations. So "Defund the police" from a national perspective really means "Demilitarize the police" in all places and "Refactor the police" where it makes sense to do so.

Take a chill-pill people. Everyone wants like, the same thing. We just have a communication problem right now.

I wonder why? Who's leading this conversation, anyway?


This forget the police stuff is sick. You should respect the police. Your friends are there for you, right? But sometimes your friends can't be there because they have more important things going on. That is how police work; they are too busy responding to 911 calls and DUI.


Twenty-seven cops were shot and killed in the line of duty last year. 27. Every day on the job is not an episode of Starsky and Hutch.


For those saying how terrible all cops are: I know there are some bad and dirty cops out there, but not all cops are bad. How can you say you hate cops? If it weren't for them, I'm sure a lot of you would be dead or worse! Imagine if all cops in the country just stopped working.

I'd like to see what all of you would be saying if the cops just stepped down and didn't do anything for 24 hours. You'd all be begging for them cops to come back and help you. So honestly, just cut the crap. Stupidest thing I have ever heard.


There are good cops and bad cops. It is not just cops -- there are good and bad people in every profession. Many of the people commenting on this site are saying that all cops are bad. You may have your own opinion, and that's fine, but it bothers me when you all say that every single cop is bad when there are many good cops as well who risk their lives on a daily basis for our safety.


I'm 10 and I want to be a police officer.


I think that police officers do what they can when they can.


A world without cops means most of you get eaten up by the bad guys. Plain and simple. And if you think you can do their jobs better than they do, take the tests and put on the uniforms and show the rest of us how it should be done.


Can police just walk in a motel room while you sleep?


is there relly a poit of being a cop besides the asome gun you minght get


There are cops who certainly follow the rules but just like any profession there are plenty who think they themselves are above the law. They twist and bend the rules to suit themselves. Prime example: I was a witness and a detective took advantage of me (my vulnerability) by trying to assist me and my family and continued to make advances towards me. He made me feel great and gave me that attention. He eventually began kissing and touching me. Finally, he got what he really wanted a few times then walked away. Great job from the Phoenix PD.


Some law enforcement people think they are above the law. They get away with drunk driving, a crime that they send people to prison for. I am sick of the double standard.


I do wonder what happens after I do talk to them and sometimes the same people keep on making the same illegal requests or trying to take over the free well of any citizen and they hide behind other people and they do think they are above the law. The fear is why and the police did not say it from the first time. The answer is a person must be well informed about his problems then will transfer his request to the law with some convincing methods.


What does a police officer do? He messes with other people!


The two things that I have against police officers are 1) as an animal lover who signs petitions daily to help animals and hates animal abuse, I'm tired of seeing on the Internet, in the news police officers killing people's pets and 99 percent of the time, it is without cause. Many times, these animals are killed because of mistakes police officers have made. There are many police officers who do save animals' lives, but when you see how many are killing people's pets every day without cause, it doesn't balance out.

2) I feel that police officers need to go for training to learn how to be empathetic toward people. I'm not saying that he should be so empathetic towards a criminal that he lets them go but we all know there are crooked cops out there and many of these crooked cops also lack any empathy towards human beings at all. I deal with a person I work with every day (an ex police officer) who laughs at women who cry when they are losing their professional state license. Is that the way we are supposed to act towards our fellow man? I think not and certainly God sees this act as cruelty, not empathy! Granted, there are a lot of police officers out there who risk their lives every day, but there are also many who lack any empathy toward their fellow man and I deal with this every day!


Can you just imagine a world without police? Take in the events of mass killings, mass rapes, mass robberies and mass anarchy, and I'd say they are needed.


Cops in this small town I live in are lazy, rude and think that the badge gives them the right to do whatever they please. When you place a call it take about an hour or two before they arrive. I am guessing they need to finish their dinner. They're always sitting around talking until time to meet their quota, then you see them everywhere.

This is a college town and you always see cops up in underage girls' faces. They single out people here to harass also. The cops know what's illegal for you, but they do it too. Like no turn signals, running stop signs, putting their lights on just to go to dinner, talking on a cell phone while driving. I could go on and on.


My mom is a police officer and I know many in my community. It's disrespectful to say some of this stuff about a police officer. They are given a set of laws that everyone needs to follow and they are trying to enforce it.

Sometimes people are falsely accused I know, and some may be more angry than others, but if you think of all the things they need to go through in a day, I would be crabby too. Please respect these people. Many of them die for your protection.


@anon266099: I appreciate your blind support, but can you back this statement up with some actual evidence, please? My police department refuses to come out on emergency calls unless the caller is well known or in a higher socio-economic class. They do their job according to who the victim is and who the perpetrator is. I can back this up myself.

They received bad press for assaulting a severely mentally handicapped young boy a few years ago. And there is a list of things omitted for brevity. For all those who have posted about what a fantastic job cops do without submitting evidence, and then have the gall to deride others who have provided evidence to back up their claims, please do not waste any more of our time.


Cops are not bad. They do what they can, but understand it is government funded protection and we get what we pay for. Cops are not properly trained and they are underpaid, so they are often left to complete simple tasks such as writing tickets, which obviously generates revenue.

No offense if you are a cop, but a good department versus a bad one is kind of a crap shoot. I have dealt with extremely unprofessional and rude cops here in Texas, and this was after I got robbed. They didn't care at all and even chuckled at my situation. I am sure there are a lot of good police out there, but to a lot of them, it is just a job, and they are just doing what they are told.


My opinion is that the police are doing their job to the fullest and even though I'm a girl, I aspire to be like them some day.


This is just the information I am finding everywhere. Me and my friend were arguing about an issue similar to this! Now I know that I was right. Thanks for the information you post.


There needs to be made public a pie chart or spread sheet of how many calls or incidents police respond to that actually involve having someone's liberty infringed on (theft, murder, domestic disputes type incidents) vs. traffic infractions, road blocks, and other specialized units that could be considered harassment.


@anon268847: Obviously, they are only good when you need them. Name a job that proves that logic wrong. For any job out there, you show up and work when the work is needed, just like a police officer -- even at a job as simple as a janitor. They clean when things need cleaning. The police save lives when they need saving and they write tickets when people don't understand how to follow the law. It's just that simple.


Cops don't help for nothing except when they really are in need.


For all you negative people out there, the police do a fantastic job! Think about it! If someone is breaking into your house, who do you want to help you? If someone assaults your family member, who do you want to help you? If someone steals your wallet, who do you want to help you? Brain cells clicking over yet? The police! Stop your trash talking and pull your head in! You could be next, asking for help like many other people every day!


@anon39024: Absolutely! Someone needs this page read to the police in Malaysia (who, the last time I called, could not understand basic English, and my Malaysian sucks), who does no such thing as policing and upholding the law, not to mention peace.

In my town, I've seen police stand by while motorists drive into one way streets. Or whenever we really need them, such as heavy bass-blasting cars disturbing the neighbourhood at night, we call them only to get their lethargic reaction, or at times, no response at all. This is conduct unbecoming of police officers.

Also, in my town we have a police station as huge as a three-star hotel, with light filling every empty room and hall to show off its grandeur.


@anon157583: I totally agree with you because I am a police officer in England and I have never wrongly accused someone, I have never seen a colleague wrongly accuse someone because we are trained not to wrongly accuse someone. I get very upset when someone accuses us for wrongly accusing someone.

Yes, driving 5 mph over the speed limit is an offense, and yes, standing outside a school gate is not an offense, but I, as a police officer, can tell you to move away from the school because to me, it sounds suspicious, like you could be breaking into the school!

Please guys do not criticize us police officers because I disagree with all those negative posts.

Thank you. Police Sergeant Leach, Nottinghamshire Police Constabulary


anon74094: Your comment is the biggest single piece of complete and utter nonsense I have read all year. Contrary to what you may believe, the police cannot simply accuse someone of being a child molester and then put it on their record just because they 'walked past a school'.

As well as the police (in this country anyway) we have a thing called a legal system, with lawyers, courts and a judiciary to make sure only guilty people are tried and convicted for crimes they have committed.

It's the courts that decide if someone is guilty, handing out penalties as the judge sees fit, not the police. Mistakes do happen, but we also have an appeal system as a further safeguard against wrongful convictions. I would also ask you to give examples of where the police break the law and get away with it. I can actually think of a several high profile cases, one of them very recent, where a police officer in the UK was suspended and imprisoned for their actions.

There are good and bad eggs in every profession, and the police forces are no different. And like in every other profession, when a cop does something good, nobody cares, but when a cop does something bad the whole world gets to know about it.


A lot of people are always saying that police are unfair, which at times they can be. Not all police officers are great. But it has to do with attitude. I can guarantee that half of the people who are posting negative comments on police officers had a rude attitude towards them. Its all about your attitude.


anon74094: you said "He was helping the blind people by driving them around places and after the cops put this on his record he was no longer able to drive the blind." maybe he is a freak of nature and molests blind people and little school kids. i don't think cops just lash out for nothing.


Some people have no idea what they are talking about.

the post that said cops do nothing all day could not be further from the truth. i would like to see them even attempt to do the job.

and yes, there is validity to what some of you have said about bad cops. there are cops who abuse their power but you can't go by what you see on the news.

nobody wants to hear the good things going on in society. they only want to hear the bad, especially when it is regard to the police.

Any chance the media gets to run a story and make the cops look bad or show the wrongdoing of one cop they do so. you never see on the news the positives of the cop saving 10 individuals from and hostage situation -- only that they brutally assaulted the hostage taker.


You are right, the cops think they can break all the laws and get away with it because they are cops. It is on the news all the time how a cop gets away with what he does.

They harassed my friend for just taking a walk and wanted to know where he worked and he told them he is retired and they said oh so you are unemployed, and then they wanted to see his drivers license and he told them he didn't bring it along because he was only out for a walk so they said oh so you are a vagrant, you are an unemployed vagrant.

One time when he was out for a walk it was a Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and he walked by a school and the cops accused him of molesting school children and there was no school going on and he didn't see any children or even any adults.

The only person he saw was the cop and yet he got accused of molesting school children. They put it on his record and he has never harmed anyone in his life. He was helping the blind people by driving them around places and after the cops put this on his record he was no longer able to drive the blind and so they ruined his record and he didn't do anything to deserve this and no wonder people hate cops.


police officers need to take of themselves before worrying about other people because they might be doing wrong at the same time.

for example if a police officer is drinking and driving than they are at fault. then they go out and find a drunk person driving then the person should not get in trouble for doing the same thing as the police officer.

police officers should be taking care of the world, not doing the wrong thing just because they are police officers.

i think some police officers take advantage of their job and break the laws and think they will get away with it.


Did anyone look up mobbing and gangstalking and see the sites that say the cops are in on it? They do harass people for no reason and trespass on your property, and climb over your fences and pick your padlocks on your gate and come into your yard illegally and stick up for lying neighbors.


All California vehicles are required to have a front license plate. it is the law and it is also printed in the driver's manual and on the DMV site and people who call the police department and ask the question are told that you need a front license plate.


I need to translate this page from English to Bahasa Malaysia. Anyone, please help or give me a reliable webpage traslator website. Thanks so much !


Well the cops do have time to give tickets because all they do is nothing all day, drive around slowly just enjoying the weather and the scenery and doing nothing and if they think they don't have time then why do these guys who are pissed about all this have time to go out and pour their used motor oil down all the drains and into lakes, etc, because we hear them talk about it in fast food places and in a line for some event and on buses and trolleys and all over and they are also talking about setting fires and smashing car windows and doing all kinds of other things so it's too bad the cops don't have time and these guys do.


If the auto has a mounting area then one must be posted to that area. If no mount is provided then none is required I believe.


Let me fill you in on a secret of the trade... On the front license plate issue, it's a fix-it ticket not a major felony. Therefore, we do not always have the time to waste on writing such tickets...CHP does because that's their bread and butter. Street cops, honestly do not want you to fix the violation. Especially if your a frequent flier among the criminal justice system. We want a reason to continue to pull you over to see if you are slipping. Front license plets missing, lead to drug seizures, DUI's, recovered stolen proprty, guns, etc. So please leave the front plate off!


All we ever see cops doing is driving around doing nothing and running stop signs and they are not chasing anyone, just driving slowly around but not stopping at stop signs. When someone calls them they say it will take them three days to come out. They stopped a friend of ours just for taking a walk. They asked where he worked, he said he is retired, they said oh so you are unemployed, then they asked for his identification and he said he was only out for a walk so he didn't bring his wallet with him and they said oh so you are a vagrant, you are an unemployed vagrant. This man is a retired research chemist with Shell Oil and a brilliant man and he owns a million dollar home and has millions of dollars. One Sunday at 8:00 o'clock in the morning he was out for a walk and he walked past a school and he didn't see anyone, no children or adults, only the cop, and the cops accused him of molesting school children. Why is it they are too busy to enforce the laws but not too busy to stop people who are doing nothing wrong, only going for a walk. Another friend got stopped and the cops laughed at him because he doesn't drink. Why don't they get the drunks off the road instead of stopping someone for doing nothing wrong and when they ask him if he has been drinking and he says he doesn't drink, they laugh and make fun of him. It looks like mobbing and gangstalking, according to all the info about this on the internet.


I think that if you have no front number plate that would be a big issue, to be honest, considering if that car was going around breaking into places and using the car.


It is not a police officers job to take care of junk cars in peoples lawns. That sounds more like a zoning ordinance problem that should be addressed with the City.

The police are often too busy to bother with minor infractions such as missing front license plates. They spend their time responding to 911 calls and if they are doing traffic enforcement it is normally done to control traffic offenses that cause accidents such as speeding, red light violations etc...

If you have an emergency the police will be there quickly if you have some other non-emergency service related call it may take them a lot longer to respond. The complaint is that there is never enough police officers unless you are the one getting arrested and then there are too many and they should be doing something else. The problem is that every social issue that needs addressing gets pushed down to the police because they are there 24/7 so they become the catch-all for a society that has become dependent upon government solving everyone's problems.


Well, why is it in California where front license plates are required, the police refuse to give tickets for not having a front license plate when there are millions of vehicles without a front plate and hundreds of millions of dollars could be generated by giving these tickets out? And why do they say it will take them three days to come out whenever you call them for anything? And they let people have tons of junk cars, trucks, campers, motorhomes, boats, etc, all over their front lawns and let motorhomes and other vehicles park on the street for fifteen or twenty years without moving and they don't even run? And they just single out certain people to harass.

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      Police officers may conduct traffic stops.
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