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What is a Peace Officer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A peace officer is a public official who has been charged with keeping the peace. These officers are granted certain powers that they can use to fulfill their duties, including the power to make arrests. Many nations have a wide variety of peace officers working within their borders to keep society peaceful and orderly. People who are interested in this job generally need to have clean criminal records, good references, and a high level of physical fitness.

A classic example of a peace officer is a police officer, although other examples include game wardens, park rangers, sheriffs, marshals, probation officers, and prison guards. As a general rule, this official has a badge and has sworn to uphold certain values, and he or she is also armed in some areas, with weapons that can range from nightsticks to semiautomatic pistols. Typically, they wear distinctive uniforms to make themselves identifiable to members of the public, although sometimes they may go undercover for investigations, in which case they present their badges if they need to be identified.

Peace officers must complete training before they can take an oath and carry the badge. The training familiarizes them with their job responsibilities, the powers they have, and how to utilize those powers safely and legally. In areas with armed officers, people must usually complete weapons courses and may be required to periodically recertify to demonstrate that they are competent with their weapons.

Law enforcement officers, as they are also known, generally have a limited jurisdiction, but they may be permitted to exceed these areas in special circumstances. For example, in some parts of the United States, a county sheriff does not have jurisdiction inside cities with their own police forces, but if the sheriff is pursuing a suspect, she or he can act inside the city. In other cases, the sheriff may be required to work with the local police force, as for example when the sheriff needs to execute a warrant.

Some peace officers have a military background, joining the civilian law enforcement community when their term of military service is complete. Others come from a civilian background, and some hold a college degree in criminal justice or a related field, which is applied to his or her work. The demand for these officers is usually steady, especially in urban areas, and people with specialized training, like someone who can work with wildlife, may be in especially high demand.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments

By anon280935 — On Jul 20, 2012

A peace officer upholds common law.

A police officer uphold common law only when asked to give his oath, and upholds the corrupt corporate laws that you have unknowingly consented to as being a citizen within the corporation of America or Canada, or what have you.

By anon168007 — On Apr 15, 2011

In response to anonymous 155344: As long as you are a federal registrant, you have the power to arrest so long as you file a proper notice with the local sheriff, court of law or deputy marshal. However, if you need to arrest at random, then that would require more than just probable cause and if you see first hand you are required to carry out the law as deemed appropriate following use of force guidelines.

Also keep in mind your rights if approached by a local police officer or law enforcement officer (otherwise known as security officers) and kindly remind them of the police officer assistance act.

By anon155344 — On Feb 23, 2011

I currently hold a TS clearance and I also am an armed security officer for all federal buildings in both Kansas and Missouri, which means I am commissioned in both states. I am trying to move on to another LE career and I have most of the training required however I need to already have the power of arrest which is what I don't have. How can I obtain this without going through the months of training at a police academy.I can't afford to take a leave of absence or quit my current job or leave my home for an extended period of time such as 13 to 40 weeks of training. What can I do?

By doppler — On Oct 25, 2010

@Kamchatka - Thanks for all the great information!I have been looking at becoming a certified peace officer for years now and always seem to come back to it, so I think that is the route I will go. It can be frightening but it takes all types to do all jobs and some one has to protect people. I have already been in the military so I really like the structure. I'm sure it's for me.

By Kamchatka — On Oct 25, 2010

@doppler - The difference in peace officer jobs or police officer's salaries and non-commissioned officers really varies... and quite a lot. Smaller PDs (Police Departments) will often pay about the same as non-commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officers are often positions like security or jailer jobs. Working in a jail or as security can be just as dangerous as being an officer, believe me.

Anyhow, larger cities like Austin, TX will supply you with a more lucrative salary whereas smaller departments, or agencies as they are often referred to, like older towns with just a few hundred people living there are going to pay you about the same as if you would have gotten a vocational license. Hope this helps you if you're considering a career in either field. Stay safe!

By doppler — On Oct 25, 2010

@Pimiento - So if Police Officers are usually commissioned or have to go through training, then what kinds of jobs are out there for non-commissioned officers? Also, what is the difference between a Peace officer's salary and that of a non-commissioned officers - is it fairly significant given the risks involved?

By bbpuff — On Oct 25, 2010

@Pimiento - When you move from state to state or even country to country you usually have to re-certify yourself. This can be an accelerated academy or even just a few tests in order to get your license in another place. Like if you moved from Texas and had a TCLEOSE license, but you were relocating to Colorado you would most likely have to re-certify and familiarize yourself with Colorado's state laws. It really makes a lot of sense.

By Pimiento — On Oct 25, 2010

Police officers are usually commissioned officers which means they have gone through some sort of (usually extensive) training that prepares them to handle the public. With courses in Professional Policing and Penal Codes you can be sure that most officers are familiar with the laws they are asked to enforce. In the state of Texas, for instance, you would have a TCLEOSE peace officer's certification or license which would allow you to work with a PD or as a Sheriff.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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