Careers with City & Municipal Police Departments


Local police organizations include municipal agencies that may include anywhere from one to 40,000 officers. These agencies enforce the laws of their jurisdictions, states and the country.  These highly qualified law enforcement officers are usually the first responders to a criminal or public safety incidents and fulfill a wide range of responsibilities like crime prevention, 911 response, and criminal investigations.

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The Hierarchy Found in Most City Police Departments

Most local police organizations utilize a diversified hierarchy system similar to that found in the military.  There is usually a chief or commissioner who oversees management of the entire organization and reports to the mayor or governing town council. Descending ranks include the titles:

  • Commander
  • Colonel, Major
  • Captain
  • Lieutenant
  • Sergeant
  • Detective
  • Officer

Although law enforcement officials at any rank may don a uniform, typically only the lower ranks are required to dress in uniform while on duty.  These uniformed police officers often serve in roles where instant recognition of police authority is required, as would be the case with traffic enforcement and emergency response.  Detectives and higher are expected to perform more administrative and investigative functions which do not necessitate the uniform.

Many larger local police agencies also have dedicated departments that are responsible for managing specific types of cases or emergencies. These units are only available to officers who have spent a certain amount of time as a uniformed officer and have successfully passed the necessary written and physical examinations.  Some of the units also require recommendations or advanced training.

Uniformed Officers – The Face of Municipal Police Departments

Officers serving in the uniformed ranks hold the vast majority of police jobs.  They conduct many of the initial investigatory responsibilities like collecting witness reports, isolating crime scenes and requesting emergency care for the injured.  These officers also perform many of the administrative functions within their organizations like taking photographs, fingerprints and completing paperwork for detained individuals.

Uniformed police jobs represent entry-level positions for almost all local police organizations.

Detectives – Investigating Major Crimes

The rank of detective is reserved for uniformed police officers that have demonstrated the intelligence, professionalism and leadership necessary to handle complex criminal cases. Most local police groups require a minimum of three years’ experience as a uniformed officer before considering candidates for a detective post. In most jurisdictions, an officer must possess at least 24 college credits in a criminal justice major in order to become a detective.

The knowledge acquired is then assessed through a written examination that may include questions about:

  • Police procedure
  • Criminal investigation
  • Forensic science
  • Report production
  • Interrogation and questioning
  • Court procedures

Once approved, detectives may join a special unit like narcotics or homicide, depending on preference and organizational requirements.  Some smaller jurisdictions do not allow specialization for detectives, but use them on a wide variety of cases.

Homicide Detectives – Solving Murders

The homicide of an individual is a serious public safety matter and one that all police organizations prioritize. In order to apprehend the perpetrator, most police agencies devote significant resources to investigating murders.  This includes homicide detectives, who are typically well versed in criminal investigations, as well as crime scene units, and uniformed officers.

The job description of homicide police involves collecting evidence and information from the crime scene, as well as from any available witnesses.  Using forensic evidence and witness reports, homicide detectives attempt to detail the four components of the crime.

  • Cause of death
  • Motive for the crime
  • Method utilized
  • Presence of intent

These elements must be established during the course of the investigation or the legal case may not be strong enough to result in a prosecution.

Specialized Police Units –Specially Trained and Prepared for Anything

Many larger metropolitan law enforcement agencies must respond to rare types of criminal incidents.  In order to mount an effective response, these organizations have developed special units that possess unique training, knowledge and equipment. The following are among the most important of these police officer jobs:

  • Aviation: Large cities with heavily congested roadways utilize helicopters or planes to monitor their jurisdiction.  These units can be deployed to rapidly respond to a unfolding crime in a remote area or provide pursuit capabilities that ground travel may not.
  • Bomb Disposal: The presence of an explosive device or Weapon of Mass Destruction requires personnel who are trained in neutralizing or dismantling such devices.
  • Computer Crime:  Many of the crimes occurring today involve information systems including the internet, proprietary intranets and mobile devices.  These police officers possess the technical expertise to uncover evidence that may exist only in the digital domain.
  • Special Weapons and Tactics: Most police organizations train their staff with procedures and equipment that is utilized only in situations where the potential for escalating violence is high. These professionals are deployed when situations like a terrorist attack, hostage situation, or a fortified facility arises.

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