The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for the nation’s almost 800,000 law enforcement professionals was $55,010 in 2010.  This average is about $14,000 more than the average annual income for Americans, which reflects the value that communities place on these hardworking and conscientious public officials.  It is also important to remember that these lucrative salaries can be increased further through education, military service, years of service and advanced training.

The starting salary among law enforcement professionals is greatly influenced by the level of experience and education a recruit brings to the table. Most agencies offer a tiered starting base salary, with premiums paid based on education or former military or law enforcement experience. National starting salary averages offer a general idea of what can be expected, but as allocated departmental budgets and cost of living can vary dramatically from one jurisdiction to the next, so too can the base salaries of law enforcement professionals at the municipal, county and state levels.

Starting Salaries According to Law Enforcement Agencies

Municipal Police – According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, new police recruits employed in municipal and city-specific agencies earn between $26,600 and $49,500 in annual salary.  This wide range reflects the considerable variation in metropolitan police force sizes and allocated budgetary resources. Learn more…

State Police and State Troopers – Salaries for state police and state troopers can vary considerably from state to state, but with an average starting salary of around $45,000, they typically earn a bit more than their local and county-based law enforcement counterparts. Learn more…

County Sheriffs – According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics the national average annual entry-level salary for deputy sheriffs within the nation’s smallest jurisdictions is $31,000. Deputy sheriffs hired on with the most well funded sheriff’s departments in larger jurisdictions star their careers earning an average of $45,600. Learn more…

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled the data contained in this table. It represents the national average for key law enforcement professions:

Hourly median wage
First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
Correctional Officers and Jailers
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Parking Enforcement Workers
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers
Transit and Railroad Police

Factors Most Likely to Influence Law Enforcement Salaries

College Degrees – Although many local and state law enforcement organizations require only a high school diploma or a GED, the competition for these positions can be fierce.  Many applicants who satisfy only the bare minimum are competitively disadvantaged.  Not only will their applications appear weaker without some level of post-secondary degree, but they may also suffer from less developed skills in reading, logic, math or problem solving which may damage their chances during the written test and oral interview portions of the selection process.

The enhanced skills that can be acquired at a two year or four year college are highly valued by law enforcement organizations.  Many criminal enterprises are exceedingly complex and technical, which requires that investigators possess similar or superior intellectual capacities.  In order to attract candidates who possess these skills many law enforcement agencies are willing to add a considerable amount to the salaries of officers with associates, bachelors or masters degrees. In some states like Massachusetts, law enforcement agencies are required by law to provide increased salaries to officers with college degrees.

Military Service – While only about one percent of the U.S. population serves in the military, this pool of veterans is extremely attractive to most law enforcement organizations.  Not only have most of these veterans had experience with the physical training and firearms that are necessary to serve as peace officers, but many are also comfortable with high-risk situations that have the potential to erupt into violence.  Having experienced combat, many veterans are well-equipped to handle the risks that are part of being a law enforcement professional.

Law enforcement organizations also value the loyalty that veterans have already demonstrated.  Many law enforcement agencies recognize that veterans are patriotic citizens who have shown a willingness to defend the nation, and that this probably reflects a willingness to protect Americans from dangerous individuals.  Military veterans have also demonstrated their commitment to their units and fellow soldiers, which is a critical component of serving in law enforcement.  Veterans who have obtained an officer rank during their service are especially desirable due to their command experience.

Almost all law enforcement agencies provide some type of preference to military veterans during the application process.  Many of these organizations provide a number of incentives for veterans that increase salary and provide additional benefits. A report by the Department of Justice encouraged organizations to hire veterans at salaries similar to their departing military pay, credit them with years served in the military, or accelerate promotion.

On-the-Job Experience – While not every recruit may enter the force with the academic or professional skills that law enforcement agencies prize, all have the capacity to work hard, demonstrate enthusiasm and acquire new skills.  Among the most highly valued skills in any law enforcement agency is professional excellence.  Officers who take up challenging assignments and perform at their highest standards are often marked for early promotion or advancement.

Among the most highly valued characteristics in a law enforcement professional are integrity, determination and personal outlook.  While many officers expect to learn skills to advance their careers by merely serving as law enforcement professionals, the most motivated and promotion-ready professionals seek out every training opportunity possible. These outstanding law enforcement professionals also seek out mentors who can provide important insights into the organization or dependable career advice.  Many law enforcement veterans also state that a diverse resume with experience in as many different departments as possible demonstrates an eagerness to learn and take up new challenges.

Outstanding officers often rise in the ranks quickly and obtain prestigious positions that merit higher salaries.  These professionals may attain the rank of detective, captain or even chief, or they may gain admittance to more rewarding divisions within the organization like counterterrorism or SWAT.  In many cases, these specialized units often compensate their members with higher salaries due to the added responsibilities, overtime, availability and extended training. In some organizations the salary for officers in SWAT units, for example, were as much as 3 to 5 percent higher.

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