Explore Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Careers

Learn about the different law enforcement careers you can pursue with the right education.

Which One Is Right for You?

two police officers standing with arms crossed

If you have decided to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer, your choice was undoubtedly very personal. However, you still have important decisions to make.

Do you want to make a difference in your community by becoming a local police officer? Do you want to keep your nation safe from terrorism by working for the Department of Homeland Security? Read about the advantages of local, state and federal law enforcement careers to help you navigate through the career options ahead.

Local Law Enforcement Careers

A police officer’s primary duty is to patrol the streets of their jurisdiction to prevent crime. Below are some of the advantages of becoming a local law enforcement officer.

  • Variety. Even in situations involving federal crimes, city law enforcement officers are likely to be the first ones on the scene. On any given day, city police officers are required to respond to a variety of criminal activities, which can include anything from traffic violations to homicides.
  • Job prospects. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for local police officers will be higher than for state and federal agents. If you decide to work in local law enforcement, you can also expect many opportunities for job promotions and overtime pay.
  • Close-knit team environment. If you like working with a small team of people, you may want to consider law enforcement careers at the county level. Typical county law enforcement jobs are in the sheriff’s office, which normally employs fewer than 50 officers. 

State Law Enforcement Careers

Many people in criminal justice think state police officers have the best of both worlds: they get to work close to home, but they also earn higher compensation and work on more prestigious cases, like federal officers. Listed below are the other advantages of state law enforcement careers.

  • Wide range of responsibilities. State police are commonly in charge of patrolling highways and responding to traffic accidents, but they also have a great deal of investigative responsibilities. Once you complete your law enforcement training for a career as a state trooper, you will be equipped to respond to any type of emergency or criminal activity.
  • Career advancement opportunities. State police and highway patrol agencies are divided into specialized units, so you’ll have plenty of chances to further your career. The divisions vary from state to state, but they often include a crime scene specialist team, anti-terrorism team and governor’s detail unit. Each state also has a State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).

Federal Law Enforcement Careers

At the federal level, law enforcement officers are responsible for preventing and responding to criminal activity that violates federal laws.

  • Excellent compensation. Federal law enforcement careers require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the salaries often reflect this. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for federal detectives and criminal investigators is $74,300. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
  • A specialized career. With over seventy federal agencies, careers at this level can take on many different forms. Becoming a federal agent means that you will undergo extensive law enforcement training and become highly qualified in one specialty area.
  • High-profile cases. As a federal law enforcement agent, you will be guaranteed exciting work in cases that may even receive national attention. Depending on the agency you work for, your duties can range anywhere from investigating violations of federal explosives laws to protecting government officials as a Secret Service agent.