Police Officer Human Factors, Requirements & Fitness

In most countries, candidates for the police force must have completed some formal education. Increasing numbers of people are joining the police force who possess tertiary education and in response to this many police forces have developed a “fast-track” scheme whereby those with university degrees spend 2-3 years as a police constable before receiving promotion to higher ranks, such as sergeants, inspectors etc. (Officers who work within investigative divisions or plainclothes are not necessarily a higher rank but merely do a slightly different job.) Police officers are also recruited from those with experience in the military or security services. Most law enforcement agencies now have measurable physical fitness requirements for officers. In the United States state laws may codify state-wide qualification standards regarding age, education, criminal record, and training but in other places requirements are set by local police agencies.

Police agencies are usually semi-military in organization, so that with specified experience or training qualifications officers become eligible for promotion to a higher supervisory rank, such as sergeant. Promotion is not automatic and usually requires the candidate to pass some kind of examination, interview board or other selection procedure. Although promotion normally includes an increase in salary, it also brings with it an increase in responsibility and for most, an increase in administrative paperwork. Unlike military service, it is not unusual for police officers to remain or choose to remain at lower levels, never getting promoted. There is no stigma attached to this – experienced line patrol officers are highly regarded.

After completing a certain period of service, officers may also apply for specialist positions, such as detective, police dog handler, mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, water police officer, or firearms officer (in forces which are not routinely armed).

Dangers and rewards of being a police officer
Due to the unpredictable nature of law enforcement, police officers have the potential to encounter many dangerous situations in the course of their career. Dangers faced by officers include death, increased risk of infectious diseases, increased risk of physical injury, and the potential for emotional disorder due to both the high stress and inherently adversarial nature of police work. These dangers are encountered in many different situations e.g. the investigation, pursuit, and apprehension of criminals, motor vehicle stops, crimes, response to terrorism, intervention in domestic disputes, investigating traffic accidents, and directing traffic. The constant risk, uncertainty and tension inherent in law enforcement and the exposure to vast amounts of human suffering and violence can lead susceptible individuals to anxiety, depression, and alcoholism.

Individuals are drawn to police work for many reasons. Among these often include a desire to protect the public and social order from criminals and danger; a desire to hold a position of respect and authority; a disdain for or antipathy towards criminals and rule breakers; the professional challenges of the work; the employment benefits that are provided with civil service jobs in many countries; the sense of camaraderie that often holds among police; or a family tradition of police work or civil service. An important task of the recruitment activity of police agencies in many countries is screening potential candidates to determine the fitness of their character and personality for the work, often through background investigations and consultation with a psychologist. Even though police work is very dangerous, police officers are still needed by everyone to “protect and serve”. As a result, police officers are generally held in high regard by the population they serve. This can vary from country to country however, depending on past experiences with the police or general national perception.

Line of duty deaths
Line of duty deaths occur while an officer is on a duty shift or special detail at work. Despite the increased risk of being a victim of a homicide, automobile accidents are the most common cause of officer deaths. Officers are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents because of their large amount of time spent conducting vehicle patrols, as well as their work outside their vehicles alongside or on the roadway, or in dangerous pursuits. Officers killed by suspects make up a smaller proportion of deaths. In the U.S. in 2005, 159 line of duty deaths were recorded of which 44% were from assaults on officers, 35% vehicle related (only 3% during vehicular pursuits) and the rest from other causes: heart attacks during arrests/foot pursuits, diseases contracted from suspects, accidental gun discharges, falls, and drownings.

Deaths in recent years:
2007 | 2006 (147) | 2005 (159) | 2004 (162) | 2003 (147)

Personal Equipment
A typical police officer, dependent on duties may carry various equipment on their duty belt, to assist them in performing their duties. The equipment carried typically includes some or all of the following:

body armor
radio or communications equipment and PDA.
night stick/truncheon/baton.
restraints – handcuffs and/or Plasticuffs
A notebook for recording incident information, taking down statements, etc
Pencil or pen.
Pepper spray, PAVA Spray or CS gas
Sidearm and tasers (in jurisdictions where police are armed)
Badge, Warrant Card or ID
Evidence bags
Hi-vis jacket/vest (doubles as a water proof garment)
latex gloves