Looking For a Job? The Prospects in Policing May Be Better Than You Think

Written by Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.

There are more than 16,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States. Collectively these agencies employ well over 705,000 full-time, sworn law enforcement personnel, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people employed by police agencies in civilian positions. Although the media has given obsessive coverage to the unemployment rate and the “downsizing” of government jobs, the size of the nation’s police forces continue to grow and expand. There are no shortages of jobs in the field of law enforcement.

Data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that between 1992 and 2008, local and state police agencies expanded the number of sworn police positions by more than 141,000, which represents a 25% increase in a relatively short period of time. Likewise, BJS (2012) data show that police agencies hired about 61,000 officers in 2008 alone, but lost only about 51,000 positions mainly due to resignation and retirement. This represents 10,000 new police jobs in a single year. This rate of growth in employment exceeds the growth of the US population and was achieved even though crime rates have been declining for over 40 years. Really impressive numbers given the increases came about in a political climate, which could not be characterized as supportive of expanding governmental employment.

Every year, well over 51,000 police officers leave the profession. The rate of turnover among sworn police personnel runs from a low of about 5 percent in the largest agencies, to a high of about 20 percent in the smaller ones. Resignation and retirement make up the bulk of the turnover rate. Agencies are not only filling these positions, they are adding new positions. In 2008, more than two-thirds of all police agencies hired officers and almost all large agencies hired at least one new officer. Keep in mind the Great U.S. Recession was in full swing during all this hiring activity and the media airwaves were full of stories about the layoffs and downsizing of municipal and state workforces. Even in this still gloomy employment environment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013) projects there will be at least a 7 percent increase in jobs for law enforcement officers over the next decade. This conservative estimate means that not only will police agencies have to replace about 51,000 workers every year, but that there will be nearly 50,000 new jobs opening up before the close of the decade. While it is unlikely police jobs will continue to grow at the rates we have seen over the last few decades, it is not unreasonable to assume law enforcement agencies will replace or hire anew close to a half million new employees by the end of the decade.

While the job picture in the United States still looks gloomy and competition for jobs is tough, job prospects in policing may be much better than you think. A degree in police studies can set you apart in the job market.

Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Foundation Professor
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University


BJS (2012). Hiring and Retention of State and Local Law Enforcement Officers, 2008 – Statistical Tables. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

BLS (2013). Occupational Outlook Handbook. US Department of Labor.

Published on April 02, 2013