California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers in California

May also be called: Law Enforcement Officers; City Police Officers; University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) Campus Police Officers; Deputy Sheriffs; California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officers; and U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Agents

What Would I Do?

People depend upon Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers to protect property, preserve life, enforce laws, and detect criminal activity. Their primary responsibility is to patrol their assigned geographical area and to provide services to the residents of the community. Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers do this in a variety of ways, depending on the size and type of their organization. They deter crime by conducting regular community patrol, arresting those suspected of breaking the law, and spending much of their time helping people in the community. They enforce federal, State, and local laws and ordinances. The California Penal Code grants Peace Officer powers to California Law Enforcement Officers as described in Section 830. This means they are authorized to carry firearms and make arrests in the performance of their primary duties.

This broad occupation includes City Police Officers, Deputy Sheriffs, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officers, and U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Agents.

City Police Officers maintain regular patrols and respond to calls for service. They patrol specific areas within geographic districts of the city, such as a business district section or residential neighborhood. They respond to radio dispatches or citizens’ requests for police services, provide traffic control, and attend community meetings or events. They may be called upon to provide first aid and drive vehicles under hazardous and emergency conditions. They may train Police Cadets and may receive additional Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)-certified training in order to do so.

Campus Police Officers have the same responsibilities as Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies; they ensure public safety on college campuses. They document crime and traffic accidents, enforce traffic, open locked vehicles, deliver crime prevention information and fire/medical aid, and provide special event security.

Deputy Sheriffs enforce law and order in rural and unincorporated areas of the county. Sheriffs’ departments tend to be relatively small, most having fewer than 150 sworn Officers. Deputy Sheriffs perform law enforcement duties similar to those of Police Officers, except they generally don’t take accident reports. They patrol courthouses, guard juries, or escort defendants. They may also serve as bailiffs to provide security in city and county courts.

California Highway Patrol Officers patrol State highways to enforce provisions of the vehicle code. They maintain the orderly flow of traffic (especially in hazardous conditions such as heavy fog and major accidents), pursue reckless drivers, issue speeding tickets, conduct field sobriety tests, make arrests, assist persons involved in traffic accidents and breakdowns, and respond to and investigate accidents. They also provide protective security for the governor, other elected officials, and State property.

U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Agents protect more than 8,000 miles of international land and water boundaries. They prevent the smuggling of undocumented foreign nationals into the U.S., apprehend violators, and seize contraband such as narcotics.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Provide for public safety by maintaining order, responding to emergencies, protecting people and property, enforcing motor vehicle and criminal laws, and promoting good community relations.Public Safety and Security
Identify, pursue, and arrest suspects and perpetrators of criminal acts.Social Perceptiveness
Drive vehicles or patrol specific areas to detect law violators, issue citations, and make arrests.Problem Sensitivity
Investigate illegal or suspicious activities.Inductive Reasoning
Verify that the proper legal charges have been made against law offenders.Judgment and Decision Making
Record facts to prepare reports that document incidents and activities.Writing
Review facts of incidents to determine if criminal act or statute violations were involved.Law and Government
Render aid to accident victims and other persons requiring first aid for physical injuries.Critical Thinking
Testify in court to present evidence or act as witness in traffic and criminal cases.Speaking
Evaluate complaint and emergency-request information to determine response requirements.Active Listening
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Police work can be dangerous and stressful. In addition to the obvious dangers of confrontations with criminals, Officers need to be constantly alert and ready to deal appropriately with a number of other threatening situations. They deal with crime and social issues on a daily basis. Many Officers witness death and suffering resulting from accidents and criminal behavior. A career in law enforcement may take a toll on Officers’ private lives.

Based on assignments, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers are given the opportunity to work in a variety of locations, such as patrol cars or motorcycles, airports, courtrooms, prisons, crime scenes, or U.S. borders. Some may travel to protect government officials and foreign dignitaries, or transport prisoners and witnesses. They work varied, prolonged, and irregular shifts. They may work alone, with a partner, or as part of a team.

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers work a minimum of 40 hours a week. They may work night patrol and often work on weekends and holidays. In addition, Officers are often required to be on-call. Some agencies offer a work schedule where Officers work 10-hour shifts, four days a week. Work performed beyond the normal hours is compensated with overtime pay.

Most Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers belong to unions. Many of the unions are organized at the city, county, State, and federal levels. CHP Officers may belong to the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, while Border Patrol and Customs Agents may join the National Border Patrol Council.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officer will appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people, as well as activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. The Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officer occupation satisfies those with social and realistic interests. Social occupations involve helping or providing service to others and many realistic occupations require working outside. People who would enjoy this type of work are results-oriented and value achievement.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

An Officer can expect a base salary; however, the salary may be increased for overtime. Total earnings for local, State, and special police frequently exceed the stated salary because of payments for overtime, which can be significant. In addition, specialized units, such as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), Canine Handlers, or the Bomb Squad, receive higher salaries.

The salary of federal law enforcement workers is determined according to a General Service (GS) pay scale for law enforcement occupations. This is higher than the regular GS level for federal employees because of the dangerous nature of the job. Federal Agents start out at a GS-10 level and also receive locality pay.


The median wage in 2021 for Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers in California was $115,263 annually, or $55.41 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefit packages for Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers are very good. They usually include:

  • Medical, dental, and life insurance, and retirement plans.
  • Vacation, sick leave, family leave, and long-term disability pay.
  • Educational incentives and special training pay.
  • Bilingual allowances.
  • Uniform and equipment allowances.
  • Eligibility to retire at age 50.

What is the Job Outlook?

More opportunities are expected in local and special police departments than in federal and State law enforcement agencies. Because of attractive salaries and benefit packages, there is a larger supply of qualified applicants than there are jobs in federal and State law enforcement agencies, resulting in increased hiring standards and selectivity by employers. Stiff competition exists for higher paying jobs with State and federal agencies in more affluent areas. Applicants with college education should have the best opportunities.

A more security-conscious society and concern about drug and gang-related crimes contribute to the increasing demand for police services. However, employment growth may be hindered by reductions in Federal hiring grants to local police departments. On the other hand, expectations from community drug and gang-free neighborhoods and lower-crime rates may increase the size of departments.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers are expected to increase by 3.7 percent, or 2,700 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers must complete a POST-certified training program. Graduates then must complete an on-the-job probationary period with a law enforcement agency to earn a POST Basic Certificate.

To be eligible for POST training you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age (some departments require 21 years of age).

  • Pass the POST Entry-Level Law Enforcement Written Test to demonstrate reading and writing ability at levels needed to perform the work. (To review an online copy of this test, visit the POST Web site at

  • Pass a physical agility test.

  • Pass an oral interview for hiring list eligibility.

  • Be personally interviewed by hiring authority to show suitability (maturity, ability to communicate, appearance, etc.) for law enforcement service.

  • Be a high school graduate or achieve satisfactory scores on the General Educational Development Test (GED) or the High School Proficiency Examination.

  • Be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident alien who is eligible for and has applied for citizenship.

  • Be of good moral character as determined by a thorough background investigation.

  • Be fingerprinted and have a search of local, State, and national files for any criminal records.

  • Have no felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving domestic violence.

  • Be free from any physical limitations that would interfere with job performance and pass a physical examination administered by a physician.

  • Be free from emotional or mental conditions that would interfere with job performance and receive satisfactory results on a psychological screening examination conducted by a psychologist.

An extensive background investigation is conducted for each candidate. Applicants must have a satisfactory record as a law-abiding citizen and maintain good credit. Use of drugs can disqualify an applicant.

The CHP strongly prefers that candidates have at least an associate’s degree, although a high school diploma or equivalent will meet the minimum requirements. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection requires either substantial work experience, a four-year degree, or a combination of education and experience. Local law enforcement agencies require a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, some college classes are desirable.

Training is given at national centers for Federal Agents. State and local academies provide training for CHP Officers, Deputy Sheriffs, and Police Officers. Academy training time varies with each agency. The Border Patrol Academy’s program is 19 weeks, while the CHP Academy requires 27 weeks. Training at most local police academies runs between 22-26 weeks.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in this kind of work should take classes in language arts, communications, mathematics, computer technology, physical education, foreign languages, social sciences, government, and criminal justice. Working for a law enforcement agency as a student assistant or intern is a good way to gain valuable experience.

Work Study Programs

There may be Law Enforcement Regional Occupational Programs available for this occupation. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Law enforcement agencies regularly provide training for their Officers to keep them current on the latest methods and technologies in law enforcement. They are required to complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years, as required by POST. They also must qualify in the use of firearms, if authorized to carry weapons, on a quarterly basis. Intermediate and Advanced POST Certificates are earned as Officers gain experience and additional training and education in California.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, and Police Science.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers work primarily in government. The largest industries employing Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Local Government86.1%
State Government9.4%
Federal Government1.9%
Colleges and Universities1.7%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Positions in Law Enforcement with federal, State, and local agencies are filled through civil service examinations. When openings occur, they are advertised in federal, State, county, and city personnel offices and on agency Web sites. Openings may also be advertised in local newspapers. Some agencies participate in job fairs held at colleges or universities. General information and employment applications may be obtained through agency Web sites.

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Most Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers work in local government, while some work for the State or federal government. Check for telephone listings under State, federal, county, and city government in your area or search for agency Web sites.
 Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers.

  • Border Patrol
  • Highway Patrol
  • Law Enforcement Agencies-Government
  • Police Departments

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Officers can promote to higher ranking and administrative positions through oral and written examinations. In addition, they can transfer into special investigative task force units or become field training Officers. Officers are encouraged to obtain college or advanced degrees for better advancement opportunities.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers with links to more information.

Correctional Officers and JailersGuide
Detectives and Criminal InvestigatorsGuide
Fire Inspectors and InvestigatorsProfile
First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention WorkersProfile
Fish and Game WardensGuide
Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention SpecialistsProfile
Private Detectives and InvestigatorsProfile
Security GuardsGuide
Transit and Railroad PoliceProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification33-3051
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Police Patrol Officers33-3051.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)REC
   Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs33-3051.03
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ERS
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Criminal Justice/Police Science 430107
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Administration of Justice210500
   Police Academy210550