Police Officers (Except Commissioned) - What They Do

Police officers protect the public, detect and prevent crime and perform other activities directed at maintaining law and order. They are employed by municipal and federal governments and some provincial and regional governments.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Patrol assigned areas to maintain public safety and order and to enforce laws and regulations
  • Investigate crimes and accidents, execute search warrants, secure evidence, interview witnesses, compile notes and reports and provide testimony in courts of law
  • Apprehend and arrest criminal suspects
  • Provide emergency assistance to victims of accidents, crimes and natural disasters
  • Participate in crime prevention, public information and safety programs
  • May supervise and co-ordinate the work of other police officers.

Job titles

  • detective - police
  • community relations officer - police
  • RCMP officer
  • police cadet
  • constable
  • police officer
  • crime prevention constable
  • harbour police officer
  • highway patrol officer
  • railway police officer
  • police sergeant
  • police diver
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is required.
  • Completion of a college program or university degree in law and security or in the social sciences is usually required.
  • A three- to six-month police training program is provided.
  • Physical agility, strength, fitness and vision requirements must be met, and psychological or other tests may also be required.
  • Experience as a constable and the completion of specialized courses are required for detectives and sergeants.

Essential Skills


  • Read short notes and e-mail messages from other police officers, informants and members of the public. (1)
  • Read instructions and directions on labels such as operational tags and evidence tags. (1)
  • Read text entries in forms. For example, staff sergeants read junior officers' requests for approval of arrest warrants. Duty officers may scan daily activity logs to review their officers' activities. (2)
  • Read letters and memos from senior officers and other police force members. For example, police detectives read procedural change memos from staff sergeants to fully understand how changes will affect current cases. (2)
  • Read bulletins and articles in magazines and newsletters. For example, municipal police officers may read Blue Line magazine to identify new and best policing practices and to learn about current events in police work. Police dog masters may read Police K-9 magazine to learn about animal behaviour and training. (2)
  • Read notes taken during investigations, detailed statements from witnesses and technical reports provided by experts who investigate crimes and traffic accidents. They review these materials when writing reports and preparing to give testimony in court. (2)
  • May read manuals and handbooks. For example, mounted police constables may read publications such as Youth Justice Committees: A Community Resource Manual to understand and apply policing techniques when dealing with young offenders. Highway patrol officers may review technical handbooks such as The Collision Report Handbook to properly complete accident reports. (3)
  • Read standard operating procedures, policies and protocols to identify proper courses of action for specific situations. For example, vice squad detectives may review the search, seizure and arrest procedures for upcoming drug raids to ensure that they understand their roles and are able to follow the protocols specified. (4)
  • Read the Criminal Code of Canada and similar legislation to understand, interpret and apply laws. For example, when filing charges against young offenders throwing rocks, police constables may read sections of the Criminal Code that describe mischief and vandalism laws. Vice squad detectives may read and interpret lengthy sections of the Code to ensure that they conduct searches in accordance with the Code when collecting evidence in support of charges of drug trafficking. (4)

Document use

  • Observe traffic and warning signs. (1)
  • Locate data in entry forms. For example, police detectives locate dates, addresses and names in orders and warrants that give them authority for police actions such as arrests, searches, seizures and wiretaps. (2)
  • Complete entry forms. For example, harbour police officers complete infraction notices when they apprehend boaters with inadequate safety gear. Police investigators complete accidental death reports when they receive coroners' findings. (2)
  • Locate data in lists and tables. For example, highway patrol officers refer to summary tables of traffic fines according to how many kilometres over the speed limit vehicles travel. Duty officers may scan work schedules to learn about working hours, duty assignments and training sessions. (2)
  • Review sketches and drawings. For example, police detectives may review sketches of suspects and persons of interest. Crime scene technicians may review drawings of crime scenes to identify where primary evidence was located when police officers first arrived. (2)
  • Interpret and locate data in graphs. For example, police constables may interpret graphs in statistical reports that give visual representations of crime statistics over specific periods of time in specified areas. (3)


  • write brief notes to remember details of crime scenes and investigations. For example, during investigations, police detectives write short notes in notebooks to document witnesses' names and other facts. Following minor traffic collisions, traffic patrol officers may write notes to record important points of witnesses' statements. (1)
  • Write letters and e-mails to co-workers, colleagues and members of the general public. For example, police officers may write e-mails to members of other police forces to obtain and distribute information relating to ongoing criminal investigations. (2)
  • May write speaking notes when they present information to the public. For example, community relations officers may write speeches about violent crime for community groups. Staff sergeants may write speaking notes when they provide information to media regarding crimes and investigations. (3)
  • Write lengthy summary reports to document their actions and to organize details of investigations. For example, police detectives may write narrative reports which summarize their interrogations of witnesses and provide their interpretations of interviews. Plain-clothes officers may write reports which provide facts about sting operations and timelines for undercover assignments. They forward these reports to senior officers and crown attorneys to support criminal charges and ensure convictions. (3)


Money Math

  • Add amounts of money to establish total fines. (1)
  • Count money confiscated as evidence and held for prisoners. (1)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • May develop and monitor budgets for small programs and projects. For example, community relations officers may develop budgets for community drug awareness seminars. (2)
  • May schedule other police officers for specific duties such as crowd control at large events. For example, duty officers may create work schedules for security at special events such as visits by foreign dignitaries. (2)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure speeds and blood alcohol concentrations using specialized equipment. For example, patrol officers calibrate and use radar guns to measure vehicular speeds. They use breathalysers to measure the blood alcohol content of impaired drivers. (2)
  • May calculate directions and speeds of vehicles involved in traffic accidents. They use skid mark measurements and other data to determine how accidents occurred. (4)

Data Analysis Math

  • Compare counts, measurements and instrument readings to legal limits to determine if laws have been broken. (1)
  • Analyze statistics relevant to their assignments. For example, highway patrol officers may analyze the number of non-fatal and fatal vehicle accidents on specific stretches of their patrol routes. Drug squad officers may analyze statistics on marijuana growing operations by city zones to identify trends. (2)
  • May determine timelines and sequences for crime events using data such as body temperatures, blood splatters and gun shot residues. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate times, distances, angles, heights, areas and volumes. For example, police investigators may estimate response times from their present locations to the scenes of crimes, the angles at which weapons were used in assaults and the heights and weights of persons fleeing from the scenes of crimes. (1)
  • Estimate numbers of people in crowds. For example, patrol officers may estimate sizes of unruly crowds at demonstrations so they can call for appropriate numbers of reinforcements. (2)

Oral communication

  • Discuss ongoing policing activities with co-workers, colleagues and supervisors. For example, duty officers speak to co-workers to learn about events on other shifts and to establish tasks that still need to be completed. (2)
  • Talk to dispatchers and emergency operators using police radios and cellular telephones. For example, harbour police officers may speak to emergency operators to learn details of public disturbances on docks. Narcotics squad detectives may talk to dispatchers to request additional backup personnel prior to carrying out drug raids. (2)
  • Ask questions, answer questions and give verbal instructions to members of the general public. For example, traffic patrol officers ask drivers at checkpoints for their licenses, registrations and insurance certificates. Highway patrol officers comfort and give information to people who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents. (2)
  • Give testimony and present evidence in courts and inquiries. For example, patrol officers may testify under oath about the actions of persons accused of assaults and describe their observations upon arriving at the scenes of crimes and accidents. (3)
  • May give presentations and lead discussions on various topics related to law enforcement. For example, community relations officers give presentations on bullying, vandalism and drug use to groups of high school students. Crime prevention constables may present information about on-line fraud and protection at seniors' centres and nursing homes. Police detectives leading investigations into neighbourhood violence may discuss these problems with condominium boards, community groups and neighbourhood watch committees. (3)
  • Give clear and concise verbal instructions to control the actions of others. For example, police sergeants may give precise instructions to groups of police officers, firefighters and medical personnel when they are responding to public disturbances and threats of terrorism. Vice squad detectives may threaten the use of deadly force and order potentially violent suspects to drop weapons and lie on the ground during drug raids. (4)
  • Question suspects, witnesses and informants to establish the facts of criminal cases. For example, detectives may use an adversarial and forceful tone to elicit facts from reluctant witnesses. Drug investigators may interrogate informants to track drug traffickers' movements in their areas. (4)


Problem Solving

  • Arrive at accident, crime and disaster scenes without sufficient backup and support. They isolate and control the areas as much as possible and call for additional police and emergency support staff. (2)
  • Must discontinue investigations, patrols and enforcement actions because their vehicles and equipment malfunction. They report the faults and malfunctions to dispatchers and their superiors and request replacement vehicles and equipment. (2)
  • Cannot adequately support charges and prosecutions because evidence has been lost or contaminated. They inform senior officers and prosecutors so that decisions can be made regarding the conduct of criminal cases. (2)
  • Find that their investigations are impeded by uncooperative citizens who will not leave accident scenes and by witnesses who will not provide statements. They may try to physically remove bystanders and loiterers from accident scenes and isolate witnesses in patrol cars until they provide detailed statements. They are careful not to harm uncooperative bystanders and not to detain witnesses without reasonable causes. (3)
  • Discover that civilians and bystanders are endangered by their proximity to policing activities, such as raids, seizures and possible hostage negotiations. For example, vice squad detectives may find that residents of apartments in large complexes must be evacuated before they raid individual apartments containing suspected drug labs. Police may maintain evacuations until areas of operations are again secure and do not present a hazard to members of the public. (4)

Decision Making

  • Choose routes, areas and locations to patrol. For example, traffic officers choose the quickest routes to reach ongoing pursuits of suspects' vehicles. (1)
  • May decide to restrict entry to crime scenes, dangerous areas and public events in order to maintain the integrity of investigations and public safety. For example, police detectives restrict entry at scenes of homicides until forensic specialists complete their investigations. (2)
  • Decide to charge, hold and release suspects. They consider the evidence linking suspects to crimes, their past criminal histories and the likelihood that they will take flight. For example, police detectives may decide to release suspects who have been charged with minor offences and have no criminal records. (3)
  • Decide to call for back up, emergency support and special police expertise at crime, accident and disaster scenes. For example, traffic officers may decide to abandon suspect pursuits when entering highly populated areas and school zones. (3)
  • Decide to stop vehicles, question individuals and investigate activities when they suspect that crimes have been committed. For example, highway patrol officers may decide to stop vehicles when they suspect that drivers are impaired. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • May judge the safety and security of public events. For example, security officers may consider the number of access and exit points, the quality of fencing and the numbers of people attending large outdoor concerts to determine if these events are hazardous for the public. (2)
  • May judge the effectiveness of presentations they deliver. For example, to determine if their presentations are successful, community services officers review comments made and questions asked by audience members. They may ask co-workers who attended their presentations for criticism. (3)
  • Evaluate the dangers posed by criminal activity, accidents and disasters. For example, patrol officers consider the risks that high-speed chases pose for other drivers and pedestrians. Highway patrol officers review road conditions, visibilities and traffic congestion near vehicular accident scenes to determine potential dangers to their personal safety. (4)
  • Evaluate the veracity of statements provided by witnesses and suspects. For example, harbour police investigating thefts from boats may review statements provided by boat owners and witnesses to corroborate sets of facts and judge the truthfulness of statements. Police detectives investigating violent assaults examine physical evidence and review witnesses' statements to determine the honesty of suspects' statements. (4)

Job Task Planning and Organizing Own Job Planning and Organizing

Police officers plan job tasks such as patrolling, investigating crimes, presenting evidence and testimony in courts and completing reports and data collection forms. They are often forced to reschedule job tasks so that they can respond to calls for assistance from their communities. When attending accident and crime scenes and when carrying out investigations, police officers follow procedures.

Planning and Organizing for Others

Non-commissioned officers may create duty rosters and assign specific job tasks to junior officers and volunteers.

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember physical details and names of habitual criminals.
  • Remember names and physical locations of buildings, routes and access points to parks and other public areas.
  • Remember sections of the Criminal Code of Canada so that they can quickly prepare criminal charges.

Finding Information

  • Find information about their patrol areas and neighbourhoods. For example, they make conscious efforts to speak to local residents, observe local events and gatherings and review criminal statistics and trends in their patrol areas. (2)
  • Find information about criminal methods and organizations. For example, police investigators may speak to former members of street gangs and organized crime syndicates about their experiences with various crimes. They may read biographies written by criminals and accounts of investigations written by former police officers. (2)
  • Find information about criminals and those suspected of criminal activity. They interview members of the public, discuss cases with fellow officers, search criminal information databases and read transcripts from previous court appearances. They observe suspects surreptitiously, may eavesdrop electronically and conduct searches of vehicles and buildings. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use word processing software. For example, they write logs that are accessible to other officers. (2)
  • May use graphics software. For example, they may create and edit educational material for public presentations using presentation software such as PowerPoint. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they may access the Police Information Retrieval System to find addresses, aliases and criminal histories of known criminals. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they send e-mail messages and attached reports to inform supervisors about ongoing investigations and prosecutions. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they may search Internet sites to find information on specific medical conditions such as schizophrenia. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Teamwork is essential to successful and safe police work. Although they may by physically alone in many situations, they are always connected to co-workers by radio. Police officers may coordinate and integrate job tasks with other professionals such as fire fighters, emergency medical technicians and educators. (4)

Continuous Learning

Police officers' work assignments are varied so police officers may receive specialized training in subjects such as public speaking, advanced computer use, collision reconstruction, hostage negotiation and forensic accounting. Much of the learning undertaken by police officers is accomplished through on-the-job activities and through interaction with other police officers. Police officers are required to re-qualify and maintain proficiency in a number of skills such as the use of firearms and self-defense. (3)