12 Key Skills You Need to Be a Police Officer

Close-up of two uniformed police officers from behind patrolling a street

Deciding to become a police officer is a career choice that should not be taken lightly. It can be a highly stressful and dangerous job, and it takes a certain set of unique skills and characteristics to be successful in the role.

As a result, it’s a profession that’s not for everybody.

To give you an idea of whether or not you’d potentially be suitable, we’ve compiled a brief list of what it takes to operate in the line of duty. These are the 12 key skills needed to be a police officer.

1. Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively is an absolute must for a police officer, especially when dealing with members of the public. In potentially unsafe situations, for example, such as when apprehending a potentially armed and/or dangerous suspect, you need to be firm and clear in your instructions. Alternatively, when dealing with a witness or a person of interest in an investigation, you need to be able to extract important information.

You will also need to communicate well with your partner, especially in instances where there is the potential for danger, as well as with your other colleagues and other emergency services personnel, such as firefighters or paramedics.

2. Diplomacy

Part of being a good communicator is understanding the right tone and approach to take when dealing with different kinds of people. For example, when taking a statement from a victim of a violent or sexual crime, you would need to demonstrate tact and sensitivity, while the ability to be diplomatic will serve you well when interacting with members of the public.

3. Decision-Making Skills

As a police officer, you never know what kind of situation you might be in on any given day. Therefore, you need to be able to think quickly and clearly on your feet and make good decisions under intense pressure.

In the early stages of your career, this might involve managing the outcome of a callout in a particular way, but as your career evolves and you take on more responsibility, your decisions could potentially affect the welfare of your colleagues – particularly if you work within a dynamic unit, such as armed response, for instance.

4. Attention to Detail

Being constantly aware of what’s going around you and being able to pick up on small signs or signals is something that you will develop with experience on the job, but you still need to be a fundamentally diligent person. Indeed, if you want to progress into a detective role, particularly within homicide, narcotics or fraud, being attentive to detail is one of the definitive requirements.

5. Writing Skills

Although it’s not the most popular – or glamorous – part of the job, writing reports is a fundamental and mandatory duty for a police officer. They act as an official record of the respective callout or incident that you attended and are, therefore, admissible in court.

Most police forces will assess your basic writing and note-taking skills during the recruitment process, so ensure that they are up to scratch before you apply.

6. Physical Endurance

As a junior police officer, both during your training and while out on patrol, it’s essential that you maintain a basic level of physical fitness.

You will need to be able to restrain suspects (within legal means) or, on some occasions, give chase on foot. It’s not just about being able to look after yourself out on the ground, though.

Police work can be highly stressful and involve long hours, so the fitter you are physically, the easier it will be to cope with the demands of the job.

7. Cultural Awareness

This is an attribute that any modern police officer needs to have, particularly during a time when the behaviour of law enforcement professionals is under public and political scrutiny.

At its core, police work is about understanding the community that you serve, so you need to be aware of the customs and practices of the many groups of people within those communities, especially if you work in a large city with a more diverse population. It will also make your job a lot easier, as people will be more willing to work with you if you demonstrate respect and courtesy for their culture.

8. Problem-Solving Skills

The ability to approach problems and find solutions in a quick and logical manner is a highly valuable skill for a police officer. For example, it can help you to solve disputes and reach a compromise between two conflicting parties before a situation escalates further, or it can enable you to find a breakthrough during a particularly tough and complex investigation.

9. Professionalism

Police officers are public servants who uphold the law and, therefore, are held to the highest moral and ethical standards. This means that your behaviour needs to be exemplary at all times, including when not on duty, and that you should never be provoked or lose your cool.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being verbally or physically abused, then it’s vital that you are able to remain professional and continue to do your job within the remit of the law.

10. Conflict Resolution Skills

It’s highly likely that a large proportion of the incidents you are called to will involve some level of dispute, whether they are played out in public or within somebody’s home. Therefore, the ability to diffuse a potentially explosive situation is highly useful, particularly if drugs or alcohol are involved.

This may involve physically separating the two conflicting parties in order to calm things down, or using tact and diplomacy to talk people around. Either way, creating an environment where the potential for danger is lessened and which allows you to get the full story is better and safer for everyone.

11. Emotional Intelligence

In much of your day-to-day police work, you will be dealing with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Being emotionally intelligent to understand their motivations and behaviour will make you a far more rounded and effective police officer. It will also make you a better communicator, especially when dealing with suspects and witnesses.

12. Persuasive Skills

Being able to persuade people to do what you want is another big asset for a police officer, particularly in situations where you are dealing with somebody who is offering resistance or does not want to co-operate. This could involve persuading a witness to testify or give a statement when they don’t want to get involved, or explaining to a suspect that it is not in their interest to be uncompliant.

As you can see, police officers require a very specific set of skills – many of which will be tested to the limit at some point in their career. It’s also worth noting that many of these skills and attributes require some development, which is why police forces tend to not employ many cadets straight out of school.

With a little life experience and a lot of self-awareness, however, it’s entirely possible to present yourself as a suitable candidate, especially if you have a full understanding of what policing entails and how you can be a positive addition to your respective force.

What other professional skills do you think are important for a police officer? Let us know in the comments section below!