Police Officer Ranks

Police officer ranks vary from state to state to a degree, but most major cities follow the same basic ranking system. It’s built on a military ranking system with each rank having a higher-ranked officer to oversee the lower ranks. The higher-ranking officers have put more time into the uniform and can advise or reprimand a lower ranking officer.

Patrol Officer

A patrol officer is on the street dealing with the day-to-day calls from the public. They are graduates of the police academy. Every patrol officer has extensive training in weapons, police procedures, first aid and patrol procedures. Every patrol officer will have a partner while they are out patrolling the streets. This keeps officers safer when they enter dangerous situations.


To enter the police academy, potential cadets must have a high school diploma and a clean criminal record. The candidate must pass a physical exam and be able to pass the training requirements of the academy.


At this point in an officer’s career, he or she will be taken from a patrol car and assigned a department. In many cities, the detectives will switch departments on a set rotation time. Detectives can work in major crimes, robbery and homicide, organized crime and vice as well as economic crimes and drugs. There are more departments in larger cities, while in smaller cities, these departments are often combined. The detective grade is ranked from 3rd grade to 1st grade. Each is a promotion within the police force. In some cities, the detective isn’t considered a rank. It’s considered to be at the same level as a patrol officer but with different duties.


The detective will have to spend time as a patrol officer before being promoted. A sergeant or lieutenant will have to see the potential of the detective candidate to promote.


In some cities, this is the rank after patrol officer. It depends on the jurisdiction. Each city or state has a set ranking system. This is the first supervisory position in the police department, so officers must have a well-rounded education as well as years of experience as a patrol officer or detective. There’s an exam that potential sergeants must take before they can be promoted to a supervisory role. It covers decision making, conflict resolution and coaching knowledge. A sergeant will be responsible for training sessions, overseeing officer duties and patrol areas depending on the department that the sergeant is assigned.


A passing score on the civil service examination is required for a sergeant. The officer must have years of patrol or detective duties too.


The rank after sergeant is lieutenant. This rank takes a supervisory role for the entire department. The lieutenant is considered to be an administrative role, and the lieutenant is often at a desk performing administrative tasks like budgeting to keep the department running smoothly. The sergeant will report the work of the detectives to the lieutenant for major decisions and progress reports. The lieutenant is often in direct contact with the higher ranking officials within the police department.


A sergeant must take an exam to be considered for a position as lieutenant. Not everyone who has taken the exam will be promoted to lieutenant. There are limited positions in each department for a lieutenant.


The rank of captain has control over the entire department. This rank answers directly to the chief of police and city officials. In some cities, there are three ranks of captain before the person is in line for a chief of police appointment. This depends on the size of the city and its ranking system. They could stand in the place of police commanders and deputy chiefs. The captain will supervise the entire department and oversee the overall duties of its officers. The captain will ensure that his or her department is functioning correctly in accordance with departmental policies.


Many captains have networked with important people within the department. They have a degree in criminal justice, and many years of exemplary service within the police department. It can take over 10 years to advance in rank and experience to become a police captain.

Chief of Police

The chief of police is the highest ranking role in the police department. This rank deals with city officials and attends community events. The chief of police will often be seen talking to news organizations when there are major police investigations. This rank of police officer will oversee all police precincts within the city. If there are three precincts within the city limits, the captain of each precinct will answer to the chief of police. The chief of police answers to the mayor of the city and other officials.


The chief of police role is a competitive one since there are many qualified captains or deputy chiefs interested in the position. Each candidate must have years of stellar service within the police force. Most chief of police candidates should have a bachelor’s degree. It can take over 20 years for an officer to climb the ladder to become a chief.

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