Public Safety Officer vs. Police Officer: What’s the Difference Between These Career Paths?

When you were a kid, you may have enjoyed playing cops and robbers. As an adult, you may still have the utmost respect for law enforcement. Perhaps that respect has grown into a desire to protect and serve. If you are thinking about a career in law enforcement or public safety, you may be wondering what each potential job title entails. Specifically, you may be wondering about the difference between a public safety officer vs. police officer, and which career path is right for you.

With each role comes great responsibility. The brave people who work in public safety and law enforcement are hired to protect their communities. But there are some key differences between these two titles. Read on, as we explore the public safety officer vs. police officer job description and qualifications, as you consider your future.

What is a Public Safety Officer?

A public safety officer serves the public to ensure protection of persons and property. This professional is responsible for patrolling their designated area, safeguarding those nearby, and providing emergency services and response during times of need.

Depending on your city or state, the specific role and job description of a “public safety officer” can vary. The public safety officer title can encompass all of those in the public safety profession – such as police officers, firefighters, animal control officers, and security guards. It can also be used to describe someone who is an officer trained at the police academy, with peace officer powers of arrest. In some instances, public safety officers work to offer security and protection – for example, in neighborhoods, on college campuses, or at businesses – but are unarmed. More than likely, you have seen public safety officers patrolling your high school or university, securing a local jewelry store, or driving around hospital grounds in efforts to keep people safe.

If you know you are interested in the public safety field but are not as sure about the specific role you would like to have, an education in public safety is a great next step to take. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the public safety field is expected to grow over the next decade, adding about 286,400 new jobs between the years 2020 and 2030. Now is the time to get involved.

Specific job qualifications and education requirements vary by job title in the public safety field. However, a Public Safety and Security degree is a great next step that can qualify you for a wide range of roles protecting and serving your community. The program at Goodwin University, for example, emphasizes the development of professional skills and knowledge of public safety, which include:

  • Grant writing
  • Policy analysis
  • Research methodology
  • Risk assessment
  • Safety and security planning

Students interested in this degree can also choose a specific track to help them better prepare for their careers, including Criminal Justice or Homeland Security. The Criminal Justice track focuses on criminal investigation, criminal procedure, and the development of the criminal justice system. Homeland Security keeps students focused on emergency planning, the National Incident Management System, and personal and physical security.

Students leave this program prepared for a variety of careers in public safety, such as:

  • Computer security
  • Corrections
  • Customs and border protection
  • Cybercrime investigation
  • Drug enforcement agency
  • Emergency management
  • Fire science
  • First responders
  • Immigration and customs enforcement
  • Law enforcement
  • Security
  • Transportation security administration

As a public safety professional, you may have the opportunity to join the police force, but you may also consider the other options if you find that you have an interested in those listed above. Depending on where you work, you may also get the opportunity to advance into a leadership role within your organization—largely due to having a bachelor’s degree in hand. Imagine overseeing a team of cyber security officers who investigate big cyber crimes that are impacting millions of people. Or perhaps you see yourself climbing the ranks to become fire chief at your local fire department. The options are limitless within public safety and security, as long as you have a competitive degree to stand out.

What is a Police Officer?

Police officers also play an important role in their communities. They are responsible for maintaining public order, enforcing the law, preventing and detecting criminal activity, as well as safeguarding civilians. Some of their duties include, but are not limited to:

  • Patrolling assigned areas, observing people and activities
  • Conducting traffic stops and issuing citations
  • Arrest those suspected of participating in criminal activity
  • Responding to emergency and non-emergency calls
  • Writing detailed reports and filling out forms
  • Collecting evidence and securing evidence at crime scenes

Police officers are real-life heroes who earn their title by risking their lives to protect and serve. Policing is not only a noble and rewarding profession, but also a role that offers longevity and opportunity for the future: The BLS predicts employment of police and detectives to grow 7 percent between 2020 and 2030, resulting in an additional 67,100 job openings each year. The salary is strong, as well. According to the BLS, the mean wage for police officers in Connecticut is more than $75,500.

The role of the police officer is one that requires physical stamina, patience, and tolerance of stress. Before choosing this path, it may be wise to speak with active and retired police officers for their thoughts on the job. You can also seek out a ride along with your local police department, so you can get a sense of a typical “day-in-the-life” of a police officer.

Just like public safety and security, a career-focused education is the perfect place to start when it comes to pursuing a career as a police officer. The associate degree in Criminal Justice at Goodwin University provides students with the opportunity to experience and learn about all aspects of the criminal justice and law enforcement systems in our country. Students develop critical thinking skills needed for modern-day law enforcement, security, emergency response, and investigative roles. Students who pursue this type of program move on to rewarding careers as police officers, as well as officers in several areas of criminal justice and law enforcement:

  • Corrections
  • Customs and Border Protection
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Law Enforcement
  • Private and Personal Security Agencies
  • Transportation Security Administration

Criminal justice courses at Goodwin are taught by industry professionals – such as retired police officers and lawyers – whose experience can prepare you for your career better than any textbook ever could.

Whether you are interested in criminal justice or public safety and security – in becoming a police officer or public safety officer – there are many options available once you get started in a degree program.

Get Started Today!

Are you ready to jumpstart your career in the public safety or law enforcement field? Learn about both programs at Goodwin University by calling 800-889-3282. Or, visit us online to request more information about our Public Safety and Security Degree or the Criminal Justice Programs.