Learn The Ranking Order in Police Departments

Want to know more about a police agency’s hierarchy? 
We share a comprehensive look inside a police department’s rank structure.

Table of Contents

3 Reasons Why Police Hierarchy Matters


The hierarchy of a Police Dept is important to the sustained success of an agency. A clearly defined hierarchy creates a path of accountability for every officer within the Agency.


Police development happens at all levels of an agency. Patrol Officers look to supervision to help develop work skills, answer questions and draw on their work experience.


A hierarchy helps to establish efficient communication pathways between entry level officers, units and divisions within the agency. The supervisor of each shift feed relevant information to higher ranking officers.

Watch Police Rank & What Do They Mean

What Are The Ranks of Police Officers

If you choose to work in law enforcement, you expect to advance through the ranks as you gain the right skills. While the general timeline can give an idea of what to expect, not every police career path is the same. If things go your way, you expect to earn the job title `chief of police’.

When it comes to the police officer rank in order, titles like police captain or police corporal can be a bit confusing. But don’t fear – we’ve done the legwork for you. Here is a rundown of the police rank structure that is commonly found in municipal police organizations.

1. Police technician

A police technician handles a backlog of non-violent crimes like smaller crime investigations, directing traffic after an accident, issuing parking tickets, etc. In case of an accident, they inspect the scene of a crime, fill out the forms, take notes, and process the evidence. What’s more, they collect information on lost or stolen items. But due to the nature of their work, they don’t carry any weapon.

Police technicians can carry out administrative duties, storing evidence, and restricting access to unauthorized areas. The main goal is to ensure everyone is being treated equally and filling in the cracks of the justice system – no matter how small or big the case is.

Prior to hire, a police technician must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some employers may require that you complete a specific number of undergraduate coursework or have an associate’s degree. The officer must also undergo a drug and fitness test. While no experience is necessary, one may be required to have a valid driver’s license.

2. Patrol officer or police detective

A patrol officer may have different job descriptions depending on the employer. If you hear the term police officer or detective, they all mean the same. They must collect facts or evidence of possible crimes. Also, a patrol officer can respond to emergency calls, arrest suspects, and testify in court.

A detective can apprehend people who break the law and investigate suspicious activity. In addition to that, he will issue traffic tickets, citations, and conduct traffic stops. Generally, your job duty will depend on whether you work for a local or federal agency. But regardless of the duty or location, the detective will carry enforcement tools like handcuffs, radio, and guns.

Some police officers or detectives may work in a specific type of crime. You can work in units like narcotics or even join Special Weapons and Tactics Team. You can also work anywhere in the state or be called to work in rural areas.

Some detectives are uninformed and can specialize in investigating fraud or homicide. They are usually assigned cases regularly. Although they are scheduled to work full time, the more experienced officers are given preference to work part-time. Junior police officers are required to work even during weekends or holidays because public protection is provided around the clock.

The specific job requirement will depend on local regulations and employers. Apart from completing the relevant training academy, an officer should have a high school diploma or a degree. In certain geographical regions, a detective may be required to know the foreign language.

3. Corporal

A police corporal is responsible for overseeing, training, organizing, and directing activities as instructed by a sergeant or law enforcement personnel. In addition to the supervisory activities, he will take over the duties of a sergeant in case of his absence. Those who work in small agencies will often act as watch commanders but may also apply to the non-supervisory role. Any officer who differentiates himself or herself from the rest can be promoted to a corporal to acknowledge the efforts.

4. Sergeant

The duties of a sergeant will depend on the employment agency. They weigh in on disciplinary actions, train personnel, and help to develop new policies. Besides that, they guide police employees in their daily activities. And in the absence of a lieutenant, they will assume the command of the daily operations. A sergeant can also perform administrative duties like conducting performance evaluations and enforcing regulations.

If you want to be a successful police sergeant, you must build a relationship with the other members of your department. You must also educate the staff about regulatory changes and enforce strict adherence to policies. Of course, you require at least three to five years of police experience.

In terms of qualifications, you need a high school diploma, degree in criminal justice, and experience in an accredited law enforcement agency. A sergeant must also have strong communication skills, knowledge of organizational structure, and the ability to provide legal depositions. Of course, a police sergeant must liaise with the subordinates and upper management. He should have strong interpersonal leadership abilities.

5. Lieutenant

A lieutenant operates within the leadership structure as part of his job duties. He or she receives direction from superiors and then directs it to sergeants and detectives. Lieutenants can also assign the staff and set a work schedule for employees. In addition to that, they do performance reviews and identify the needs of a specific department.

Police lieutenants also work with law enforcement agencies in their area and can conduct civic meetings. To get promotion to this rank, you must exhibit strong leadership skills and demonstrate the ability to lead the public.

While lieutenants aren’t directors, they often hire and train employees. They can also correct subordinate officers to ensure they adhere to the set regulations. Keep in mind, a lieutenant ensures the police officers connect to sergeants and other senior ranking officials.

When a lieutenant is not in the field, he will perform administrative tasks like maintaining arrest, fingerprinting, and ensuring all books are properly recorded. A lieutenant will also take a record of all the seized weapons, identification documents, and witness testimonies.

6. Captain

Police captains report to police chiefs and help to manage all the activities of the department. They monitor the budgets, train personnel, and enforce department policies. Other duties include allocating resources to each section of the division and analyze crime data. A police captain will also provide information to the press about any on-going investigations. He conducts interviews with suspects and prepares the necessary reports to file charges.

The police captain assumes the supervisory role by ensuring the subordinates get the necessary training to resolve all issues. When not needed in the headquarters office, he will patrol the area to see what the police officers are doing. To be a police captain, you should learn how to use the computerized information systems used by the state.

Police captains are required to have a degree in criminal justice, a master’s degree, or its equivalent. In addition to that, one must have at least 3 years’ supervisory police experience. Another prerequisite for the appointment is passing a medical or psychiatric examination. Appointees may also be required to have a valid driver’s license which is necessary for performing essential duties.

Some of the knowledge and abilities include formulating rules and regulations in a police department, providing the public with the right information, and apprehending lawbreakers. Finally, he must have the skills to give directions when working under stressful situations.

7. Assistant Police Chief/ Deputy Chief

Deputy police chiefs are also known at other agencies as an Assistant Police Chief helps in the administration of a division and technical staff personnel. They stand prepared to act as the police chief if need be.

A deputy police chief provides direction to subordinate officers, conduct internal investigations, and takes actions when required. Secondly, he supervises all functions related to the communication center and the issuance of licenses. Thirdly, he participates in investigations of criminal law violations and prepares a case to file the charges.

Deputy police chiefs have a huge role to play in crime prevention and will often oversee budget decisions. They also ensure all departments stay up-to-date with the current laws. To assume this role, you must have a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement like criminal justice or its equivalent. A master’s degree can be an added advantage.

A deputy police chief should have advanced knowledge of the town geography and modern law enforcement principles. On top of that, he must have the ability to exercise good judgment in different situations. Finally, he must acquire skills on how to use specialized law enforcement computer systems and general office computer programs.

A deputy police chief requires several years of experience in a law enforcement position. In some agencies, you may be required to go through the FBI National Academy.

8. Chief of Police, Police Superintendent, or Commissioner

A police chief (also can be police superintendent and/or commissioner) is a visible leader in government and represents the top authority in the police department. His role is to oversee the programs of the department and increase the effectiveness in investigations. Most police chiefs are appointed and work closely with city government officials. They direct systems that maintain records and handle departments’ budgets in case of crisis.

As a high-profile leader in the enforcement agency, these officers ensure no incidences happen under their watch. If things aren’t going as expected, they will face criticism from local politicians, activists, and political leaders. The most successful police chiefs are more educated and have some background in politics.

9. Police Dispatchers

Although 911 police dispatchers aren’t part of the ranking order within a police agency, they play such a critical role that I had to mention them. Police Dispatchers have their own Hierarchy from entry level dispatcher to supervision.  Many law enforcement agencies employ civilians to run and operate the dispatch division, but some agencies like Detroit Police Department have sworn personnel who run the unit.

10. Police Records

Similar to police dispatchers, the records unit is a very important part of any police agency. The records division isn’t part of the ranking order within the police department’s ranking structure, but I thought it was important to mention them. In many agencies, the records division is usually headed by a sworn police officer like a Captain or a Lieutenant.

How to climb the police ranks

While the police ranks may look extensive, they provide a lot of room for career advancement. Some departments will skip the ranks, so you should understand what law enforcement looks like.

If you want to climb up the ranks, you should show talents in a particular duty or job. Also, you should advance the level of education – formally and practically. The higher positions are appointed, so you may want to be friendly to the ruling politicians. Keep in mind that the ranking structure of police officers will depend on the employer.

How much can Police officers earn as they move up the ranks?

It’s important to keep in mind that  ranking salaries can vary from agency to agency, and from state to state. However, according to the BLS, the median salary for sworn full-time positions in 2019 were the following:

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