Protective Service - Career Information

Protective Service picture    Protective Service image

Protective service occupations focus on providing communities and individuals with adequate safety and security. These occupations typically provide services such as protecting the public against danger, fighting fires, emergency response, enforcing safety rules and regulations, crime investigations, private detective work, and much more. Individuals will find a variety of protective service jobs in both public and private sectors. Examples of the many types of professions include, but are not limited to:

  • Correctional Officers and Jailers
  • Detectives and Criminal Investigators
  • Firefighters
  • Fire Inspectors and Investigators
  • Police and Sheriffs Patrol Officers
  • Private Detectives and Investigators
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
  • Supervisors Of Correctional Officers
  • Supervisors Of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers
  • Supervisors Of Police and Detectives
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

While each profession has its own specific set of characteristics, skills, abilities, and requirements, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that these are some of the most common:

  • Working 40 hours/week that can include overtime, weekends, and evenings
  • Working both indoors and out (with exposure to heat and cold conditions)
  • Interacting and communicating with supervisors, peers, or subordinates throughout a shift
  • For the most part, working as part of a team but with the ability to work alone
  • Often wearing protective and safety attire/gear (although many detectives are "plainclothes investigators")
  • Making decisions, resolving issues, and negotiating (as appropriate)
  • Communicating with individuals from within and outside their organization
  • Working with the public, and at times, in conflict situations
  • Being highly responsible and trustworthy
  • Possessing knowledge of law, government, and jurisprudence
  • Possessing knowledge of protecting people, property, and data

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for protective service professionals may vary drastically in the coming years due to regional factors and local and/or state budgets. However, candidates with a Bachelor's degree or military experience may be in the best position when it comes to securing employment. Overall, the BLS projects that all protective service occupations combined will see a boost in job openings of around 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022.

Top Protective Service Careers (BLS, 2013)

CareerNumber of Workers Nationally in 2013Job DescriptionDegree Requirements
Correctional Officers and Jailers432,680Correctional officers and jailers supervise prison inmates and ensure that all rules and safety measures are being followed. They transport inmates, inspect facilities, and create conduct reports.Most correctional officers only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training. However, correctional officers who work in federal prisons are typically required to hold a Bachelor's degree.
Police Officers639,440Police officers enforce laws, patrol assigned areas, arrest suspects, take detailed notes of criminal activity, create reports, and testify against criminals in court.Most police officers earn a high school diploma before attending a local policy academy and learning the required skills on the job.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators109,960Detectives and criminal investigators investigate crimes and gather evidence. They interview suspects, conduct surveillance, arrest suspects, and testify against them in court.Detectives and criminal investigators typically start as police officers before being promoted. A high school diploma and on-the-job training is the basic requirement for this career. However, detectives and criminal investigators who work for the federal government are usually required to earn a Bachelor's degree.
Firefighters302,870Firefighters rescue victims from dangerous situations, including those involving fire. They use large hoses and massive amounts of water to put out fires and ensure the safety of communities and individuals.Most firefighters need a high school diploma and complete a certain level of postsecondary education in order to earn the various certifications required for this career.
Fire Inspectors and Investigators11,520These workers inspect buildings to ensure they are up to code and free from any fire-related hazards. They create reports, conduct follow-up visits, and keep detailed records.Most fire inspectors and investigators earn a high school diploma and complete on-the-job training as a firefighter or police officer before being promoted. A two-year or four-year degree in fire science may also improve one's job prospects.

Protective Service Career Education

For the most part, individuals entering a career in this field must complete the following steps:

  • Possess a high school diploma or GED. Note that some occupations (e.g., Probation Officer or Supervisor-level roles) require applicants to possess at least a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, Social Work, Public Administration, or a related field. Many universities and technical colleges offer formal degree programs in Criminal Justice. Studies in these programs include criminology, criminal procedure, justice, and communication and management skills.

  • Complete specialized training programs (as applicable to the occupation).

  • Pass a medical exam and drug-screening test.

Special training programs are available and can take anywhere from a few months up to five years to complete. Some fire departments, police departments, and academies offer apprenticeship and special training programs.

While on-the-job training is available for a variety of occupations (e.g., Probation Officer, Police and Detective Supervisors), they also generally require a minimum of three or four years' work-related experience as a prerequisite and can take anywhere from a few to several months to complete. Note that requirements for specific occupations vary by state.

Recognized certification programs and examinations are available. They enhance one's knowledge in a specific occupation or discipline and afford better career opportunities. Requirements vary by state.

The following table uses 2013 BLS data to outline the different degree and certificate options in this field:

Education TypeTimeline for CompletionPossible Careers
Certificate or Academy TrainingAlthough timelines vary considerably depending on the program you choose, many certificate programs can be completed in one year or less. Meanwhile, training academies can take 1-3 years to complete.Correctional Officers and Jailers, Detectives and Criminal Investigators, Firefighters, Fire Inspectors and Investigators, Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Private Detectives and Investigators, Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
AssociateAssociate degrees can typically be completed with two years of full-time study. However, programs completed on a part-time basis may take longer.Fire Inspectors and Investigators
BachelorBachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.Correctional Officers and Jailers, Detectives and Criminal Investigators, Fire Inspectors and Investigators, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Supervisors of Correctional Officers, Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers, Supervisors of Police and Detectives


"Bureau of Labor Statistics," May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15, Correctional Officers,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15, Police and Detectives,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15, Firefighters,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15, Fire Inspectors and Investigators,

Schools for Protective Service are listed in the column to the left.

Careers and Salary Data

This table shows summary data on occupations in the US. Clicking on any occupation name brings you to a page showing job prospects and salaries for that occupation in hundreds of metro areas across the country, with data updated through 2022.(Where data is denoted by an asterisk (*), summary info was not available.

Click each Occupation title for more details.

Protective Service

Median Pay
% Growth
Correctional Officers and Jailers423,050    $45,180    -7.2%
Detectives and Criminal Investigators105,620    $83,170    2.5%
Fire Fighters324,620    $50,850    5.3%
Fire Inspectors and Investigators13,710    $61,660    5.5%
Police and Sheriffs Patrol Officers665,280    $63,150    5.0%
Private Detectives and Investigators35,000    $50,510    7.9%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists88,120    $54,290    3.3%
Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers10,280    $34,190    3.8%
Supervisors Of Correctional Officers46,430    $63,730    -7.5%
Supervisors Of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers69,590    $77,800    5.3%
Supervisors Of Police and Detectives121,340    $91,090    4.8%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Selected Schools for Protective Service (including any online schools)

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