Some states make probation officers fully sworn peace officers, while other states do not.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain what each type of officer does and how their duties are different.
Probation Officer vs Police Officer: What’s The Difference?
What Is a Probation Officer?
A probation officer is a supervisory figure who helps people in the criminal justice system reform their lives.
They work with offenders who have been sentenced to probation by a court, and provide them with guidance and support to help them stay on the right track.
Specifically, they might:
- Monitor offenders to make sure they are complying with the terms of their probation
- Perform home visits
- Talk to offenders and their families
- Provide support and guidance to offenders to help them stay compliant
- Work with other agencies to provide offenders with access to services that can help them turn their lives around
- Keep detailed records of offenders’ progress
- Prepare reports for courts and other agencies
- Liaise with victims of crime, where appropriate
- Report to the court about the offenders’ compliance (or non-compliance)
- Testify at hearings about the offenders’ compliance or non-compliance
Probation officers differ from correctional officers in that they work outside of the correctional facility, rather than in it.
Probation officers often carry firearms, but usually not because they job requires it.
Of course, this may vary from state to state, as some states will require advance authorization to open carry or conceal carry while on the job, while others will not, and some states make the firearm a requirement.
Probation officers generally do not have to go through the same training as police officers, though it is likely that there will be training through the state’s Department of Public Safety and Standards agency.
Probation officers generally don’t wear a uniform, though they might wear clothing marked with the agency they work for to help the public identify them and trust them.
Their powers and authority to detain people, investigate crimes, or take action beyond supervision is defined specific by statute.
In some states, their powers are the equivalent of a police officer, while in others, their powers are extremely limited.
Background, Training, and Skills Necessary To Become a Probation Officer
According to current advertisements to hire probation officers, most agencies looking to hire want to see:
- a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work, or behavioral science
- be at least 21 years old
- be able to pass a substance screen
- background check
- valid driver’s license
We did not find any listings for probation officers that require the training and certifications of a police officer or peace officer.
What Is a Police Officer? (Or a Peace Officer?)
A police officer is an individual who has sworn to enforce the laws of the state he is located in.
They work in a variety of different roles, from patrolling the streets to investigating crimes.
Specifically, police officers:
- Respond to emergency calls
- Patrol the streets
- Investigate crimes
- Make arrests
- Give evidence in court
- Work with other agencies to prevent and solve crime
- Keep the peace
To become a police officer, many of the requirements for a probation officer are required.
But police officers go through very different training, and have to meet many very rigorous standards in order to work as an officer.
Police officers wear a uniform while on the job.
The office of a police officer is separate and apart from that of probation officers.
The various law enforcement agencies (city, state, county) might not even be the same as the probation department, which could be city, state, or county.
These are different agencies with different supervisors, budget, rules, officers, and chain of command.
But again, in some states (like Texas), the probation officer is elevated to the same status and power as that of a police officer.
Can a Probation Officer Become a Police Officer?
If a probation officer can meet the basic requirements and standards of the local jurisdiction, as well as complete the required training, then sure, a probation officer can become a police officer.
But this transition is not a simple lateral move.
Can a Police Officer Become a Probation Officer?
Yes, so long as the police officer can meet the basic requirements and standards of the local jurisidiction.
Former police officers actually make great probation officers, because of their vast experience and understanding of the laws, the courts, processes, and individuals.
It is much easier for a police officer to become a probation officer than it is for a probation officer to become a police officer.
Are Probation Officers Usually Police Officers?
No, probation officers are generally not police officers.
In fact, former police officers have to give up their status as an officer or reserve officer to become a probation officer.
Is a Probation Officer a Peace Officer?
It depends on the state you live in.
In some states, a probation officer is not a peace officer, and in other places, probation officers are peace officers.
Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?
Browse our free legal library guides for more information.
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