What is the difference between a police officer and a peace officer?

What is the difference between a police officer and a peace officer?
What is the difference between a police officer and a peace officer?

In Canada, police and peace officers are specialized enforcement groups who keep the peace and uphold laws and regulations. Uniformed police officers, correctional facility or correctional officers, military members and peace officers are all responsible for maintaining order and ensuring citizens abide by the law. The ultimate purpose of these roles is to foster safe, just, equitable and peaceful communities for all.

Often, there is confusion about the differences between peace officers and police officers. For example, although a police officer is eligible to work as a peace officer, a peace officer is not eligible to work as a police officer. Police officers and peace officers have similar objectives in their role: to uphold the safety and security of the individuals, communities and institutions they protect. However, the two positions have different responsibilities, job requirements, credentials and titles.

What is a Police Officer?

Working as a police officer in Canada is a rewarding career that allows you to be of service to your community. Professionals working in law enforcement must be motivated team players and strong communicators. In addition, police officers in Canada must prioritize relationship-building by working with diverse communities and interacting respectfully and supportively with individuals.

The job market is changing for police officers. More organizations require policing applicants to obtain a post-secondary college or university degree to be eligible to become a police officer. To meet the minimum education requirements to become a police officer, you must complete a high school diploma or equivalent. However, obtaining a post-secondary degree is now required in select provinces and earning a policing degree can help you stand out from other applicants.

The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General has proposed a requirement that all applicants complete a college diploma or degree to become eligible to apply for a police officer position. This legislation is expected to be granted royal assent later in 2023. As a result, a post-secondary degree in criminology or policing can significantly increase employability.

Police Officer Job Description

Police officers are responsible for protecting the public and keeping communities safe. Police officers monitor and mitigate crime to maintain law and order. They are bound and governed by federal and provincial legislation and regulation and are subject to principles outlined in their province or territory. Police officers work with communities and individuals to uphold public safety through crime prevention and law enforcement, with the ultimate goal of preventing crime, assisting victims of crime, apprehending criminals, executing warrants and preserving peace.

Members of the police services are part of a diverse and inclusive team that shares a passion for keeping communities safe by engaging in everything from collecting evidence to pursuing suspects and comforting victims. Police officers are critical to public safety and well-being.

Police Officer Job Duties

Depending on their designated province, department and level of experience, a police officer in Canada performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Patrols assigned areas to maintain public safety, enforce laws and regulations, and be visible and available to the community.
  • Investigates crimes and accidents, conducts search warrants, collects evidence, interviews witnesses and gathers notes and reports.
  • Apprehends and arrests criminal suspects.
  • Writes reports after arresting individuals or writing tickets to validate a detailed account of the events.
  • Provides testimony in a court of law.
  • Responds to emergencies and provides emergency assistance to victims when necessary.
  • Raises public awareness and participates in educational training, crime prevention and safety programs.

Police Officer Job Titles

Police officers have access to numerous roles and opportunities within the services. They can work in different specialized roles, from highway patrol to detective work or management. The following list of bureaus offers employment opportunities for those working for a Canadian police agency:

  • Detective Operations
  • Emergency Task Force
  • Forensic Services
  • Canine Services
  • Marine Services
  • Mounted Unit
  • Highway Patrol
  • Drug Enforcement

Police Officer Employment Requirements

Both police officers and peace officers must undergo rigorous training and obtain the appropriate credentials and education to work in Canada. The hiring process for police officers in Canada is extensive and can include five to 10 steps to screen for the top candidates.

According to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, professionals interested in becoming police officers must first fulfill the following employment requirements:

  • Must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.
  • Must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Must meet the physical agility, strength, fitness and vision requirements.
  • Must undergo psychological or other tests related to mental health and well-being.
  • Must demonstrate good moral character.
  • Must complete at least four years of secondary school education and earn a high-school diploma or equivalent (GED).
  • Complete a three- to six-month police training program.
  • Must possess a valid driver’s license with no more than six demerit points.
  • Must have certification in Standard First Aid and Level "C" CPR.
  • Must pass security clearance and background, credit and reference checks.
  • In select provinces, applicants must complete a post-secondary college or university degree in policing or related discipline.

Police Officer Employment Requirements

What is a Peace Officer?

Peace officers help keep communities safe and enforce laws that protect communities and public facilities. The government employs peace officers for sheriffs, conservation officers, fish and wildlife officers, hospitals, traffic enforcement programs, Indigenous communities and more. According to the Government of Canada’s Criminal Code, peace officers are justified to intervene when they witness a breach of peace and are authorized to arrest an individual (or individuals) for violating the peace. For example, a peace officer may take action to suppress a riot or defend a person or property from harm.

Peace Officer Job Description

Depending on the role, peace officers may have a wide range of duties, including enforcing municipal bylaws, provincial acts and legislation, conducting investigations and answering inquiries.

Peace Officer Job Duties

A peace officer’s roles and responsibilities vary depending on where they work. For example, municipalities in rural areas may hire peace officers to regulate fishing and hunting regulations. In urban areas, peace officers respond to vehicle, traffic and parking enforcement. Peace officers’ roles and responsibilities may include:

  • Responding to complaints, investigating and enforcing municipal bylaws, provincial statutes and legislation.
  • Carrying out arrests, with or without a warrant, and using force when necessary to prevent individuals from escaping.
  • Taking reasonable action to prevent and suppress riots.
  • Issuing tickets, laying charges, processing subpoenas, helping to prosecute, and representing the municipality in a court of law.
  • Appearing and testifying in court.
  • Keeping detailed records and reports.
  • Educating the public on municipal bylaws and bylaw services.
  • Representing bylaw services at community events, including municipal meetings.

Peace Officer Job Titles

Peace officers work as public-sector employees to uphold the law in various areas. Some job titles include:

  • Conservation Officer
  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Municipal Law Enforcement Officers
  • Campus Police
  • Auxiliary Police
  • Fishery Officer or Fishery Guardian
  • Bailiff

Peace Officer Employment Requirements

When hiring a peace officer, Canada's only mandatory educational requirement is to obtain a high-school diploma or equivalency (GED). However, like police officers, peace officers with post-secondary education will have better job prospects and more advancement opportunities. Peace officers undergo exhaustive training to prepare for their roles, especially those working as correctional, probation or immigration officers.

Launch Your Career With Wilfrid Laurier University’s BA in Policing (BAP)

Wilfrid Laurier University designed the combined Honours BA in Policing (BAP) for passionate and driven professionals interested in jump-starting or furthering their careers as police, or peace officers. Laurier created the program in partnership with law enforcement from across Canada to bridge the gap between the classroom and the field. Civilian members of police services who are interested in becoming police or peace officers can benefit from completing an Online Honours BA in Policing. In this program, students learn about ethics, accountability, criminological theory and models of policing and will build leadership and other in-demand skills designed for policing in the modern world. The foundational values and skills gained from a BAP provide value to police officers and peace officers in their career paths.

Partnered with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has partnered with Wilfrid Laurier University to advance education and learning for police personnel. The partnership’s mandate is to provide educational options for personal and professional development for Ontario police agencies and their members.

Explore the Online BAP Program Curriculum

The BAP curriculum provides the skills to evaluate and apply different perspectives to better operate in a society that often scrutinizes and challenges police actions. Below is a sample list of courses you will be required to complete for the online BAP program:

  • Models of Policing
  • Leadership and Career Development in Law Enforcement
  • Ethics, Corruption, and Police Accountability
  • Indigenous Communities and Policing
  • Cybercrime

Join a Canadian Leader in Online Policing Degrees

The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development recognizes education on crime and justice as areas of institutional strength for Laurier. In addition, Laurier’s academic and institutional tradition thrives in the online space, where a focus on community and inspiring lives of leadership and purpose are shared. Find out more about Laurier’s BA in Policing.