How to become a Police Officer
This article gives you insight and valuable tips on how to become a police officer along with questions and answers typically asked by people searching for information on the law enforcement hiring process. If you are wondering where to start out you are not alone. The process can be long and complicated if you don't have guidance from a direct mentor who may already be employed in the field. If you do not have a mentor at this time and are alone trying to navigate yourself through the weeks of becoming a police officer you have landed on the right blog article.
Police officers are a part of the criminal justice system and most are employed by government agencies such as a state, city, county or local municipality. Some police officers are fully sworn under state law and work for private companies or railroads. The big difference here would be several things; jurisdiction, financial strength of the company, retirement and benefits.
Why become a police officer?
Being a police officer can be one of the most fulfilling jobs you can find. Qualified candidates will enter the police academy and start out with a rewarding experience alongside other men and women who share the same excitement and commitment. At the commencement of the law enforcement training you will embark on a career that can take you down many different paths with only you at the drivers seat.
The job itself is challenging but the brotherhood and camaraderie can't be found in many other jobs. As of 2021 the average US Police Officer salary was 15% higher than all other average U.S. salaries. Many Police Officers nationwide are part of a collective bargaining unit or union who are able to represent police officers at the bargaining table for better health insurance, time off and pay.
With tens of thousands of law enforcement agencies in the United States the land is full of location, variety, opportunity, type of police force, and specialties offered.
Who can become a police officer?
Most states have a state division of government called Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) which set minimum selection standards for police officers. Police departments that have achieved accreditation they need to meet or exceed these minimum standards set by their state POST.
Minimum and Maximum age requirements
Most agencies require you to have reached the age of 21 upon graduating from the police academy. Some agencies still hire police cadets at the age of 18 years of age that conduct non sworn duties like traffic control and record keeping. The maximum age requirements vary from agency to agency with some requiring you to be no older than 30 and some not having an age limit at all. You can find this information on the job posting.
Police departments often require applicants to be U.S. citizens, or in some cases, permanent resident aliens who have applied for citizenship. Some agencies require officers to reside within their jurisdictions while others do not.
Valid Driver's License
A valid state driver's license is a requirement for any sworn law enforcement position. Your driving history will be checked during your background investigation.
Most agencies expect officers to have a high school diploma or GED at a minimum. Some agencies require a bachelor’s degree or a minimum number of college credit hours. Other agencies require you to have military service or education or a combination of the two. The job posting will have this information on it.
Ability to obtain a license or permit to carry firearms
Most agencies will require you to be of standard fitness to carry a firearm and use it. If you cannot pass the qualifications to possess and carry a firearm your chances of being police officer are slim unless the agency you choose to apply to does not require the use of firearms.
Physical Fitness Requirement
This requirement will vary state to state and possibly agency to agency.
Can you become a police officer without a degree?
Yes, but this varies state to state and will ultimately depend on the state Police Officer Standards and Training Commission or hiring agency minimum standards to which you are applying. There are still many police agencies in the united states that only require a high school diploma or GED.
Where do I start?
The answer to this question might shock you and if you are a teen or in your twenties kudos for doing the research now because your are ahead of the game. You should start the process to become a police officer as soon as you can by living a clean life, making good decisions and practicing having character and integrity in every area of your personal life. This means that if you go to high school and play sports you want to have a great attendance record, study hard, use clean language and be a leader.
If you are in college you want to practice the same behavior along with picking up a part time or full time job that you can start building work history with. College parties and running with a bad crowd is not where you want to be . That will catch up with you during a background investigation.
So, if you are really thinking hard about becoming a police officer the road to the badge starts now by being a leader and a role model.
What qualifications do I need to be a Police Officer?Leader
Can you guide and inspire others during hard times? Can you motivate people to do the right thing even in challenging times.Character
Are you an honest and reliable person? Do you treat people with respect? Police ethics are at the forefront of America.Integrity
Would you do the right thing even when nobody else is looking?Physically Fit
There is physical training in the police academy such as jogging, running, lifting weights, boxing etc. Being physically fit should start as soon as possible for you because when you attend your oral board interview and medical exam these two stages will matter whether the agency will want to make an investment in you.Intelligent
Are you a quick learner who can make both common sense decisions or on the fly decisions regarding state and local laws? Are you able to multitask 2 - 3 things of importance at a time?Military experience
Did you or have you been serving your country? Valuable training, education and experience can be learned in the military. A military status of veteran can get you points on both entrance and promotional exams.Selective Service System Registration
Almost all men ages 18-25 who are U.S. citizens or are immigrants living in the U.S. are required to register with Selective Service. Citizens must register within 30 days of turning 18. Immigrants must register within 30 days of arriving in the U.S. Your can verify your selective service registration or create a new registration here.College Education or Experience
Having a college degree in criminal justice or even still working towards your college degree is very positive in the hiring process. College degree work however, should show that you are studying hard and receiving solid grades. It is not uncommon to have a background investigation turn up at your college or university even though you will have to submit transcripts with your application. More on that later.Volunteering
If you can show a history of volunteerism on your resume or talk about it during your oral board interview it will be very positive.Solid Work History
Hiring agencies like to see work history that includes positions held in the criminal justice field, however, right behind that is any employment with a record of showing up on time, not calling out sick, volunteering for overtime and no violations of company policy. Us the job you have now to build a solid work history or get a job and start building that foundation that you can show when you do start the application process.
Tips for adding to your qualifications
While you are waiting to take a civil service/agency recruitment test you can score points by doing the following:
Take and complete a first aid and CPR class so that you are trained and have the certificate to prove it.
If your state requires citizens to possess a firearms license or permit you can complete this and it will show that you have passed a background check and possessed the minimum requirements to possess and carry a firearms according to your state law.
Police Officer job openings or Police Officer candidate announcements are posted in many ways like online, on billboards, on sites like indeed.com, careerfinder.com, in the newspaper and more.
What are the steps to becoming a police officer? What is the application and hiring process?
- Civil Service or agency entry level written exam
- Notice of intent to hire police officers where you receive notification on what you need to complete.
- Completion of formal application and background investigation packet along with deadline for turning them in.
- Oral board interviews
- Medical Exam
- Psychological exam
- Polygraph exam. Most states require a polygraph exam but some do not.
- Physical fitness test.
- Background interview.
5 Tips for Becoming a Police OfficerCredit history
One thing we haven't mentioned yet is credit history and credit score. You will want to ensure you have a history of paying your debts and free from bankruptcies.Ex Partners
If your background investigator were to visit your ex girlfriend or ex boyfriend or divorced spouse what would they say about you.Home Visit
If your background investigator were to come to your house unannounced what would they see in your yard and in your house? Do you keep things tidy or are you a mess?Social Media
Do a checkup of your social media to ensure you are a positive person free of any racial or bias posts. Removing yourself from social media altogether is what many people looking to be police officers and even police officers in general do so that they are not tagged in things that can be looked at as being inappropriate.Mentor
Find a Police Officer that would want to be your mentor and they can answer any questions that you may have about the job and the process to become a police officer.