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The job of a law enforcement officer is not an easy one. Only one out of every 75 candidates ever gets beyond the competitive testing process. To be successful you need to prepare, dedicate yourself, test effectively, prioritize, make informed decisions, perform well under pressure, be in excellent physical condition, communicate effectively, and understand the selection process. Use the resources on this blog to help you advance your career in law enforcement!
Exact requirements and acceptance policies will vary by agency. Be sure to check with the agency in which you are interested for specific details.
1. Make sure you’re ready to commit. If you are still in high school, consider joining Youth Police Explorers in your area. This will give you a good taste for the type of work police officers are involved in. Check out our Job Board and Careers section and read some of the articles and columns about police work for more information.
2. Contact your local police department. Arrange to participage in ride-alongs, volunteer at your local agency (preferably through a cadet program), take the time to talk with officers about their career experiences, read Police Officer Examination Guide and other law enforcement career preparation guides found in your local bookstore or library, attend local community meetings conducted by LE personnel, and remember to always conduct yourself in a fashion becoming to an aspiring officer. It’s also a good idea to contact the department you’re interested in joining to find out specific requirements.
3. Get an education. Most agencies require a basic high school education, and additional training like an Associates or Bachelors degree is highly recommended. Research criminal justice programs; many programs involve education in human behavior, legal issues, computer systems and subjects that can help you prepare to be an officer. Many of these programs can be completed online. The more advanced your training, the more successful your application will be. LEOs must be aware of changing needs and continuing education is a great way to stay informed.
4. Be physically fit. Most local and state departments require you to pass a physical agility test which involves exercises like situps, pushups, and running (among other requirements). These can be very hard if you have not been exposed to them before or have not participated in training before the test. The application for the department you are applying for will outline specific the standards that you’ll need to know before taking the test.
5. Complete the applications and take the exams. You will most likely be enrolled in a Law Enforcement Academy program if you pass the necessary exams. Training in the Police Academy can take up to a year, but it depends on the department you plan on working for.
What basic qualifications do I need to become a police officer?
To become a municipal or state police officer most states required a person to be 21 years of age, be a citizen of the United States (or naturalized), and possess a valid drivers license. Some cities and towns require applicants to have a minimum of 60 college credits. There are exceptions to the age requirement, primarily for jurisdictions that have police cadet programs.
What is the first step to completing my application?
State and municipal police advertise in local papers, police magazines, and at colleges when a recruitment drive is taking place. This outlines where applications can be obtained, and when, where, and how to submit them. Usually they can be picked up at police headquarters, the city of town personnel office, or downloaded from an internet site.
How much will I get paid as a police officer?
There are dramatic differences in starting law enforcement salary for police officers from state to state and even within different cities and towns in a state. Basic entry level pay may range from $42,000 to as much as $55,000. Increases in pay normally take a graduated approach the more time an officer has on the job.
These increases come at the one-year, three-year, and five-year level at which point many officers are making well in excess of $70,000 a year base pay, not counting overtime and other salary adjustments (educational level, certification, etc.). An officer’s base salary may be much higher depending on where in the country the department is located and the cost of living for a particular area.
Should I start physical training before applying to become a police officer?
Absolutely. Most departments require applicants to pass a physical agility test as part of the entry level testing process. The may include running a distance in a specific amount of time, sit-ups, bench pressing, a sit-and-reach test, etc. May applicants score well on the written exam, but fail the physical agility test and are out of the process. During the recruitment drive departments provide applicant exactly what the physical agility test will consist of and the ranges of acceptable scores.
What other law enforcement careers can I consider after becoming a police officer?
If you are fortunate enough to become a police officer (the process is very competitive) you can expect to stay with that department for twenty years or more. This is a way of life, not a job. Some police officers retire after twenty years, collect a pension, and move on to other law enforcement opportunities such as private security, judicial marshals, airport security, and fraud investigators.
How many hours should I be expected to work as a police officer?
Most departments are unionized or fall under a state’s hour and wage protection laws. You can expect to work 40 hours a week. However, this is not a nine to five job and many officers work overtime and additional shifts and are compensated for doing so.
What type of background check should I expect from the department hiring me?
You can expect a comprehensive, thorough background investigation. It’s not just a matter of doing an arrest record check. You can expect current and previous employers to be contacted and family members to be interviewed.
What are things that would prevent me from becoming a police officer?
This also varies from state to state and department to department. All departments have a hearing and vision requirement along with review of pre-existing medical conditions. Most departments do not allow applicants with felony convictions and repeat misdemeanor or even violation convictions. An example may be a person convicted of drunk driving, sale of narcotics or dangerous drugs, etc.