How to Become a Police Officer

How to Become a Police Officer

Are you investigating how to become a Police Officer? It is a Police Officer's responsibility to enforce laws, maintain order, and protect the public. They accomplish these goals in various ways including by patrolling their assigned areas, responding to emergency calls, and issuing traffic tickets or arresting crime violators. But a Police Officer's work doesn’t stop there. They may also investigate suspicious activity, obtain warrants, and sometimes even handle crowd control.  

The requirements for becoming a police officer vary state to state. However, all Police Officers must have a high school diploma or GED and graduate from a training academy. Some police departments may require a college degree. O*NET reports that 24% of police officers have an associate’s degree. Other important factors to consider; it is common that you need to be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, pass multiple exams including physical, written and drug tests.[ii]

What is the difference between local vs. national law enforcement?

Local police work in a particular geographic area, where they might have general or specialized duties. They may perform patrols in which they look for signs of criminal activity, respond to calls, and handle emergencies. Federal law enforcement officers may have similar responsibilities, but they maintain jurisdiction over the whole country, not just a region or town. Additionally, many federal officers have specialized roles within the law enforcement and criminal justice field. Each agency enforces particular laws.[i]

Where do police officers work?

Law enforcement officers most often work for local governments, and some work for state governments or the federal government. Federal officers may travel or relocate frequently over the course of a career. For other officers, a day’s work may involve working at crime scenes, accident scenes, and other work sites, both indoors and outdoors.[ii]

What may be the career requirements to pursue a career as a police officer?

Prospective law enforcement officers may attend a training academy before they pursue careers as police. Some may also begin as cadets if they do not yet meet the age requirement to become a police officer – usually 21 years of age. Once on the job, police officers may need to complete a probationary period before being considered for promotion. Career advancement to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually depend on factors like written examination scores and on-the-job performance. Police may be promoted in order to work in a particular area of aptitude; for example, detectives typically start out as police officers.

Keep in mind that some roles might require specific preparation or skills. For example, foreign language skills may be beneficial in certain federal law enforcement roles, while fish and game wardens often need some postsecondary education in an area like biology or natural resources management. Sometimes police officers pursue a criminal justice degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, but some federal agencies and police departments require some college coursework or a college degree. Even if promotion seems a long way off, it’s a good idea to think about your career goals and what preparation you may need to pursue your desired role! [iii]

How many times can I take the police exam?

Testing requirements may vary depending on your area and the agency you are applying to. Some agencies might have different rules about retaking physical or written exams. For example, Physical Abilities Tests (PAT) for Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers may be retaken in some cases. In other cases, departments don’t accept re-tests, or they require a six-month waiting period between tests. It’s a good idea to contact the police department you are interested in to find out their rules and requirements! [iv]

What are requirements for state vs. city police?

Requirements depend on the state and city, so it’s up to you to thoroughly research the locality you are considering. It is possible that city police officers may have different requirements from state police officers. For example, Seattle city police applicants with traffic violations like a DUI may be considered on a case-by-case basis if five years have passed since the violation,[v] whereas Washington state police applicants cannot have DUIs regardless of time frame or their age at the time of conviction.[vi]

What are some challenges of being a law enforcement officer?

Serving as a police officer may be a great way to serve your community and make the world a safer place. Of course, this career path is not without its challenges. Police work may be risky at times, and officers must be prepared to act quickly in dangerous situations. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers have a high rate of occupational injury, as do transit and railroad police. Risks may include dangerous criminals, accidents while pursuing vehicles, or other on-the-job injuries. Police work can also be physically demanding, and some officers may work outside in all kinds of weather. [ii]

Finally, police work can be stressful and psychologically demanding. Officers may often come face-to-face with death and suffering. Hours may be long and could include night shifts, since someone must always be on call to respond to emergencies. Officers must also remain alert and ready to react at all times. But for many police officers, the rewards of protecting their communities outweigh the more stressful moments!

What is the job outlook for police?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and detective roles are expected to grow roughly 4% by 2024. Of course, employment opportunities vary by state and local budgets, as well as the needs of each department.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Police Officer

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