How to Become a Police Officer

So you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a law enforcement officer, but you don’t quite know what steps you’ll have to take to go from civilian to trained officer. You’re passionate about protecting and serving people, yet you don’t quite know whether or not you’ll make the cut. Inundated by doubts you begin to wonder whether or not the department will take one look at your application and decide you’re unfit for duty. Hopefully, after reading this article I’ll be able to ease those fears and give you some insight into the process of becoming a police officer.

Firstly, there are a couple of things that are basic requirements necessary to pursue a career as a police officer and others that would automatically disqualify you from the hiring process. For instance, you must be a citizen of the U.S. to be considered eligible for the position. You must be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on the policy of the department you’re applying to. You must pass a background check. And yes, a criminal record might likely cause you to be omitted from the pool of eligible candidates. But a criminal record does not necessarily mean you won’t be able to join the police force. If you’ve committed minor offenses, but have not been convicted of a felony then it’s possible that you’ll be allowed to complete training and subsequently be allowed to assume the role of a police officer.

In terms of education, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or GED. However, some law enforcement agencies such as the FBI may look favorably upon applicants or may require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree. A degree, although unnecessary in some instances, will put you in line for a better salary and promotions. So if you’re looking to climb up the ranks a bachelor degree will most certainly come in handy.

Now that you know you meet these basic requirements you need to submit an application to the department. If you’re accepted you’ll be placed into a pool of eligible candidates. During the hiring process you’ll also need to pass a lie detector test, a psychological evaluation (to ensure that you’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else if you’re allowed to carry a firearm), a drug test, a fitness test (you’ll need to chase suspects at some point), and a civil service test. You’ll also need to take and pass the law enforcement entrance exam before you can move on to the next step. The contents of the test will vary from one police academy to another police academy and from one jurisdiction to another jurisdiction.

Once you’ve passed the entrance exam, you’ll need to complete a training program. Training can take anywhere between 19 weeks to six months and encompasses both physical training and tutelage about the law, your duties, and codes of conduct. During this time, you’ll carry the title of cadet, and you’ll learn self-defense techniques, how to properly handle a firearm, about the laws governing the state and civil rights, and proper police protocol and responses. After graduating from the academy you’ll receive field training with a training officer. You’ll accompany him or her on routine patrols in different areas of the jurisdiction. On average, field training takes about eight weeks from start to completion, and on average the process of becoming a police officer takes about 27 weeks.