Requirements to Become a Police Officer

Police officer
Expert Fact Checked

The requirements to become a police officer include education and training specific to the field of law enforcement. While criteria differ from one area to the next, you can expect some general guidelines for qualifying to become an officer to apply in most places.

General Requirements to Become a Police Officer

An applicant needs to meet certain requirements to become a police officer in the United States. Before applying for a job in this field, consider factors that play a role in whether you fit the bill or not. Departments may require applicants to meet the following criteria, but requirements may vary. Basic requirements are:

  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • Must be a citizen of the United States
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a physical exam
  • Pass tests for agility, strength and speed
  • Negative drug test
  • Pass a hearing and a vision test
  • Pass a written examination

A senior officer and a psychologist may interview an applicant for a police officer job. A personality test may replace an interview with a psychologist in some districts.

Educational Background

Police learn valuable skills and lessons on the job, but preparing for a career in law enforcement begins with training. You can expect to need a high school diploma or equivalent at the very least. Some departments may require some college experience or a degree in criminal justice or a related field.

The education path you choose depends on how far you want to advance in the field. Police officers who hold an advanced degree are more likely to move up in the ranks than officers who have no post secondary education.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that many agencies will pay for an employee's continued education in police science, public administration, administration of justice or criminal justice. Employees who hold degrees can expect higher salaries, and greater chances for advancement. Those working for federal agencies and urban agencies may benefit from learning a second language.

Job Specific Training

College classes may be helpful in teaching many valuable lessons, but job related training can help you put theory into practice. New hires in a police department may have to attend a training academy to prepare them for service. The academy training programs cover a variety of important topics:

  • Civil rights
  • Emergency response
  • Firearm use
  • First aid
  • Investigating accidents
  • Local ordinances
  • Patrolling
  • Self defense
  • State laws
  • Traffic control

Training typically occurs before the new hire has a first assignment and the training period usually lasts 12 to 14 weeks.

Characters of a Good Police Officer

Eligibility for employment as a police officer includes education, training, interviewing and testing. This process can weed out candidates that do not have characteristics of a good police officer. Some considerations to make before applying for this type of career include:

  • How well you work with people
  • Dealing with the public
  • Ability to show good judgment
  • Honesty
  • Willingness to work shifts

Some departments may require candidates to pass a polygraph test before considering them for a position, and a criminal background check that shows a record can disqualify a candidate, depending on the charge. Those employed by a police department can expect to have random drug tests throughout their careers. Federal law enforcement jobs have requirements that are more stringent.

Police Career Qualifications

Candidates with experience in the military, as prison guards or related fields are likely to have an edge when it comes to meeting the requirements to become a police officer. However, many opportunities are available for applicants who have little experience but meet the criteria for employment.

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Requirements to Become a Police Officer