Guide: How to Become a Police Officer

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Leah Thomas866

Police officers are one of the most noble fields imaginable, and when only nine percent of police officers are women according to Payscale, it’s time to advocate for change in the field. We’ve outlined exactly how to become a police officer, the salary you can expect and the potential career path you may follow if you choose this vocation.

Education Path

The path to becoming a police officer can be different for each individual, depending on their choice for education. Through these different paths, police officers can also pursue different areas of law enforcement, as well as promotions within the field.

What are the potential education paths for becoming a police officer?

1. Associate’s Degree

You can pursue an associate’s degree in law enforcement. Students will take courses on police strategy, types of crimes, crime scene investigations and more, that will prepare them for the police academy entrance exam each aspiring police officer must complete. The degree can be completed in two years and can also be a precursor for a Bachelor’s degree. 

2. Bachelor’s Degree

A degree from a four-year college may not be required but can increase one’s chances of being accepted into the police academy and promoted at their workplace in the future. Degrees related to law enforcement may include criminal justice or criminology, and students may take classes on police ethics, risk management and planning. 

3. Law Enforcement School

Law enforcement schools provide education specific to those solely wanting to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer. Each school tailors its course load and classes to its geographic location and the police academy exam each potential officer will need to complete and pass. 

What education is required?

You can become a police officer in several different ways — certain ways leading to the potential for more promotions or the ability to specialize in specific areas of the law. The average formal education requirement is a high school diploma or a GED. But specialized police academy training and education is required beyond that, and having a college degree can also increase one’s chances of being accepted into the police academy. 

What are the required steps to becoming a police officer?

1. High school diploma or GED

Those who want to pursue a career as a police officer must obtain a high school diploma. They can also work toward their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, and even master’s if they would like.

2. Meet police academy requirements

Police academies in the United States require that admitted applicants are American citizens. They also must provide a valid driver’s license and be at least 18 years old. And applicants must pass a background check that proves they do not have a criminal record. Applicants may have minor past offenses in certain cases but no felonies.

3. Take the police academy entrance exam

Applicants are required to take the test given by their specific police academy, and they must receive a passing score. Tests vary depending on the specific academy, but some include the Asset, the Compass and the Law Enforcement Examination.

4. Pass the physical assessment

Those who want to pursue this career must prove that they are in shape physically enough to become a police officer. The majority of academies require candidates pass a test that can include running, sprinting, sit-ups, push-ups and more. Certain police academies may instead require applicants to complete an obstacle course. 

5. Pass the polygraph exam

The majority of police academies also require applicants to take a polygraph test, or a lie detector test. These tests mainly look to prove the candidate is honest; candidates may be asked to elaborate on questions they were asked in their original application, as well as any history they may have with being arrested.

6. Pass the psychological exam

The psychological exam isn’t required by every agency, but is by some. The psychological exam focuses on whether or not the candidate is fit mentally to become a police officer, asking the candidate questions about potential situations they may face in the field and how they would ethically handle them. 

7. Pass the medical physical exam

Candidates are also required to pass a regular physical administered by a medical doctor. This physical determines whether a candidate has any underlying health issues that could prevent them from being able to perform their duties as an officer. 

8. Complete police academy training

You must attend the around six-month training at the chosen police academy. Students will be educated on firearms training and safety, criminal codes, traffic laws and more. They will also complete physical conditioning. 

9. Pass police officer field training

After graduating from a police academy, a graduate must complete field training, which tests an aspiring officer on her ability to actually work as a police officer. Field training will teach you investigative skills, officer safety and more.

Career path

There are many paths in which a career in law enforcement can take you. We outline some of the most common.

1. Police officer supervisor

This position includes police chiefs, lieutenants and captains — all positions that give specific officers different cases and assignments and supervise their work. They also work with the more administrative aspects of the field. 

2. Transit police officers

Transit officers dedicate their work to areas of transportation in their geographic location. This can include railroads, subways, roads, bus systems and more. Transit police officers ensure all traffic laws are being followed, and they also work to maintain safety in these systems. 

3. Detective

Police officers can specialize and become detectives. Detectives analyze gathered evidence in involving the breaking of the law. They interview witnesses and suspects related to crimes in order to solve them. 

4. Bailiff

Bailiffs work in courtrooms and help judges maintain order and control. They also escort witnesses, litigants or members of the public. They are the main law enforcement officer in the court of law. 

Expected salary

The average salary of a police officer is $50,660 — a number that is affected by experience, education, geographic location and more. Salaries of police officers range from $33,000 to $88,000, depending on these aspects. 

Police officers in the city of Chicago make 52 percent more than the average salary, while those in Atlanta make 17 percent less. Officers in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Boston and New York can all expect to make more than those in Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and San Antonio. 

Expected career growth

Job growth for police officers and detectives is expected to grow seven percent from the year 2016 until 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This percentage is as fast as the average growth expected for all fields. Over 53,000 jobs in the police force are expected the be added by the year 2026. 

More Advice! 

UCF's guide provides detailed insights and resources on the following topics:
  • Understanding the role of a police office
  • A look at the requirements for becoming a police officer
  • Resource and tools for aspiring police offices
  • Preparing for the physical abilities test
  • How to prepare for a role on the police force 

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