How to Become a Police Officer
The duties of a police officer, also known as a law enforcement officer, focus on protecting people and property. They patrol the areas they are assigned, which sometimes include entire jurisdictions, respond to calls, enforce laws, make arrests, issue citations, and occasionally testify in court cases. They often make traffic stops, respond to domestic disturbances, and, at times, provide first aid to someone involved in a traffic accident or injured in a domestic dispute until paramedics arrive. Much of their time is divided between patrolling, writing reports, and filling out forms. In fact, police officers now also perform the immigration duties once exclusive to INS agents, meaning that INS agents are now essentially police officers. Before you can become a police officer, you must first meet the minimum qualifications.
Specific qualifications will vary by agency, but typically include being a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, and having no felony convictions. Misdemeanors are handled on a case-by-case basis, and many departments also require applicants to be financially responsible. To become a law enforcement officer, you will also have to meet physical fitness, medical, vision, and hearing requirements. Testing for these are part of the hiring process, as well as interviews, a background check, written exam, drug test, written exam, and psychological evaluation. You will also have to meet the educational and training requirements.
Education & Training
Each agency will have their own educational requirements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some agencies require only a high school diploma, while others require some college coursework or a college degree. Many agencies encourage their officers to take law enforcement-related college courses throughout their careers. Earning an associate degree in criminal justice will usually allow you to meet the educational requirements and provide you with knowledge of the law, criminal justice system, criminal behavior, and more, which will benefit you in this career. Each agency will have training requirements that must be met as well. The majority of agencies will have a training academy, while smaller agencies may have you complete your training at a local college, university, or through a nearby, larger agency’s academy. Through the academy you will receive training in areas such as defensive tactics, driving, tactical, firearms, and laws and regulations, preparing you for your career.
The hiring process and training academy can take around 12 to 18 months, all together, though this may vary by agency. After graduating from the academy, you will be a probationary officer, which typically means you will be constantly supervised, have limited responsibilities, and in most cases, are eligible to be relieved of duty easier than if you were not on probation. The length of probation varies by agency. The BLS shows that the average salary for a police officer is $53,540 a year. However, what you earn will depend on several factors, including the agency you work for, location, performance, and amount of experience.