How to become a police officer

How to become a police officerPolice officers are charged with keeping the peace. They pursue and apprehend individuals who break the law, enforce traffic laws, arrest suspected criminals, resolve community issues, respond to emergencies, and investigate crimes. Police officers are typically assigned to patrol specific areas in a geographic district and have to become familiar with their patrol areas when investigating suspicious circumstances. Training to become a police officer could be a smart career move if you are looking for a challenging job that exposes you to new situations every day.

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Police Officer Education Prerequisites

To become a police officer, you’ll need these education prerequisites:

  • Be a U.S. citizen over 20 years old
  • Not be a convicted felon
  • Have earned a high school diploma or a GED
  • Must pass several competitive written and physical examinations
  • If you’re thinking of working at the state or federal level, you’ll need a college degree

Additional Police Officer Education

Once you’re accepted by a law enforcement agency, you’ll receive 12 to 14 weeks of  instruction in a police academy. Police education coursework includes these programs:

  • Classroom instruction in constitutional law and civil rights
  • State laws and local ordinances
  • Accident investigation
  • Training in patrol
  • Traffic control
  • Firearms usage
  • Self-defense
  • First aid
  • Emergency response

Continuing education is also required for police officers and detectives. Many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to earn a degree in criminal justice, justice administration or public administration, and pay higher salaries to those who earn such degrees.

Steps for Becoming a Police Officer

The education requirements for becoming a police officer vary by state and, in most cases, by city department. The minimum level of education accepted by most police departments is a high school diploma or GED. However, many departments around the country require at least some college coursework or an associate’s degree in criminal justice.

Even if it’s not a specific requirement in the hiring process, having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree works strongly in an aspiring police officer’s favor. There is high competition for available positions and promotion within the law enforcement sector, and those with college experience generally stand out during the hiring process. Additionally, a college degree can be a requirement for promotion into higher ranks.

There are additional requirements an individual must meet to become a police officer. A candidate must be a US citizen, be 18 to 21 years old depending on the jurisdiction, and meet rigorous physical criteria. Physical criteria include having stamina, agility, adequate vision and hearing, and physical and mental strength. In many cases, candidates who speak a common second language receive preferred hiring status. Similarly, those with military experience are often placed at the front of the line in the hiring process.

Working as a police officer means protecting a community, but it also means having a certain level of respect for working with the public. Future police officers must have a personable demeanor and should enjoy working with people. Applicants must be honest, responsible, and demonstrate integrity. Backgrounds are investigated during the interview process and most applicants are asked to undergo polygraph exams and to submit to drug testing. Prospective police officers should look into the process of the law enforcement agency for which they are applying, but generally, you can expect a process similar to the one below:

  1. Accumulate the education and/or experience needed to become a police officer.
  2. Apply for an open police officer position.
  3. Be interviewed for the position.
  4. Complete a physical examination.
  5. Take and pass a drug test.
  6. Take and pass a polygraph exam.
  7. Undergo a background investigation.
  8. Be conditionally hired.
  9. Complete several weeks of required police academy training.
  10. Be hired as a full-time peace officer.
  11. Continue being trained on the job once hired.

Please note that a degree cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Additional academy training or education may be required for law enforcement jobs.

Top Paying States for Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers

State Employment4 Average Annual Salary4
California 70,930 $93,550
New Jersey 22,810 $89,160
Alaska 1,090 $77,230
Washington State 8,770 $74,170
Washington DC 5,230 $72,000

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Police Officer

If you are considering a career as a police officer, research the various pros and cons associated with the job. Those in law enforcement assert that it can be very rewarding, but there are many factors to consider.

First, the dangers associated with law enforcement vary throughout the US, depending on location and crime rates. According to the FBI’s 2014 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report, in 2014 51 law enforcement officers around the nation were killed in the line of duty as a result of felony activity; 45 officers were killed as a result of accidents in the line of duty; and 48,315 officers were assaulted while performing their duties.5

To compensate for the dangers that officers face, there are substantial benefits that come with the job. One of the advantages of becoming a police officer is the stability of working for the government. Local, state, and federal governments continue to be the biggest employers in the United States. Officers who earn seniority have a measure of job security not often found in the private sector. Additionally, government jobs often offer better benefits than jobs in the private sector, including generous pensions, paid time off, and paid life insurance policies.

Additional advantages of becoming a police officer include:

  • Police officers receive excellent training that can be used beyond their careers in police work, such as problem identification, problem-solving, and public relations.
  • Many seasoned police officers assert that they gain a sense of pride and accomplishment from their careers. Police officers are literally the “thin blue line” between law-abiding citizens and criminals.
  • Working as a police officer means that you are part of a tight-knit team. No matter where you work, your law enforcement colleagues become like a second family, providing support throughout your career and after leaving the force.
  • Opportunities for advancement are abundant in law enforcement. As individuals retire or move up in the ranks, there are more chances for promotion. Because police departments are usually divided into divisions, there are choices as far as available career tracks.
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Though there are many advantages to becoming a police officer, there are also disadvantages, including:

  • Law enforcement work can be very stressful. With departmental policies; local, state and federal laws; and other regulations, you may find it difficult at times to stay abreast of all that is required of you as a police officer.
  • Law enforcement work requires a great deal of documentation. Even with computerization, officers spend many hours each day simply working on paperwork.
  • You will see the results of violent crime. Due to the emotional magnitude of the job, post-traumatic stress disorder is common among police officers.
  • Work schedules generally aren’t consistent. Most departments have 12-hour rotating shifts. Your schedule may vary from day to night shift. Police work doesn’t take a holiday and you will most likely have to work weekends, nights, and holidays quite often, especially before you earn seniority. Shift work can be very stressful on your family life.

The decision to become a police officer should not be taken lightly. Weigh all of the pros and cons before making this commitment. You must have the desire to serve the public, to protect others, and to work as a team in order to be a successful police officer.

Are you interested in a career in law enforcement? Police officers play an important role in maintaining law and order in communities all across the United States. They are often regarded as the front line of defense against crime and have a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. These include protecting the public, apprehending criminals, preventing crime, responding to traffic accidents, etc. Policemen themselves have to be upstanding citizens and must undergo intensive training to ensure that they can meet the demands of the job.Law enforcement can be a rewarding profession. Read on to find out more.

What do Police Officers do?

The essential role of a police officer is to uphold and enforce the law (local, State, and Federal) to protect citizens and their property. One of their primary tasks is to prevent crime so as to preserve the health and safety of a community and its inhabitants. Furthermore, there are a number of different specialties within the police force and they have differing roles that vary according to their area of specialization.   Generally however, police officers are involved in carrying out a large number of tasks which include:

  • Enforcement of traffic and safety laws
  • Investigation of accidents and crimes
  • Arresting those involved in or suspected of criminal behavior
  • Taking statements from witnesses and gathering crime related evidence
  • Conducting traffic
  • Public relations
  • First response in case of emergencies, traffic accidents, etc.
  • Preparing cases for court
  • Carrying out a service of court process such as warrants

Is a career as a police officer really for me?How Do You Become a Police Officer

It takes approximately 6 months or 960 hours to complete police academy training. The Memphis Police Department Training Academy typically takes 22 weeks, or 880 hours, to complete. All in all, it may take as long as 2-years to become a police officer, including both pre-employment and training processes.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Police Officer

Like any job, being a police officer has its perks and its drawbacks. Pursuing a career in law enforcement is a reasonable commitment and requires a high level of dedication. Those who genuinely want to serve and protect must know that it is important to consider all aspects of the job before deciding to pursue a career as a police officer. You will be expected to go through extensive and ongoing training and will be facing dangerous situations in this line of work.

Below are a number of points which can help you gain a better understanding of what to consider when making this decision:

PROS CONS
  • Salary which is above the median income.
  • Benefits medical and dental coverage, paid leave, holiday bonuses, pension plans, allowances, insurance, etc.
  • Field of law enforcement is generally stable which leads to higher job security.
  • Early retirement opportunities.
  • Long shifts with irregular hours
  • Dangerous and difficult working conditions.
  • Stressful work environment.
  • Physically demanding.
  • Extensive travel and relocation requirements (at State or Federal level).

Common skills required

As an aspiring police officer, the following skills and character traits are considered helpful and sometimes essential:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • People skills
  • Communication
  • Physical strength
  • Stamina
  • Ability to work in teams
  • Ability to cope with stress and stressful situations
  • Strong work ethic
  • Respect for authority
  • Compassion and Patience

Potential Employers

Police officers may be employed at the local, state, or federal level. Their duties and responsibilities will vary according to their level of employment and their employer. In addition, salaries, benefits, travel requirements, job responsibilities and career advancement opportunities may differ at each level. Relocation is quite common at both State and Federal level, and jobs may require individuals to do a fair amount of travelling.

Local law enforcement agencies oversee the protection of a particular locale or county. At this level, police officers are expected to protect the citizens and uphold the law in that particular jurisdiction.

The State employs officers at this level to carry out law enforcement duties statewide. Officers may be hired as highway patrol officers whose main responsibility is to enforce regulations on major highways in the state. State police officers have wider investigative powers given to them by their agency, commonly the State Bureau of Investigation. These officers may also be called upon to conduct investigations and law enforcement services in smaller towns in the state.

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The scope of jobs at this level is typically wider than at the State or local level as they have jurisdiction over the entire country. Additionally, the jobs may either have investigative or safety and security responsibilities. Federal officials can also expect to have a higher salary. There are over 65 agencies at the federal level that employ full time personnel authorized to carry out law enforcement duties.

Some of these agencies include:

Career Advancement Opportunities

After the successful completion of a probation period, it is possible to become eligible for promotion. There are a number of ranks of officers that candidates can aspire to be promoted.

  • Detective
  • Sheriff
  • Chief of police
  • Police commissioner
  • Sergeant
  • Lieutenant
  • Corporal

In order to be eligible for a promotion, candidates are usually required to take exams and log a certain amount of hours on duty. Additionally, the candidate’s job performance is monitored and evaluated.  Requirements may differ for the position the candidate is applying for. At federal level, having a graduate degree and or prior military experience could increase the chances of promotion.

Related Careers

The following careers share a number of similar duties and responsibilities with those of a police officer and may be considered as viable career options:

  • Immigration and customs inspectors
  • Criminal investigators and special agents
  • Bailiffs
  • Correctional officers
  • Wildlife and conservation
  • Marine patrol
  • Fish and game wardens
  • Security guards
  • Forensics

Salary and Outlook

According to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police officers and detectives earned a median average salary of $56,980 per year in 2012. For those who advance in their careers, data shows that the top 10 percent earned more than $93,450.

Employment in this field is expected to grow at a rate of 5% between 2012 and 2022. This is a slower than the average rate when compared to other professions. Due to the importance of public safety however, there will always be demand for police officers. It is essential to keep in mind that fewer jobs mean tougher competition. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you pursue a college degree or undertake military experience which may increase your job prospects and give you an edge over competitors.

There are also other factors which influence your salary. For instance, salaries will differ according to whether you’re employed at the local, State, or Federal level. Your rank will also be an important factor in determining your salary. Those areas with larger populations or higher crime rates may also offer higher salaries due to the work load. This can be seen from data provided by BLS:

Top paying States for this occupation:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
New Jersey 21,130 5.53 $42.41 $88,220
California 68,340 4.64 $41.37 $86,040
Alaska 1,100 3.40 $35.57 $73,990
New York 50,390 5.84 $33.98 $70,670
Washington 8,160 2.89 $33.96 $70,640
Texas 56,890 5.21 $25.50 $53,030

To conclude, becoming a police officer involves a number of years of mental and physical training. It’s a profession that can be demanding and should be pursued by those dedicated to protect and serve. A career in law enforcement can also be very rewarding and comes with a number of benefits. Those interested in following this should consider all the options carefully and accordingly chart their course to becoming a police officer.

Q: What are some of the tasks that police officers are required to do?

Ans: Police officers are required to uphold and enforce the law, and protect citizens and their property. In the course of their duties, they are required to carry out a large number of tasks. Some of those tasks include conducting traffic, investigating crimes and accidents, gathering evidence, taking statements from witnesses, acting as a first response in the event of an emergency, and serving warrants.

Q: How do I know if becoming a police officer is really for me?

Ans: Before applying to become a police officer, there are a few things that you should carefully consider. Law enforcement is a tough profession. The hours are long and irregular, and the work requires a huge amount of physical and mental strength. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in dangerous, unpleasant, or difficult situations in which the lives and safety of other people will be at risk. If these conditions are too stressful for you, law enforcement may not be the career for you. If, however, you feel like you can handle the rigors of police work, than becoming a police officer may be for you.

What Are the Minimum Requirements to Become a Police Officer in Florida?

Although the qualification requirements in Florida are similar to those in other states, Florida is stricter in its certification requirements for police officers. Moreover, listed below are the overall state requirements for applying to become a police officer. These requirements may vary at county levels and so, it is important that you check with the police department you intent to apply to.

The minimum qualifications are established in Florida Statutes 943.13 and are as follows:

Applicants must:

  • Be at least 19 years old
  • Have citizenship of the United States
  • Hold a high school diploma or GED
  • Have a clean criminal record – meaning no conviction of any felony or misdemeanor involving perjury or false statement
  • Give processed fingerprints for the employing agency to keep on file
  • Pass a physical examination
  • Submit to a background investigation in order to prove you are of good moral character
  • Not have received a dishonorable discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States

How Long Does It Take To Become a Police Officer in Florida?

The time that it takes to become a police officer in Florida will necessarily vary from applicant to applicant, depending upon their individual history. Training times may also vary depending upon their individual performance. To get a clearer idea of the time frame you may be looking at, it is advisable that you contact the particular police department you wish to apply to.

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What Are the Steps to Becoming a Police Officer in Florida?

  • Meet all the minimum qualification requirements

These are all listed above and must be satisfied.

  • Complete required training
  • New applicants seeking to become officers or individuals who are embarking on a discipline crossovers are required to complete the Basic Abilities Test (BAT) before entering a basic recruit training program. BAT is available in most schools and the results are valid up to 4 years.
  • The next step is to complete the Basic Recruit Program or a Certified Crossover Training Program. Both of these training programs must be completed in a commission certified training school.
  • Pass the State Officer Certification Examination (SOCE)

Applicants can take this test up to three times in order to get a passing score. You must register for this test online at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.

  • Become employed as a sworn police officer

After all of the above requirements have been satisfied, candidates must submit to:

  • An interview
  • A background investigation
  • Polygraph test
  • Medical examination, including vision and hearing
  • Psychological evaluation

Once successfully cleared, the applicant is eligible for a “Certificate of Compliance”, which is issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Records Section.

Prospective Salary and Job Outlook

BLS data indicates that the rate of employment growth in this field, or job outlook, is 5% between 2012 and 2022. Police officer jobs in Florida, however, are expected to increase at the rate of +9% for the same time period, according to O*NET OnLine. There is always a steady demand for police officers due to the important role they play in society.

With regards to prospective salary, data from O*NET OnLine illustrates that in Florida, the median annual salary for:

  • Police and Sherriff’s Patrol Officers was $55,100 in 2013
  • Detectives and Criminal Investigators was $63,400 in 2013

Police officers are an integral part of any community. They play an important and demanding role when it comes to ensuring the safety and stability of their communities. There are a number of steps, which must be taken if a career in law enforcement is what you are considering. In addition, you must submit to selection tests and extensive training. If becoming a police officer in Florida is your goal, use the information here to help you achieve your career aspirations.

Q: According to Florida law, what requirements must all applicants satisfy?

Ans: To become a police officer in Florida, all applicants must be at least 19 years old, have US citizenship, hold a high school diploma or GED, and have a clean criminal record. Applicants will also be asked to give their fingerprints, pass a physical examination, submit to a background check, and prove that they haven’t been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces.

Q: What are the benefits of becoming a police officer in Florida?

Ans: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida has the fourth highest employment opportunities for prospective police officers in the country. Working in great weather is an added advantage in being a police officer in Florida.

REQUIREMENTS

Education

  • Some police departments require 60 college credits (It is not required that these credits be in criminal justice)
  • Some police departments require a 4-year college degree (It is not required that the degree be in criminal justice)
  • Some police departments require only a high school degree or G.E.D.

Work Experience

For an entry level position no prior law enforcement experience is required.

Certifications

For an entry level position no law enforcement certifications are required.

Other Requirements

Age Requirements

Departments have a minimum age requirements. This requirement can be anywhere from 18 to 21 years of age depending upon the department. Some departments have a maximum age requirement meaning you cannot apply if you are over that age limit. Not all departments have a maximum age requirements.

Driver’s license

Police departments usually require that the applicant have a valid driver’s license from that state as a condition of employment.

Residency

Some police departments require that the applicant reside in a particular city or county as a condition of employment.

Physical Exam

Police departments usually require that applicants pass a physical, including a vision and hearing exam, prior to the time of being hired.

Citizenship

Some departments require that the applicants be United States Citizens. Some departments require that the applicant be a lawful U.S. resident authorized to work in the United States.

Please note that if hired you will receive all of the training required at the police academy, i.e. as firearms, self defense, offensive driving, and arrest techniques. It is not required that you had any training or experience in these areas prior to being hired.

The requirements to be a Federal Agent are different than those to be a police officer. They will vary depending upon the federal agency, and the type of job to be performed.

Disqualifiers vary from department. Items which may disqualify an applicant from being hired by include.

  • Prior felony convictions
  • Prior domestic violence convictions

Hiring Process

  • Most departments start with filling out a job application. A resume may or may not be accepted. They are usually not accepted in lieu of an application.
  • Many departments will give a written test.
  • Often a physical agility test will be given.
  • Departments will then conduct formal interviews with applicants.
  • A final score may be a combined written and interview score.

Firearms Training will be conducted in the police academy and will vary by agency.

Background Investigation

Those applicants offered a position will be required to fill out a background investigation form. An offer of employment from the Police Department is conditional upon passing a background investigation.

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