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Herzing University

Jessica Dickenson

How to Become a Police Officer

Specific standards will vary but there are a few universal requirements that you should be familiar with. Here is a general idea of how you can pursue a career in law enforcement.

Many think training to become a police officer is like joining the military. They think that training mainly involves obstacle courses, shooting ranges, and tactical training rooms to prepare to join the force. While these are all important elements of police officer training, they are only one portion of the process.

Specific standards and processes for becoming a police officer will vary by the state, county or town that you are applying to, but there are a few universal requirements that you should be familiar with. Here is a general idea of how you can pursue a career in law enforcement.

1. Meet the Minimum Requirements

Requirements for applying will vary by the police agency. Each state has a Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) or similar organization that selects the minimum requirements for most law enforcement officers. While there is some differentiation, some of the standard basic requirements include:

  • You will be required to be a U.S. Citizen or a permanent resident alien who has applied for citizenship. Some police jurisdictions will also require their officers to reside within the city/county/town jurisdiction while others do not.
  • Meet the minimum age requirement. This is usually 21 but some agencies accept individuals as young as 18.
  • Having a valid driver’s license.
  • Meet the educational requirements outlined by the agency.

You can expect any law enforcement agency you’re applying for to conduct a background check into your criminal history. While this isn’t the first step to becoming a police officer, it is the first one you’ll need to consider before you get too far along in the process. Misdemeanor charges, juvenile offenses or speeding tickets won’t automatically disqualify you, but you should be aware that agencies will be looking into your past.

2. Acquire a degree or training

Most agencies expect their officers to at least have a high school diploma or a GED. Some states do not require their officers to be college-educated, but having an education beyond high school can benefit you in your law enforcement career. Earning your criminal justice degree creates a good foundation in criminal law, criminalistics, probation and parole, criminal psychology, homeland security, criminal investigation, and much more to prepare for a career as a police officer.

Just like general requirements, promotional policies vary by organization. Some police departments may be based on earning a four-year degree. Having a college degree could provide you the leverage to be promoted to a higher position or a better salary.

In addition to educational requirements, police officers will need to also complete specific department training which can be completed in a variety of different ways.

Since police officer requirements differ, you’ll want to be sure to check with the agency that sets the standards for law enforcement training and licensure in your area.

3. Graduate from a Police Academy

The police academy is where applicants receive the most important training that will allow them to serve as police officers. Training can last six months with a curriculum covering topics such as search and seizure, criminal statutes, traffic laws, firearms training, driver training and physical conditioning. This training is very specific to your area and the jurisdiction that you want to serve. Your time will be divided between in-class work and hands-on activities.

During your time at the police academy, you will be evaluated for your psychological stability and mental fitness. The academy can be strenuous, but it is also a rewarding experience.

4. Pass the Licensing Exam

The next step in becoming a police officer is to take and earn a passing score on a police licensing board exam. Each state has its specifics for licensing so the exact test will vary, however, they may cover similar topics such as civil and criminal law, community policing, rights and management and practical application.

5. Continue Learning

Even after completing the above steps and becoming a police officer, you still will have things to learn. Like other industries, officers may need to meet continuing education requirements and renew their licenses. Specialized training may also be offered by your department as a refresher course or to introduce new technology or changes in the department. However, nothing outweighs on-the-job training and experience. You will learn a lot while you serve as a police officer.

Learn More About Our Criminal Justice Program

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2020. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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