Requirements to Become A Police Officer

Police and Detective careers are expected to grow by 5% in the years from 2018 to 2028, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth will be fueled by a continued need for law enforcement personnel to maintain order and uphold the law. If you are interested in joining this field, you might want to skim through the following guide on the requirements to become a police officer in the US. The guide also contains information on salary figures and advancement options for police officers.

Advancement Options for Police Officers

While there are numerous reasons to work in law enforcement, one major reason is the potential for making your way up the chain and advancing to higher positions. Command structures are an important aspect of law enforcement departments, and officers who perform well can advance through the ranks. Let’s take a look at some advancement options available to police officers.

  • Detectives and Criminal Investigators
  • Police Chiefs
  • Sergeants
  • SWAT
  • FBI Agents
  • K-9 Units
  • Patrol Officers
  • Transit and Railroad Police
  • Fish and Game Wardens

Please note that some of the above are specialty options, while others are positions you can reach through promotions and additional educational credentials.

Requirements to Become a Police Officer

To become a police officer, candidates will have to meet the following requirements.

Education Requirements to Become a Police Officer

The first step of the process to become a part of the police force is to get a high school diploma or a GED. This would be an acceptable educational level for most departments and entry-level positions. However, some departments might place additional conditions in place.

In addition to that, higher positions such as FBI Agent or US Marshals would require at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. Many community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Having knowledge of a foreign language and geographical regions is considered a big advantage.

Specific positions such as fish and game wardens would require at least a bachelor's degree in a field such as wildlife science, biology, or natural resources management.

Eligibility Requirements to Become a Police Officer

Once candidates have ensured that they meet the educational requirements, they need to make sure that they also satisfy the following list of eligibility requirements:

  • Candidates should be citizens of the US
  • Candidates should be at least 18 to 21 years old
  • Candidates should not have any felony convictions
  • Candidates should have a valid driver’s license
  • Candidates should have a high school diploma at least
  • Candidates should be physically fit and emotionally stable
  • Candidates ought to clear a background check
  • Candidates need to clear a psychological exam
  • Candidates must clear the entrance exam specific to their state (written test, oral interview, etc.)
  • Candidates will have to clear a drug test and a lie detector test as well

Training Requirements to Become a Police Officer

Once candidates are selected to serve as police officers, they are required to go through a rigorous police training academy. Large police departments usually have their own academies, while smaller departments send candidates to attend academies with other departments. These programs typically last 4 to 6 months and include both classroom and hands-on training. Common topics covered are civil rights, incident reporting, criminal psychology, constitutional law, crime scene investigation, and state and local laws.

In addition to that, students are also taught the usage of firearms, first-aid techniques, accident and emergency response, patrolling and subject apprehension, traffic command, and self-defense.

How Much Does a Police Officer Make in the US?

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers earned $67,600 in 2019 as annual mean income, while Fish and Game Wardens made $57,690, Detectives and Criminal Investigators made $86,030 and Transit and Railroad Police made $71,120 in 2019.

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