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How to become a police officer

Published: Thursday 7th January 2021

Young male police officer smiling

Are you wondering how to become a police officer? You’re not alone. There are millions of people all over the country looking to pursue a career in this fascinating and exciting field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2029, faster than the average for most professions. 

Interested in learning more? Keep to find out about the education, training, and certifications you’ll need to become a police officer.

What is a police officer?

Young female police officer speaking into her radio

Police officers are members of a police force, and are usually charged enforcing the law within their jurisdiction. They often swear an oath of protection and service, and have the right to detain and arrest people. Police officers can belong with special units that deal with specific issues like terrorism, homicide, child protection, and investigations. 

As a police officer, you are entrusted by your government with the special use of force. However, police work includes other areas, such as search and rescue, traffic policing, patrolling, investigations, suspect interviews, testifying in court, and other duties. People in your jurisdiction will rely on you to enforce the law and keep people safe. 

What education do I need to become a police officer?

A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for becoming a police officer. Some organizations may require higher level degrees before you get promoted into certain positions. A bachelor’s degree, for instance, may be required in some jurisdictions to apply for more advanced law enforcement positions, such as positions at the state or federal level.

Before you join a police force, you will need to graduate from a police academy. In order to be admitted to a police academy, you will need to pass a law enforcement entrance exam, the contents of which will vary depending on your state and jurisdiction. Police academy tends to last about six months. The education covers a range of topics, such as search and seizure, traffic laws, criminal statutes, firearms training, and physical conditioning.   

Once you graduate and attain employment on a police force, you will enter a probationary period where you are supervised by a senior member of the force. 

Do I need other experience or certifications?

While there is no prior experience needed to become a police officer, you will need to meet certain criteria. You must be at least 21 years old, hold American citizenship, pass a background check, and pass certain physical conditioning requirements. 

It also helps to have good oral and written communication skills. This will help you be effective in communicating with people you detain and/or apprehend. 

Main duties

Police officer writing a ticket

Your duties as a police officer will depend on many factors, such as your department, jurisdiction, and whether you have entered into a particular specialism. Police and patrol officers, for instance, are the most common kind of police officer. They conduct patrols, make arrests, conduct searches, look for signs of criminal activity in their communities. 

There are other kinds of police, though. Criminal investigators, for example, specialize in a particular area of crime, such as homicide, and gather facts and criminal evidence in order to build cases. Transit police, on the other hand, may work exclusively on planes, trains, and other transit operations to prevent crimes such as theft or assaults. 

Where are all the police officer jobs?

With the right drive, you can become a police officer almost anywhere in the country. There is never a shortage of demand for dedicated police officers. There are also many opportunities in specialized law enforcement organizations, such as the CIA, FBI, Treasury Department, Parks Department, and others. 

Salary

According to the BLS, the median salary for a police officer in the US is around $65,170. Positions in more specialized areas of policing, such as criminal investigations and transit policing, offer higher salaries. Salaries are also much higher at the state and federal level.  

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