How To Become a Police Officer

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 1, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Criminal Justice
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Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a police officer all your life. Whether you’ve known for years or you just came to the realization, you can become a police officer. The steps for how to become a police officer are pretty straightforward.

It’s a job with quite a bit of responsibility. You’ll also need to be well trusted. If you want to work as a police officer, you’ll need the right training and education. Let’s look at the steps to become a police officer.

How To Become a Police Officer

How to Become a Police Officer: The Proper Steps

Step #1 – Finish High School

You will need a high school diploma or equivalent to become a police officer. So make sure you finish high school and stay out of trouble.

Step #2 – Get a College Degree

When you want to become a police officer, you may want to pursue a college degree. Some police officers get an associate degree, while others will get a bachelor’s degree. However, it’s common to get a degree in criminal justice.

It may be required to get a degree for the type of police officer you want to become. If you have served in the military, you may not need a college degree, however.

Step #3 – Meet All the Necessary Minimum Requirements

There are some common requirements you will need to meet if you want to become a police officer. Some of the most common requirements include:

All of these minimum requirements will need to be met if you want to become a police officer. At the same time, a speeding ticket or a misdemeanor conviction will likely not keep you from becoming a police officer. However, if you have a domestic violence charge or another type of charge, including violence, you likely won’t pass the background check.

Juvenile offenses are looked at in a different light compared to adult offenses. Therefore, it’s best to keep your record clean if you want to become a police officer.

Step #4 – Pass the Necessary Law Enforcement Exams

You will need to pass all the necessary exams for your jurisdiction to start your career in law enforcement. Each state and department maybe a little bit different. Typically, you will need to pass a written exam, essay exam, and oral exam.

The written exam will include true-false and multiple-choice questions. It may also include short essay questions. This exam aims to assess your knowledge when it comes to reading comprehension, grammar, and math skills. You will also be tested on decision-making skills and logic when it comes to specific scenarios.

The essay section of the test will test your logic and show you can express thoughts clearly. It will be a long-form essay where you will provide evidence to support all of your claims.

You will need to take an oral exam, as well. This exam will be given by your hiring manager or from a member of the community. This test will evaluate your verbal communication skills and your presentation skills.

You will need to gain a passing grade on all the tests to gain acceptance into the police training academy.

Step #5 – Complete the Police Academy

Training to become a police officer is known as the Police Academy. You will need to train at the police academy, which will include classroom work and field training.

The classroom work will include criminal investigation methods, laws and regulations, detainment procedures, policing, and public safety. In addition, you will learn skills in interpersonal communication, negotiation, and stress management.

Field training will include administrative duties, defense tactics, handling hazardous materials, using a firearm, proper use of force, and vehicle operations. You may receive allowances, benefits, and entitlements during this portion of the training.

Step #6 – Gain Experience

After graduating from the police academy, you will need to gain experience as a police officer. You will start to work on a conditional basis. New officers will be on a one-year probationary period. Continuous training will be a part of the first year.

Once you complete the probationary period, you will gain a permanent position. You will likely gain more training, depending on your career path, once you become permanent.

Additional Certifications for Police Officers

If you want to take a specific career path, the right certifications can help. While these certifications may not be required, they can help you move along your chosen career path. Some of the common certifications include:

Responsibilities of a Police Officer

You might think being a police officer is much like what you see in the movies. However, police officers don’t always chase down bad guys and storm the houses of criminals. In fact, if you take a specific position, you may not do this much at all.

Some of the common tasks a police officer will take on include:

If you want to become a police officer, you should be aware of the many tasks you need to complete. It can be helpful to shadow an officer or do a ride-along before you go down this career path.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Police Officer

How much can I make as a police officer?

The average police officer salary is about $51K per year. However, the salary range for a police officer is rather wide. It ranges from $14K to $110K. The salary will likely depend on your rank, your experience level, and your location.

What type of police officer can you become?

There are several types of police officers. Depending on your goals, you may want to take a specific path. However, the common types of police officers include:

These are some of the most common police officer career paths. However, several other options may also be available, depending on your location.

Do I need a degree to become a police officer?

No. You can become a police officer with just a high school diploma or GED. However, about 15% of police officers have an associate degree. Another 14% have a bachelor’s degree, and 1% have a master’s degree. If you want to gain access to more advancement opportunities, a degree can be helpful.

While a degree isn’t necessary, some states do require a specific number of college credits. It’s usually around 30 credits, which isn’t enough to earn a degree. These credits may need to be in specific courses.

How long does it take to become a police officer?

The amount of time it takes to become a police officer depends on your specific path. For example, some officers will get an associate degree or bachelor’s degree first. These paths will take two or four years, on top of the other necessary training.

Typically, the process to become a police officer starts with an application. This will take three to four months. Then, the hiring process after your application has been accepted will take another three to four months.

Along with these two processes, you will need to complete the police academy training. This will take another six months. You will also need to complete your one-year probation period.

The entire process will take 18 to 26 months to become a police officer without a degree.

How long does it take to go from a police officer to a detective?

If you want to become a detective, you will need at least five years of experience as a police officer. At this point, you can apply for the job of a detective.

When you want to learn how to become a police officer, you need the right step-by-step plan. The steps above will help you work towards becoming a police officer.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.