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How do you become a police officer?

Learn about the basic requirements to become a police officer and opportunities to progress in this career.

Eligibility requirements

The path to become a police officer is fairly straightforward. However, it will take dedication, stamina, and time to enter this competitive field. The testing and training is designed to ensure that you’re prepared for the risk and responsibility that comes with this career.
If you are still in school, the first step is to complete your high school diploma or GED. Pursuing some college courses or completing a bachelor’s degree can also make you a more competitive applicant, as well as help with career advancement down the road, though it is not a requirement. Military training is also viewed as good preparation for this career.
Beyond education and training, police departments typically require applicants to be US citizens between the ages of 21 and 37. Prior to this age, some departments will hire cadets to do office work and take classes that will help them prepare for the police academy. Applicants also need to have a clean record. Some departments might overlook minor offenses, but felonies are a deal breaker. Keep in mind, police background checks are thorough. Don’t let mistakes as a teen or young adult come back to haunt you.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you will next need to pass entrance exams and interviews to be considered for a spot in a police academy. In most departments, the exams will include a physical agility test and a written test that covers reasoning, mathematical, and verbal ability. If you do not pass on your first attempt, you can take the exams again. Check with your local department to see if recruitment officers are available to help you prepare for the exams and address your weak areas.

The police academy

After passing the exams and interviews, you are eligible to apply to a police academy. During your six months in the police academy you will be pushed both mentally and physically. Classes will cover topics such as search and seizure, the law, and ethics. You will be trained in proper use of a firearm and you will also undergo intense physical training. Throughout the months of training, you will also need to pass exams to show mastery of the subjects taught.
Making it through the police academy is a grueling process. Yet even after this rigorous training, you’ll find that being a police officer in the community is different than learning about emergency scenarios in a classroom. To help with the transition, you will spend about 8-12 weeks in field training where you will work with a senior officer to learn the ropes. Next, you will spend about a year on probation. During this time, superior officers will observe your work closely to ensure that you’re prepared for the job. After probation, you can build your experience to move up the ranks within the department.


This article was adapted from the following sources:
How to become a police officer or detective.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Law enforcement degrees and police careers: how to become a police detective.” Learnhowtobecome.org. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Police officer career timeline.” thebalance.com. Accessed April 7, 2017.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user msvanluvan
    How many participants in the police academy graduate?
    (7 votes)
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    • piceratops seed style avatar for user Aj Monday
      Aj, 18. Police Officer, Olney Police Department AJ: In order to be hired and make it into the police academy, it is a pretty long and, and rigorous hiring process. It's a seven-step hiring process, so right now we start with a questionnaire, it's online. After they do that, they come take the written test, and once they pass the written, then it's full speed ahead. They have their initial background, where they sit down with a background officer. If the candidate has no problems or if they've rectified the problems that did exist, they'll be moved on to the polygraph, the department interview, the medical. They'll be assigned a background investigator who will do an approximate three-month-long investigation where they look at every place you've ever lived, every employer that's ever hired you, your references, your neighbors, your friends. Candidates sit in a council chamber. Jamie gives them a briefing. AJ: They'll look into your social media accounts, everything that you can possibly think of, to make sure that we really know who we're hiring. There are 7 steps to be considered for the police academy. Prospective officers must first complete the following. 1, online questionnaire. 2, written test. 3, initial background check. 4, polygraph test. 5, department interview. 6, medical check. 7, extensive background investigation. AJ: Once you pass the seven steps, you're certified for hire. It doesn't mean that you will be guaranteed a spot in the academy, it just means that you are eligible to be considered. We're hiring every 28 days, a class of at least fifty candidates. And then, they enter into the six-month-long police academy. The police academy, I think, holds a special place in all of our hearts. (Laughs). It's six months long, it's personally the most difficult thing that I've ever done. But I'm extremely proud to be able to say that I went through it. For six months you start at . However, you have to be there around five to shine your shoes, shine your gear, make sure everything is immaculate, your hair is done. You finish the day around , but most of the class will stay after for study halls. Candidates enter a council chamber, and take their seats. Some speak to AJ and collect paper forms before taking their place. AJ: After that, you graduate, hopefully, after your six months. I mean it's pretty rigorous. You have PT, it's a lot of running, a lot of push-ups and sit-ups. So we really urge our candidates to be physically fit and not just, yes I can run a mile without stopping, but this is really, really difficult. So that's a big, big portion of the academy. Then you have shooting, you have tactics, law, building searches, there's a lot of moving parts to it. So, it is very stressful, but once you get to that finish line and you graduate, and you wear that badge, then they're assigned to a division, where they start their probation. AJ: Not every candidate who goes through the academy will successfully complete the academy. In a perfect world it would be 100% retention rate. That's really what we're all going for here, but we realize that sometimes, candidates have personal issues that they need to deal with, so they need to resign. Many times, they're not physically fit. And then, sometimes, you have candidates that they, what we call “double fail” things. So, in the course of their academy life they have to take many, many different tests. And sometimes, the recruit officers will have trouble. For example, if they fail a shooting test, they are given another chance, and if they fail again, then unfortunately they have to resign. However, one of our main responsibilities is to not let that candidate go off into oblivion. We want to get them back into another class as soon as possible so they don't lose that momentum. AJ: As far as the candidates that we receive, we have such a diverse array of people that are applying for this job, and that's exactly what we want. You do not need to have any sort of special degree to be a police officer. All you need is a high school diploma. You need to be a US citizen, or at least show proof that you have applied, and are in the process of getting your citizenship. You need to have a background that's befitting of an officer. And that's something that they'll look into in backgrounds as well, but no felony convictions, no domestic violence issues, things like that. A list displays the requirements in order to be hired as a police officer. They are: high school diploma, US citizenship or proof of application for citizenship, and clear record free of felony convictions. AJ: A lot of people ask us, do I have to have a criminal justice degree, or will that help me? And my answer to that is, it will never hurt, but if you're waiting to get a degree to apply, I would just urge the candidate to go ahead and apply, because the department offers tuition reimbursement, so if they would like to pursue that later in their career, that's available to them as well. AJ: My story of how I became an OPD police officer is definitely not typical. I started working as a singer when I was seven years old. I toured all over the world, all over the country as well as one of the lead roles in many different Tour shows, and that was what I was always going to do. That was my plan all through high school. I was going to go back and be on Tour, because it's just that easy, right. Aj stands in a council chamber. He smiles as he talks. AJ: So, I graduated from high school and then I moved to TEXAS and I went to UT, got my degree in music and vocal performance, and I did a couple regional shows there. I was waiting tables in between auditions, the typical singer story. And after a few years it started dawning on me that this was, this was difficult as an adult trying to pay my own bills, make my own way in Texas, which is extremely expensive. You have a tiny closet of an apartment for $2000 a month, waiting for a break that may or may not come. And, I just had to do some soul-searching and I thought, I'm not willing to spend my whole life waiting for something that's not a sure bet. I wanted something more. I wanted a career that really fulfilled me. Yes, I love singing,  it's a huge part of who I was, but I wanted it to be fun and it was starting not to be fun, because I was stressing over how was going to pay the rent. Aj: So, I moved back to Texas. My father was an OAPD officer for 34 years. He just retired on Monday actually. And, I talked to him about what I was feeling, and I said, “I don't know what to do. I, all I've ever done is sing.” And so he threw the idea out there. He said, “Well you could always be a cop.” And I will never forget, I laughed at him, I said, “You gotta be crazy. A cop? Dad, I love you but that's not for me, I could never do that.” And he called me out. He said, “Why not?” And I said, “Well, I don't know, I'm just not police officer material. They'd never take me.” And he said, “Why not?” And I said, “Well, I don't have any military experience.” “You don't need that.” Then I started thinking about it and he said, “Look, I looked it up, there's a recruitment seminar next week. Just go check it out, I'll take you out to dinner. If it's not for you, it's not for you.” So, I said “Alright, I'm getting dinner out of it. I'll go to the recruitment seminar.” AJ: So, I went, and I remember there were blue balloons up and they had coffee and pastries. I thought, “Oh this isn't so bad.” And then, I sat down and I listened to a Sergeant speak. It was a female Sergeant who's actually now my supervisor. Small world. She was speaking about her story and she had been a professional fitness model. Her background was very similar to mine. She had never dreamed that she would be a police officer. And I found myself seeing a lot of me in her and I thought, “Wow, that's really impressive.” I was looking at her uniform, I was looking at how happy she was to be a police officer. She was talking about how stable her life was. She always knew when her paycheck was coming. AJ walks down a hallway and meets another woman police officer. AJ: She was talking about her kids, how she's so happy to be able to provide for them, to take vacations if she wants to, to still do her fitness career if she wants to. And I thought, “Wow, well maybe I could do that, and still do my singing. And this does sound like a really cool job. This is an exciting career.” They showed us videos of, you know, foot pursuits and getting the bad guy and investigations, working with your partner, and I thought, “I want to do that.” So, I took the written exam, I got hired relatively quickly, and before I knew it, I was in the police academy. AJ: So, once I was a B2, I did about five years of patrol. So, I did get a lot of experience, and it was always in the back of my mind that I would love to work recruitment, because of the impact that it made on me coming through the process. I wanted to be able to do what that Sergeant did for me, to inspire them, because this is such a special job that I'm so passionate about. And I wanted to share that with other people. And I said, this is an assignment that I would love to have because, you know, you're still doing, you're still working with the community, but your focus is with candidates and I think I would enjoy that. AJ speaks to a candidate as he fills a form. He walks around in the council chamber where a number of candidates are seated. AJ: So, what I did was, I started doing a little bit of research within the department to try to learn as much as I can about Recruitment Employment Division. And I just started talking to people, asking people. I had a classmate that worked the unit, so I asked her, “You know, what would you suggest that I do?” And, one thing about life and work in general, not just the department is that, you have to be proactive. You can't wait for opportunities to come to you, because you'll be waiting a very long time and they may not come. So, it's a very competitive thing. I had to make some connections. I did have to have an interview in order to come into the unit. After my interview, I actually waited about a year to get the spot, and it was finally presented to me, and I was extremely honored and happy to take it. AJ: As a police officer within the OPD, there are over 250 different job assignments, aside from being of patrol officer. You can be on the dive team, mounted unit, which is on horses. We even have an off-road unit, K9 Officer, Community Relations Officer, Gang and Narcotics, Detectives, Media Relations Officer, the list goes on and on and on. As far as my aspirations go, I always keep an open mind just because of the number of opportunities that the department has. I'm interested in possibly being a detective. A detective is assigned cases. You review reports that are taken by officers, and you try to solve them. You prosecute them. You file these cases with the District Attorney or the City Attorney, depending on the level of the crime. You testify in court. You interview witnesses, victims, suspects. So, I think that would be pretty interesting. AJ: Someone who's interested in being a police officer should definitely think about the decisions that they're making, and how that will affect them long-term. Like I said, we do have a very thorough background investigation. I would definitely caution people to think about who they're hanging out with. So bad associations. We will be looking at friends, what you post on social media. Even if you are not directly posting something, if you like something that's controversial, we'll look into that. Also schooling, you know, make sure you're getting good grades, showing that you have discipline and your completing your assignments. Also obvious things, like not getting in trouble with the law. And also things like drug use. You have to really be careful of that. You don't want anything that will tarnish your background. this is all me and i'm now 19
      (4 votes)
  • leafers seedling style avatar for user Raquel
    so do I do the things to become a police officer in order to become a k-9 unit
    (4 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Alpha Strom
      Yes. So, to be clearer, you must work through becoming a Police Officer before applying for a K-9 unit. However, even if you do go through being a police officer first, they might not take you in K-9 because too many officers have been moving from the police unit to the K-9 unit. It may also depend on where you live though.
      Hope this helped!!

      Alpha Strom

      #read my bio
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Johnny Delgado
    What about Green card holders?
    It's that ok?
    I'm applying for Hawaii
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user justin.price
    how fit do you have to be to become a police officer
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user bernadettehue508
    If you want to earn a bachelor's degree, should you get it in criminal justice, or some other topic?
    (2 votes)
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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user elijah.francis
    do have to have a clear history?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky seedling style avatar for user f4nd0m_tra5h
    Would this career path potentially lead to either becoming a homicide detective, or working narcotics/vice squad?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user RAYLYNNP
    you can build your experience to move up the ranks within the department.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user k1821929
    what high school did you got graduated
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user aaron.duke
    why i thought this was supposed to be learning about math and stuff but i lover that it talks about the police force thats great
    (1 vote)
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