How to Become A Police Officer

How to become a police officer
Photo by Scott Davidson

Would you like to help make the world a better place? Do you want to clean up the streets and help to put the bad guys behind bars where they belong? Perhaps you should consider a career as a policeman. Becoming a police officer will take dedication and hard work to gain experience and be good at your job. Here are some key things to think about before joining the team to be the first line of defense against crime.

Being a police officer will be a rewarding and diverse career. The work you will perform will help your community feel safe and protected. Different states may have specific prerequisites so you will need to check the necessary requirements to be a police officer in the location you want to work in. In most states, you will first need a high school diploma to start your police officer career. From there, you will need to apply to a police department for your training. If you want to end up working in a specific field of law enforcement you may need to gain further education by getting a certificate or degree. In most areas you will also need to be 21 years old.

It will also help your career if you possess some very important personality traits. Since your main focus will be helping people who are in trouble and putting the bad guys behind bars, you will need to be able to show empathy with the victim or victims of crime. You will need to be physically fit and be prepared to keep up your fitness level. Good communication skills will also be an advantage when dealing with your community. You will also not want to have a criminal record. Read on for more key information on how to become a police officer.

Police Officer Job Description

What you do on a daily basis as a police officer will vary depending on where you are positioned and what duties you are assigned. As a uniformed police officer you will:

  • be assigned a patrol area where you will need to be vigilant in enforcing the laws
  • patrol your assigned area looking for suspicious activity
  • enforce traffic laws, stop traffic when required and issue citations
  • respond to any emergency where you may be required to administer first aid
  • respond to all non-emergency calls and be required to investigate any complaints
  • obtain warrants, conduct searches and arrest those who are suspected of criminal activity
  • attend and work crime scenes, collecting evidence and gathering information from witnesses
  • write detailed reports about your activities and fill out the necessary forms
  • be involved in preparing cases for trial and testifying in court.

Your hours will most likely vary, but you should expect long hours. In many cases, you may work full day shifts, and then you may still be called on if an emergency arises. This is because most police stations are understaffed and must rely heavily on the officers they have available. The overtime will help increase your police salary and help you gain the experience you need when just starting out. The more experience you have, the more chance you will have for promotion to a higher paid position.

Police Officer Salary

The salary of a police officer will vary as you move up in the ranks and also depend on where you are located. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average police officer salary is $58,720 per year. In a more populated area such as some areas of New Jersey, a police officer may earn as much as $82,000 while an officer in Mississippi may earn only an average of $31,000. If you have a degree or a specialization in a particular area, your pay may also increase to reflect your abilities and experience.

Law Enforcement Career Salary

OccupationMean hourly wageMean annual wageLowest 10% earn less than:Top 10% earn more than:
Fish and Game Wardens$24.27$50,470$33,080$71,510
Transit and Railroad Police$27.98$58,200$33,140$87,670
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers$28.23$58,720$32,670$90,700
Detectives and Criminal Investigators$38.00$79,030$40,110$125,320
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives$39.76$82,710$47,390$126,320

*This data was compiled from


There are other factors that may also help you increase your pay. This type of work lends itself to longer than normal hours where paid overtime is common. If you can take on extra work you will benefit from the extra pay and also gain more experience. Shift work is also important in this field because protection duties need to be provided around the clock. When you first start out as a junior officer you will frequently work weekends, holidays, and nights, which will also help increase your salary.

Police Officer Requirements

There are some key requirements to become a police officer that you will need to help you succeed. As a police officer you will be in charge of protecting the life and property of the people in your community. You must be able to think on your feet and handle emergencies without direct orders from your supervisor. You will need to have a strong regard for the law and understand the difference between right and wrong. A police officer should be able to take control and lead by example. You should be physically fit enough to be on your feet all day and run fast to chase suspects if necessary. You will need good communication skills so that you can interact with the public. Being able to follow orders and take direction will be an advantage. Abiding by the laws is expected of any good officer. It will be important to your career if you are both dependable and trustworthy. If you think this sounds like you then take the next step and find out how to be a police officer.

Police Officer Education and Training Path

The best path to becoming a cop is to ensure you meet the minimum requirements, complete any education you need, attend a police academy and start your career.

You will need to have a minimum high school diploma to become a cop. Some departments will also require a bachelor or associate degree as well. This could include coursework in criminology, public administration, criminal justice and police sciences. In most cases, these courses are not required unless you plan to work in a specific area or hope to move up through the ranks, but it is always best to plan ahead and find out what you may need to do in order to get where you need to be.

Once you have completed your education you will need to apply to a police department where you want to work. If the department is seeking help now, they may move you into the training program quickly, after you have passed the required fitness tests as well as a lie detector and drug test. You will also need to pass a civil service test to see if you possess the skills necessary for a police officer.

The Police Academy Training program will last between 12 and 14 weeks. During this time you will be studying and engaging in a lot of physical training. You will study laws and civil rights, proper protocols and how to respond to situations. You will also learn some very important self-defense manoeuvres and how to properly use a gun if the situation comes up.

Once you have finished your police training, you will start your work as a police officer. After gaining some experience you may want to decide to focus on a specialization, such as narcotics or crime scene investigation. At this point, you may need to further your education to be able to move into these other areas. This could include studying part time while you work or being trained on the job by a senior officer who is in that field.

Police Officer Academy

police officer job descriptionMost police academies are restricted based on where you plan to work as a police officer. Once you apply to your chosen police department, they will choose which academy you attend for your training. However, you will still want to find out if you meet the necessary police academy requirements for your chosen training facility. Often this will require you to already be sponsored by a police department that wants to hire you. It also helps that the police department will often pay your expenses to attend the academy.

If you want to choose your own academy, look for ones that have an open enrolment program. From there, you may also want to look at your own needs regarding the academy. If you already have a job, flexible hours may make one academy a better choice than the other for you. Some academies will also offer the option of an accelerated schedule. This could be important to both you and the department that you hope to work for as you will complete your education quickly and get into the workforce faster.

A larger city such as Los Angeles has a tough academy, but it is also considered one of the best. FBI training academies are also much harder to handle than anything a police department will require, but they are also exceptional. When looking for the best, it may also be useful to find out which one the department you want to work with will pay for. They may have their own preferences regarding your training. Do your research well beforehand and you will be more successful finding a position, and your career path will be much smoother.

During your time at the academy you will learn a variety of skills to prepare you for active duty. There will be a combination of classroom work, hands-on education and physical training. You will learn about different laws and civil rights, how to conduct investigations of crimes, how to report incidents and deal with suspects. You will also be instructed in responding to accidents and emergencies, first-aid and CPR, traffic control, use of firearms and self-defense. This is vital knowledge that will help you succeed in your chosen career.

Police Officer Jobs

Within the department you can work your way up through the ranks and become a lieutenant, a captain, or a police supervisor. You also have the choice of specializing in a particular field of work such as a juvenile detective or someone who handles drug busts. You could become a game warden, state trooper, transit police officer or a detective. Each different area that you want to work in will have its own set of requirements. For instance, if you want to become a detective, you will first need to gain experience as a police officer, then you will need to take a test for detectives and then you will get further training in this area. The same goes for all other types of law enforcement career paths. You could focus your work in the horseback, motorcycle or canine police corps, or work with special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams. Typically, officers must work as patrol officers for a certain number of years before they may be appointed to one of these units.

State police officers, also know as state troopers or highway patrol officers, will have similar duties to other uniformed police officers but the majority of their time will be spent monitoring for traffic infringements, enforcing traffic laws and issuing traffic citations. As a state police officer you will have authority to work anywhere in the state and will often be called upon to assist other law enforcement agencies, particularly in rural areas or small towns.

Transit and railroad police officers will spend their time patrolling railroad yards and public transit stations. They ensure the safety and security of employees and passengers in their area, and protect property from theft and damage. They are also charged with security of sites by checking ID of all persons entering. They will assist with emergency situations like fires, derailments and accidents that occur in their designated area.

Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs protect the public and enforce the law on the county level. A sheriffs’ department will usually to be quite small, with a limited number of staff. The position of Sheriff is an elected one, that means that they are chosen by the public to serve their community. Work in the sheriffs’ department will be the same as that in other police departments, but they may need to perform additional duties for their community. They may also be assigned to work in the county courtroom as security officers or bailiffs, or escort prisoners to the county jail.

Detectives and criminal investigators are uniformed or plainclothes investigators who examine and investigate crimes to determine how the crime was committed and who did it. The type of work they do will include securing a crime scene and collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects, conducting property searches and examining records looking for evidence. Investigators will often specialize in a particular type of crime, like fraud, narcotics or homicide. You can find more information about becoming a crime scene investigator here.

Fish and game wardens are tasked with enforcing the laws regarding fishing, hunting, and boating. They will be assigned a particular area to monitor, where they will conduct search and rescue operations, issue citations and warnings to those who infringe the laws, and make arrests.

Becoming a police officer is a career that is challenging and not always easy. Now that you know how to become a cop you can decide if it is the right path for you. For anyone interested in this career path, you will not last if you are not dedicated to the job before you begin. Ensure you meet the minimum requirements and possess the right skills and attributes and you can have a successful career as a police officer. Try here for details about other criminal justice careers.