How to Become a Police Officer

Are you wondering how to become a police officer? Perhaps you have wanted to be a police officer since you were a child, dressing up with toy guns and a badge. Maybe you’ve been working toward this goal since before you can remember, and now it’s just a matter of making the dream a reality. Or maybe you have recently decided it’s time for a career change, and with the state of the world you would like to make a difference by venturing into the field of law enforcement. Whatever your reason for seeking out more information on the steps of how to become a police officer, you have come to the right resource. We’re glad you’re here! Our aim is to provide a one-stop spot for understanding the process and steps needed to pursue this goal.

How Do I Become a Police Officer?

So, first of all: allow us to congratulate you on pursuing this noble and rewarding career! You have chosen to aim for a job which protects both people and their property. This work can be incredibly demanding. Job stress is higher in law enforcement than in most other careers, yet the rewards are great. This job has one of the highest levels of on the job injuries as well as illnesses. Yet, despite these risks there are men and women who bravely pursue the role of police officer or law enforcement officer, and spend their lives devoted to fighting crime and injustice in the world.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the job growth in the area of law enforcement over the next 10 years is expected to be around 5%, which is slower than average. There will continue to be openings, however, especially as public safety becomes a greater and greater concern in this country. The competition may be stiff for police officers and other criminal justice jobs as interest in law enforcement is at an all-time high, therefore it is important to equip yourself with as much information as possible before setting down this path.

Requirements to Become a Police Officer

In order to become a police officer you must meet the state’s requirements. Each state may have slightly different requirements, so it is important to be familiar with the laws of your individual state. This website offers information on individual state requirements, which could give you some good foundational knowledge on how to go through the process of becoming a police officer in the specific state in which you reside. Take some time to do your research so that you know that laws and requirements you need to meet before applying to a specific police academy.

As far as schooling goes, different states and even regions within a state require different levels of education before being accepted into a police academy. Some academy’s require only a high school education, whereas others require a college degree or higher. Almost every state requires that academy applicants be a minimum of 21 years of age. Applicants or academy candidates must also be United States Citizens and in good physical condition in order to meet rigorous training requirements. There are also personal requirements of applicants. Desirable candidates are in sound mind, good citizens, who have clean criminal background checks and a clear record.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Police Officer?

Military experience is looked upon favorably when applying to a police academy, as long as you ended in good standing. Any criminal history, even too many traffic violations, may be a hindrance to being accepted into an academy. If you are looking to be accepted into a police academy as soon as you turn 21, it would be wise to continue your education between high school and that time by going to college or tech school. Getting a 2 or a 4 year degree in criminal law can sometimes give applicants an edge. The academy likes to see that you have made good use of your life and time after high school and before applying to the police academy; they like to see that you have been bettering yourself with hopes of attaining this goal.

The process of getting hired as a police officer
Once you have reached the golden age of 21, and are ready to apply to a police academy, you may do so as long as you hold a valid driver’s license and are a US citizen. As with any job, the application starts out with a written portion, but after the written application there are a series of other tests and evaluations before determining if you will be allowed into the police academy. Academies may require psych evaluations, physical tests, polygraph tests, as well as full background checks. The following as list of what you may expect when you begin the application process.

Apply for police jobs:
Most police agencies these days do not accept applications at any, but rather only when they have an open position for a police officer. Once there is an open position they will offer the steps listed below to qualifying applicants. It is important to keep an eye out for openings and jobs listings as this is the time to apply. There are sights geared to help people who are searching for police jobs: and: as well as: These sights can help notify you when a position has been posted in the area in which you are searching.

Usually an agency will have an online application for the police officer position after it posts the opening. After (or sometimes along with) the online application is a written application. This will be a very extensive application and will take some time to complete. Some police agencies require the written application to be submitted when you go to take the entrance examination, which is the second step.

Take the entrance examination:
Almost every police agency will require an entrance exam as part of the process to becoming a police officer. The exam is set-up in order to measure an applicant’s skills primarily in the area of verbal communication. Most of an officer’s job depends on them being able to communicate effectively at all times. Officer’s need to be able to interview, report, and testify clearly and efficiently. Verbal skills and communication may be one of the most important skills a police officer needs. This written exam is created to test your reasoning skills as well, and may also have job related questions as well (recalling what you have observed, reading maps, and writing reports). It is vital that you are rested, have eaten well and are prepared to take your time doing your very best on the written exam. The scores will be reported from highest to lowest on an eligibility roster to indicate which candidates may be best suited for the job. This is another reason why it may be extremely wise to continue your education process post high school, therefore your mind will likely be sharper and you are likely to be more comfortable in a testing environment.

Take the physical ability test (PAT):
In order to become a police officer you will also need to take a physical ability test. After taking the written portion of the exam you will need to sign up for the physical portion (sometimes known as the physical agility test, or physical fitness test). Depending on the agency, the PAT may be given on the same day as the written test. Every agency run’s their PAT in a different way. Some agencies have you run a short distance (such as a quarter of a mile) to test for speed, others have candidates run long distances (1 to 2 miles) to test for endurance. Agencies may have you run an obstacle course which may include trials such as fence climbing, body-dummy dragging, or even pushing a car. All of these skills are aimed at testing the physical fitness and endurance of candidates. The job of police officer can be very physically demanding at times and it is important for agencies to make sure that you are up to the task. How you do on the PAT weighs in on your ability to be hired in addition to the written test scores.

Thorough background checks and investigation:
Screening a police officer candidate is much more in depth than almost any other job you can apply for. Police agencies are looking to gather any and all information about a candidate so as to access their character as a whole. Often a police agency will not only run FBI background checks as well as fingerprinting, which is the usual form of investigation into a job candidate, but they will also investigate all aspects of a candidate’s life. At very least, police agencies will call all former employers to find out if a candidate is punctual and trustworthy. Often they will interview family members, former teachers, friends and relatives. Some agencies will go so far as to run a credit report as well. This information lets the police agency know the financial responsibility of a candidate. Police agencies may use the information that is found in the interview before the oral board (discussed below), so it is important to be truthful at all times in the interview process if you want to become a police officer. All of this may seem like an invasion of privacy, but the becoming a police officer is not to be taken lightly. Police agencies need to be sure that they are hiring honest, upstanding citizens to uphold the law and protect people.

Interview before the Oral Board:
As with almost any job, in order to become a police officer you will need to have an oral interview. Unlike most other jobs, police officer interviews are conducted in from of an oral board, typically made up of at least 3 different ranking police officers. The difference between this interview and other job interviews is that the oral board is trying to assess how well you hold up under pressure. They will probably ask typical interview questions, but then they will also ask a candidate about situational problems and how the candidate would choose to act in a given situation. If this wasn’t enough stress, the oral board will also use any information that is dug up on the background checks to question the candidate and test their levels of honesty and integrity. Be prepared for any and all types of questions and scenarios, imagine the oral board as if you are going in for questioning (because that is exactly what you are doing when you go before the board). The goal of this interview is not to haze a candidate, but rather to test how well the candidate holds up in a stressful situation. The job of a police officer can be very stressful at times, there are many situations where you will have to give account for what you did or did not witness, and it is important for police officers to be able to handle the stress of such incidents. The oral board is designed to test police officer candidates in the way. Holding your composure and showing honesty and integrity may be very important to you attaining a job as police officer.

Take a polygraph test:
Honesty and integrity are two of the most important qualities in a good police officer. In order to evaluate a candidate’s honesty as much as possible, most agencies will have remaining candidates at this stage in the process take a polygraph exam. Typically the agency will again use all the information that turned up as they did a thorough investigation of you personally. They are checking to determine that you completely honest and trustworthy (or so far as the polygraph can show, and as far as they can discover with the means available). If a candidate is determined to have lied on the polygraph, even over something seemingly trivial, they will likely not be eligible for the position. Be prepared for a grueling couple hour test, these tests are long and expensive.

Take the psychological and physical exam:
Two other expensive tests which police officer candidates must go through are the psychological evaluation and a thorough physical. The psych evaluation is typically a two part process. The officer candidate will take a written psych test and following the written portion will be interviewed by psychologist about their various answers to the questions. The psychologist will give a report of the evaluation to the police agency and advise whether or not you are psychologically suitable for the position of police officer. Around the same time in the hiring process, candidates must undergo a physical exam. This may be rather routine, or can be very in-depth depending on the particular police agency. Some may require basic physicals like you would need each year before signing up for a sports team. Some agencies require further testing. Most agencies require urine-analysis and drug screening as part of the physical. Many police agencies have weight and height requirements. You should already be aware of these before getting this far in the process. It is advisable to keep in top physical shape throughout the entire process to ensure eligibility in this area.

Be interviewed by a police executive:
If you make it this far as an officer candidate, have passed all the tests and still remain on the eligibility roster, you will likely be interviewed by someone of high rank in the police agency. This is the last step before being chosen or being dismissed in the process altogether. Often there is no sure advice going into this interview. A ranking officer is looking for someone who will be good fit in their department or team. Once these interviews have been conducted the selection of new officers (or officer) takes place. If you are selected you will then move on a police academy for formal training.

The Police Academy

Depending on the size of the police agency doing the hiring, you will either be sent to an academy in another city, or they have their own academy. Even if you have a degree in criminal justice or served in the military, a police recruit will still need to go through the academy. The police academy training is set up to give cadets training in all areas of field work such as decision making skills, firearms training, traffic pursuit training and ethics involved in using deadly force. Other training skills include report writing, understanding criminal and traffic laws, agency policies and procedures, investigation skills, interrogation skills, managing stress and much more. Typically the academy training last six months, it is a very grueling time of training. It is not uncommon for officers to drop out of the academy, therefore it is important for candidates to stay focused and committed.

It is important to note that some smaller police agencies in some states require a candidate to have already graduated from a police academy prior to even applying for a position. If this is the case in the area you are from and seeking employment then it would be wise to check surrounding programs and colleges that offer academy training as part of their educational programs. Be aware, that depending on where you do find a job you may end up having to go through academy a second time. Although this may seem extremely frustrating or tedious, the prior training may actually give you an edge over other candidates applying for a police officer job. If the agency has seen that you have already made it through a police academy training program once, you are likely to succeed a second time which makes you a desirable asset. This is yet another reason it is important to familiarize yourself with the both the state laws, and the requirements of the police agencies in the area in which you are seeking employment. Equip yourself with as much knowledge about the process in your state as possible, prior to seeking to become a police officer in a particular place.

Go through the field training process:
The final step before receiving a candidate actually becomes a police officer is field training. Even if the police agency you are applying for does not have their own academy, they will have field training in their area. This period of training usually last from 3 to 6 months, but can also last up to an entire year. Upon graduating from the police academy, a new hire officer will be assigned to a field training officer (FTO). An FTO will take on the new-hire and teach them through a process of modeling and then slowly delegating tasks to the new-hire until the new-hire is doing the bulk of the work whilst the FTO is observing. Once the new-hire has met all the requirements and has the full endorsement of their FTO they will become a police officer. What some don’t realize is that the process of training does not end there. Police officers are constantly undergoing new training, and as an officer moves up in rank the training will continue. As with many important professions, police officers are expected to constantly be up to date with the latest training and knowledge available that pertains to the police work they are expected to do. It is important that police officers are teachable and willing to constantly be learning and adapting to the changes within the profession.

More Info on How to Become a Cop

While the above information is extensive on the process of becoming a cop, it does not contain everything. It is vital that any person wishing to work towards becoming an officer of the law needs to equip themselves with knowledge of the requirements of their state and region that they are looking to be employed in. Check out the state pages on this sight to familiarize yourself with the requirements of the state in which you reside. Then go further and contact local law enforcement offices for further information, or local law enforcement education programs. All of these resources are a great way to get started in mapping out your future to achieve the goal of becoming an officer of the law.