How to Become a Police Officer

How to become a police officerPolice officers are charged with keeping the peace. They pursue and apprehend individuals who break the law, enforce traffic laws, arrest suspected criminals, resolve community issues, respond to emergencies, and investigate crimes. Police officers are typically assigned to patrol specific areas in a geographic district and have to become familiar with their patrol areas when investigating suspicious circumstances. Training to become a police officer could be a smart career move if you are looking for a challenging job that exposes you to new situations every day.

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Police Officer Education and Degree Requirements

Preferred Characteristics

A police officer career is suited to anyone who thrives on challenges. You must be at least 21 years old and pass competitive written exams in order to become a police officer. Being agile and in good shape is also important, because police officers have to be fast on their feet. Participating in sports and taking physical education classes can prepare you to meet the rigorous physical qualifications of police officer jobs. Developing strong interpersonal skills is also a must since you will have frequent contact with the public.

Education Requirements

Police officer education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree. The minimum requirement is usually a high school diploma, although an increasing number of police departments require applicants to complete at least one or two years of college coursework or have an associate’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for federal police jobs. In urban police departments and federal agencies, knowing how to speak a foreign language is considered a plus.

Relevant Areas of Study

Most aspiring police officers pursue degrees in criminal justice. In criminal justice degree programs, students learn about every aspect of the law and justice system. Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates the study of law, psychology, sociology, public administration, and more. Other relevant majors that students thinking of joining the police force may pursue include police science and political science. Most police departments prefer applicants with a degree, regardless of their major.

Police Academy Training

Prior to taking on assignments, police officers go through training at a police academy. The training program generally lasts around 12 to 14 weeks and includes classroom instruction in state laws, local ordinances, constitutional law, civil rights, and accident investigation. Police officers also learn about traffic control, self-defense, first-aid, firearms, and emergency response.

Career Outlook for Becoming a Police Officer

Employment Projections

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of police and detectives is expected to grow 7% percent from 2010 to 2020. Job opportunities in local police departments will be favorable for qualified candidates, while state and federal positions tend to be more competitive. Police officer jobs in urban areas with high crime rates and local police departments with modest salaries are the easiest positions to secure. Those who are bilingual and have relevant college training will have the best opportunities.


The median annual wages of police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers was $54,230 in 2011. Police officers often work nights, weekends, and holidays. They generally work 40 hours a week, but overtime is common. The job can be dangerous, because police officers must confront criminals and deal with a variety of threatening situations. It can also be stressful to constantly observe the death and suffering that result from crimes and accidents.

Starting Your Police Officer Career

If you want to work in a respected profession and thrive in a fast-paced environment, consider becoming a police officer. You will have to face challenging and potentially dangerous situations on a regular basis, but you will likely experience the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping others and making your community a safer place.