Become a Police Officer

Do you aspire to become a police officer? Police officers protect the community by enforcing laws and maintaining peace. The job requires excellent judgement, extraordinary courage and the ability to think quickly under pressure. Read along after the jump to find out how to prepare for a career as a police officer, meet the educational and training requirements and land your first job.


Getting Ready to Become a Police Officer

  1. Meet the basic requirements. You must also be at least 18 years of age, have a driving license, and be a legal resident of the United States in order to become a police officer. Some police departments, however, require recruits to be at least 21, so double-check the age requirement with your local department.[1]
  2. Be an upstanding citizen. Police officers are expected to act as role models in their communities, and it's never too early to start embodying the values you will be tasked with enforcing. Avoid using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol to excess, and committing crimes, no matter how small. All of these behaviors can make it tougher to get a job as a police officer when it comes time to apply.
    • Having a felony conviction as an adult, a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, or a conviction for a crime related in any way to race (a hate crime) disqualifies you from being able to pursue a career as a police officer.
    • Juvenile convictions can't legally be held against you, since the record is sealed when you reach 18, but getting tangled up in crimes as a teenager is not good preparation for becoming a police officer. Having a good reputation in your community will be important when you apply for jobs.
  3. Start building good credit. When you apply to become a police officer, the department will run a credit check as part of your background check, and you will be penalized if your score is quite low. Avoid accumulating debt, and pay your bills on time.
    • Get a credit check now so you know exactly what financial state you are in.
    • If you don't have good credit, take steps toward building it back up. Even if your credit score is low, the efforts you make to attain better credit will show that you're a responsible person.
  4. Have a strong work ethic. Having work experience helps prepare you for the long hours and strict requirements of a police officer job, and it also gives you an edge over applicants with no experience. Your job experience doesn't have to be related to law enforcement, although that can help; any work experience that shows you're responsible and capable of doing a job well will help.
    • Consider taking a job that requires you to interact with the public. Police officers need excellent communication skills.
    • Other government jobs, such as a job at your local state park, can give you a sense of what it's like to work as part of a law enforcement team.
    • Some choose to join the military service for a year or two before joining the police force, as this prepares them physically and mentally for the duties of a cop.
  5. Get physically fit. Police officers have to have quick reflexes, the ability to run short or long distances, and the strength to detain suspects. You'll have to pass a physical agility test to qualify for becoming a police officer, so start working out now to make sure you're in your best physical shape.
    • Start running. Do sprints to build up your strength and longer runs to build up your endurance.
    • Work on your reflexes. Run on trails and play dodgeball to develop a quicker reaction time. Read How to Improve Your Reflexes for more information.
    • Lift weights. Strength training builds your muscles, which is essential for total-body fitness.
  6. Know what the job entails. Police officers are a familiar sight around communities and in the media, but in order to really understand what its like to be a police officer, you have to spend time on the job with one.
    • Contact your local police station and find out whether you can participate in a "ride-along" - essentially, spend a day shadowing a police officer.
    • Have questions prepared so that you'll get the most out of the ride-along. Ask the officer why he or she entered the police force, what you should do to prepare yourself, and what to expect on the job.

Fulfilling Education and Training Requirements

  1. Graduate from high school. Alternatively, you can pass the General Education Development (GED) exam.[1]
  2. Consider higher education. Having a college degree is not a requirement for getting hired by most police departments, but it can help to have even a few years of education in a related field, especially if you plan to later become a detective or hold an administrative position.
    • Take courses in law enforcement, criminal justice, or a related discipline.
    • Some departments provide tuition assistance to offers pursuing a degree.[2]
  3. Attend police academy. All potential police officers attend police academy for training. Large police departments usually have their own police academies, while smaller departments send potential police offers to academies in larger cities.[2] Training usually lasts for 3 to 4 months, and includes courses in the following areas:
    • Civil rights, constitutional, state and local law, crime investigation, and criminal psychology.
    • Subject apprehension, patrol, first aid, firearm use, self defense and traffic control.
  4. Pass examinations. Each department has different examinations you must pass in order to become a police officer. Examinations are usually administered to test your competence in the subjects and skills you studied in police academy. In addition to written tests, you will have to pass a physical fitness test, a background check, drug tests and possibly a psychological exam.[2]

Finding a Job as a Police Officer

  1. Apply to jobs. Find out whether there are openings at your local police department. If there aren't, you may need to apply for jobs in other towns or cities.
    • When considering where to work as a police officer, you should take into account the level of crime, unemployment, and standard of living in a given community.[1] Some officers enjoy working in crime-heavy areas, while others do not.
    • Other factors that you should take into consideration include commute time and the level of competition for police officer positions.[1]
    • You may also be recruited by a department during police academy training.
  2. Excel during your interview. Competition can often be steep, so you will need to do your best during the interview. Bring your resume along, dress professionally, and make it clear that you have the right values and skills to become a police officer.
    • Be assertive. This is an important quality for a police officer to have. If you're feeling nervous in the days leading up to the interview, do a practice interview with a friend or family member to help build up your confidence.
    • Be honest. Don't lie about past crimes you have committed or mistakes you have made. Honesty and integrity are of utmost importance in police work.
  3. Accept a position. Attend the necessary trainings and courses required to help you learn how to do your job well. Consider working your way up to a management or detective position.


  • Previous military experience will also help your job prospects.
  • Remember to keep your background as clean as possible. Bad backgrounds won't make the cut.
  • Most police officers (9 out of 10) in the US work for local governments, while others work at the state and federal levels.
  • Knowing a foreign language will serve as an asset in certain federal agencies and urban departments.[1]
  • Become a good writer and learn how to type at least 60 words per minute- you will be writing lots of reports![3]

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Sources and Citations