Becoming a police officer is not for everyone, the job of a police officer has one of the highest levels of on the job stress, and it requires individuals who are brave, truthful, and full of integrity and valor. Besides the character requirements that are desired of any aspiring police officer, there are also many other specific requirements of those wishing to pursue law enforcement.
Each state and even some regions may have police officer requirements that differ slightly from other states, therefore it is important to familiarize yourself with the requirements of the state in which you live. You can start by looking at the state pages on this website for some basic information regarding individual state requirements. Also, contacting your local police department about their police officer requirements for hiring is another resource for information when pursuing the goal of becoming a law enforcement officer.
Requirements to be a Police Officer
Before you can even think about applying for a job as a police officer, you must know that you need to be a United States Citizen, you need to be a minimum of 21 years of age and have a clean background check. Even having so much as too many traffic violation citations may prevent you from realizing your dream of becoming an officer of the law. It is important for police officers to be upstanding, honest and productive citizens. This is something to keep in mind prior to turning 21, a mistake made in your youth could prevent you from becoming a police officer later in life. An applicant must also have a valid driver’s license.
Police Officer Education Requirements
The police officer requirements for education differ greatly from state to state and even between police agencies, towns or cities. Some require merely a high school diploma (which is the minimum requirement of any agency) whereas some require you a college degree, or even for candidates to have already completed a police academy program. It is important to know what the education requirements are of the agency with which you are looking to apply. There are programs post high school at colleges and even tech schools and community colleges for criminal justice or law enforcement. Even if an agency doesn’t require the completion of such a program, it does show that a candidate did not waste time between high school and applying to become an officer. Possible employers want to hire individuals who are looking for better themselves and others.
There are programs through colleges that include police academy training. Completing such a program shows an agency that you are able to complete the academy, and that a candidate has made it a goal to go into law enforcement and is pursuing any and all possible training. There is the possibility, however, that even if you have completed a separate academy training, an agency may require you to go through their academy as well. In this instance, which may feel tedious and redundant, one can simply view the first time through academy as a pre-training, and the second time through as perhaps a little easier since you are probably better equipped and prepared. Any training that a person does prior to being accepted into law-enforcement is simply extra experience, and is almost always viewed as a plus by possible employers.
After a possible police agent candidate has applied for a specific job opening, the department will then have the employee educated by their specific police officer requirements. Usually this means that you will attend their police academy, or they will send you somewhere for police academy training (unless it was required to have completed the academy prior to applying). Once the academy education is completed (which usually takes approximately 6 months but can be more or less depending on the specific academy) then the candidate, or new hire, will have on the job training. This is done on the field by a field training officer. The amount of time the field training lasts depends on the police departments’ requirements and policies. Usually an officer in training will begin by following and observing the field training officer, gradually the officer in training will take over responsibilities until he is doing all the work of a police officer, at which point he or she will graduate and become an officer of the law in full.
Most people have an ideal in their minds of what a police officer should be like. Many of these traits, however subjective, are in fact sought out by police departments when looking for new hires. Character traits such as honesty, integrity, intelligence, motivation, fair, independent, hard-working, impressive, deals well with stress, and much more. Although there is no way to state that police departments REQUIRE these things from individuals, they do look for these traits when interviewing to fill a job opening. Agencies will sometimes check into a person’s work and life extensively to get a feel for who they are as an individual.
Police Officer Physical Requirements
In addition to everything discussed above, a candidate wishing to apply to become a police officer must meet some physical requirements. For starters, individuals must have good eyesight, usually at least 20/20 vision (however this requirement varies depending on the police department). Also they must be in good physical health. One of the tests that is required of an applicant is to pass the PAT (or physical ability test) which may require individuals to run long or short distances, and/or complete an obstacle course or other activities that demonstrate a person’s physical agility. Some states have height and weight requirements for people applying to a police agency. Almost every agency will require a physical exam to be administers prior to hiring an individual as well.
Typically throughout the hiring process there are a series of tests that are required for candidates looking to become officers of the law. A written test is the first part. This tests the person’s communication and reasoning skills. After the written test is the PAT or physical ability test. The PAT could include anything from running a quarter mile to check for speed, or running 2 miles to check for endurance. Other obstacle course type skills may be tested as well.
A psychological test is also one of the required tests. It is usually a standardized written test with follow-up questioning by a psychologist who advises the police department as to the hire-ability of the candidates who are applying to the job opening.
Another test that could be required of police officer candidates is a polygraph test. After doing extensive checks into a candidate’s background, work history, and personal life, a polygraph may be administered to determine how truthful an individual is under a stressful questioning. Any indication that an individual is lying on the polygraph test may disqualify that person as a candidate for a police officer position.
Possible situations that could disqualify a law enforcement applicant
Police officer requirements for applying candidates also includes items that cannot be part of an applicant’s past or background. No convicted felons can become police officers and in some instances even misdemeanor charges can bar someone from going into law enforcement. Acts of domestic violence are considered to be a reason not to have someone in a positions of authority; as well as any hate crimes or reason to believe that someone will act in a prejudice manner against people. Acts of sexual misconduct are also on the list of what could disqualify a person wishing to become a cop. Substance abuse: including DUI, DWI, drug use and/or drug dealing etc. Some traffic violations such as 2 or more accidents where the candidate was at fault, and 3 or more traffic citations within the last 3 or less years.
Some departments view something as simple as having bad credit to be a disqualifying factor. The thinking behind this is 2 fold. First, if you are not responsible in your own finances how are you to be trusted with much larger more serious life situations. Second, if you are in a bad financial position, you may be more inclined to accept a bribe, or to so something illegal while in a position of authority. Along these same lines is a person’s job history. If a person has been fired from a job in the past, this could bar them from being allowed to pursue the field of law enforcement work. Similar to being fired is being dis honorably discharged from any branch of the military, which is also viewed poorly when applying for law enforcement.
If at any point in the process an applicant is found to have lied throughout the hiring process they will be disqualified automatically. It is important to be honest at all times throughout each stage of the process and about your history and personal life as well. Depending on how extensive the background investigation goes into your life the agency could uncover anything that you may have wanted to hide, so it is much better to be honest from the beginning and throughout the process. Honesty is one of the most important qualities in a police officer and so it is looked for in an aspiring officer as well.