Police officers are an essential piece of the community. Everyone recognizes their badges, uniforms and police cruisers. People rely on them for protection and law enforcement. If you’ve looked up to police officers throughout your life, then you may feel the calling to become a policeman or policewoman yourself.
How does a person become a police officer? Can you just go to the police academy? Or are there other requirements to become a police officer? Read on to have your questions answered and discover how to prepare for a police officer career.
What Do Police Officers Do?
Police officers enforce laws to protect the lives and property of citizens. Without police officers, chaos would ensue across the land. Every civil society needs a police presence to protect law-abiding citizens and apprehend those who break the rules and put other people at risk. Police officers accept this responsibility to provide healthier and safer communities for all.
Besides enforcing laws in general, police officers will perform tasks including the following:
- Obtain warrants
- Arrest and interview suspects
- Secure accident and crime scenes
- Write reports of incidents
- Appear and testify in court
Salaries and Job Growth
Police officer salaries vary depending on department location, personal education and job description. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average yearly salary for police officers was $65,170 in 2019. Salaries could be higher in cities due to higher rates of crime. Rural areas may have lower rates of crime, but an officer’s pay could be lower as a result.
Society will always need police officers, so you’ll never have a shortage of work as a police officer. But it’s a competitive field, so you should start preparing now to raise your chances of hire and career advancement.
Steps to Becoming a Police Officer
How long does it take to become a police officer? It’s going to take some time, so start following these steps now to begin your career.
1. Pass a Background Check
Police departments will conduct an extensive background check to make sure you meet their standards for hire. They won’t hire anyone with felonies, but misdemeanors like speeding tickets shouldn’t be an issue. Departments want their officers to be people who follow the rules. Make sure you have a good record before applying.
2. Acquire a Degree or Certification
Each state has its own set of standards for what kinds of degrees or certifications you’ll need to become an officer. Many departments require several hundred hours at a police academy apart from college. Other police departments will want you to complete two to four years of college to qualify. Choose which path is best for you, but remember that a college degree might help with promotions later in your career.
3. Pass a Licensing Exam
After completing your education and training, you’ll need to get your certification. You’ll have to take the Peace Officer’s Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) exam to prove that you’re ready for the job. The exam covers the following topics:
- Practical techniques and application
- Criminal and civil law
- Victim’s rights
- Community policing
4. Take a Psychological Evaluation
You should be in good physical condition to be a police officer, but you should also be mentally fit and tenacious. You’ll display your psychological health during this exam. It can include written exams and even a personal interview with a psychologist. The duties of an officer will be stressful. You’ll have to prove you can handle it on a mental level.
5. Apply for a Job as a Police Officer
If you want to know how to apply for police officer positions, then remember that it’s a popular career choice. You’ll be competing with other hopefuls, so send applications to several police departments. Prepare yourself for interviews to show that you’re the best choice as the department’s newest police officer.
Requirements to Become a Police Officer
There are some base requirements to become a police officer. Make sure you meet the following if you’re planning on pursuing a career in law enforcement:
- Age: What is the best age to become a police officer? Federal law requires officers to be at least 18 years old, but many departments won’t hire anyone under the age of 21.
- Education: You’ll need your high school diploma or similar level of education to be a police officer. Get your General Education Development (GED) if you lack a high school diploma. If you want to advance your career, you may need a relevant college education.
- Training: Complete your time at the police academy to learn the fundamentals of being a police officer.
Law Enforcement Degrees and Training
To increase your chances of advancing your career, you should get a college degree. You’ll also need some special training to fulfill all your job duties.
Types of Law Enforcement Degrees
Further your education to gain more law enforcement knowledge. Here are the levels of degrees you can earn:
- Certificate in Law Enforcement: Take classes in criminology, the criminal justice system and corrections to gain fundamental law enforcement knowledge.
- Associate Degree in Law Enforcement: Complete your associate degree to learn about topics like crime types, police strategy and investigating crime scenes.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement: Make yourself more marketable with increased knowledge in police ethics, emergency planning and various police models.
- Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement: Start getting specific in where you want your career to go with a master’s degree. Learn about topics including criminal statistics, intelligence gathering and criminal justice professional development.
First Responder Training Requirements
Police officers are often the first people at a crime scene, making them first responders. Because of this, the law requires that every police officer get their first responder certification. You’ll have to take certified first responder courses to stay regulation-compliant. They’ll also help you to know how to act when you’re the first person to respond to an emergency.
Courses like First Responder Awareness Training and First Responder Operations Training are essential on your path to becoming a police officer. There will be times when OSHA is present on the scene as well, so make sure you follow their regulations. You should also take a spill cleanup course so you can respond to hazardous material situations on the job.
Preparing for a Police Officer Career and Other Considerations
Before pursuing a career as a police officer, you need to make sure you’re prepared for the duties ahead. You’ll need some specific skills to handle your daily job duties. You’ll develop your strengths and work on your weaknesses throughout your journey of being a police officer. Here are some skills you should have:
- Leadership: Community members look up to police officers for leadership and guidance during crises.
- Good judgment: You’re going to have to make some tough calls on the job. That includes both taking action and not taking action. Read each situation while protecting yourself and those around you.
- Discernment: You’ll have to tell when people are lying and when they’re telling the truth. During disputes, you may have to make a remedial decision to resolve tensions. And sometimes, you’ll need to determine what people are saying with their actions instead of their words.
Register for First Responder Courses With Hazmat School
You must be a certified first responder to have a career as a police officer. You could be the first on a scene for any call, and you’ll need to know what to do to keep everyone involved safe. Hazmat School is your destination for online first responder training courses. Our courses will prepare you for various events throughout your career as a police officer. Completing our courses also looks great on your resume.
Increase your ability to advance your career and comply with regulations with our first responder courses. Contact us today for more information.