Police officers protect the community by enforcing laws and maintaining peace. The job requires excellent judgment, hard work, extraordinary courage and the ability to think quickly under pressure. Knowing what to expect in job preparation, the police academy, and at the interview stage will help you get ready for your new career in law enforcement.
EditPreparing to Apply
- Meet the basic requirements. You must be at least 18 years of age, have a driving license, and be a legal resident of the country you live in 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.
- Make sure your record is clean. Police officers are expected to act as role models in their communities, and any crimes committed prior to becoming an officer can disqualify you. Avoid using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol to excess, and associating with criminals. 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, 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 in most jurisdictions.
- 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 low. To build good credit, 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.
- Develop a strong work background. 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. However, military service doesn’t exempt you from police academy in most jurisdictions.
- 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. Join a gym, work with a personal trainer, or just start running every day to get yourself in shape.
- Go on ride-alongs whenever possible. 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. Most police departments allow citizens to ride along with cops, so take advantage of the opportunity as often as you can!
- To schedule a ride-along, contact your local police department.
EditFulfilling the Requirements
- Graduate from high school. Alternatively, you can pass the General Education Development (GED) exam. Virtually all police departments require their officers to at least have a GED.
- 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. Law enforcement, criminal justice, or even pre-law are all good majors for prospective police.
- Some departments provide tuition assistance to offers pursuing a degree.
- Choose a police academy to attend. If you have a particular department in mind, choose that department’s police academy. If you are open to moving around in the future, whichever police academy is closest or offers the most flexible hours will be fine.
- Not all departments have their own police academies. Be sure to check with yours first.
- Police academies are usually part-time.
- Tuition depends on location, but be prepared to spend several thousand USD.
- Take the police academy screening test. Most police academies require applicants to pass a screening test before they can be admitted. The actual contents of the test depends on the jurisdiction, but expect to be asked questions that focus on your judgement, ethics, racial and gender biases, and other critical issues that police officers have to contend with. Some police academies require psychological screening tests.
- 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 officers to academies in larger cities. Training usually lasts for about 6 months, and includes courses in a variety of areas, including:
- First aid/CPR
- State, federal, and local laws
- Firearm use
- Patrol procedures
- Investigation and report writing
- Criminal law
- 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 practical exam that tests you in a hands-on scenario.
EditFinding a Job as a Police Officer
- Look for open police 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. Consider factors such as location, cost of living, and crime rate when applying for police jobs.
- Most police jobs are not publicly advertised. Call your local department for openings.
- Applications vary by department, but most of them are long and complex. Be prepared to wait for months after applying to jobs.
- Pass the department screening tests. Many departments have their own screening tests that are required before an interview. These tests are likely to focus on your ethical and psychological attitudes towards topics such as domestic violence, police brutality, racial bias, and mental illness.
- Pass background and drug tests. It’s common for departments to administer drug and background tests before the interview even takes place, so be prepared to provide the necessary information with little warning. You may need to provide a hair or urine sample, a copy of your credit report, and full biographical information.
- Be sure to tell the department beforehand if there is any reason you may not pass a test. For example, if you have recently purchased a house, your credit score might not be accurate.
- Excel during your interview. If you are asked for an interview, do your best! Competition can often be steep for jobs in good departments. Bring your resume along, dress professionally, and make it clear that you have the right values and skills to become a police officer.
- A police officer’s resume should contain their education, police academy training, work or military history, and any volunteer experience that might be relevant.
- 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.
- Be prepared to discuss sensitive issues, such as police brutality.
- Begin training. Accepting a job offer is only the first part of becoming a real cop! Most departments require extensive training before you’ll be allowed to operate independently. Attend the necessary training and courses required to help you learn how to do your job well.
- Hiring for police officers is a very long process. Expect at least six months to lapse between beginning your job search and accepting a position.
- Knowing a foreign language will serve as an asset in certain federal agencies and urban departments.
- Practice writing and learn how to type at least 60 words per minute–you will be writing lots of reports!
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