How to Become a Community Police Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a community police officer. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in community policing.

Should I Become a Community Police Officer?

A community police officer develops a relationship with an assigned geographical area to involve citizens in crime prevention and neighborhood safety, thus improving quality of life in the community. Police officers' work can be very stressful, and their rate of injuries and illnesses is reportedly one of the highest, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Physical harm is a daily possibility for police officers.

Police training usually takes place at a local or regional academy. Most departments require that applicants be 21 years of age, while others offer cadet training for younger people who are interested in the career. Some police departments prefer that recruits have a college degree.

Career Requirements

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent; some college education could also be required; completion of a police academy training program
Experience None required; related experience, such as through the military, is often a plus
Key Skills Leadership, strong judgment, interpersonal communication and observation skills; computer skills involving word processing, database software and mapping software
Additional Requirements Physical exams testing strength and stamina, drug testing, polygraph and criminal background checks, U.S. citizenship
Salary (2014) $56,810 (Median salary for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: Meet Educational and Experiential Requirements

Educational requirements to obtain a position as a community police officer may vary by location and position. A high school diploma is standard, but college coursework may also be necessary. Attributes such the ability to speak another language or previous relevant work experience may also be beneficial.

Step 2: Complete Police Academy Training

Community police officers must undergo police academy training, which can take 12-14 weeks to complete. Applicants with past criminal convictions may be immediately disqualified for entrance to an academy program. Once admitted, students learn about such topics as general law, local and state regulations, traffic control, firearm usage, emergency response and first aid. They also receive supervised training on the job while they accompany experienced officers on patrols or emergency response calls.

Step 3: Consider More Education to Advance

Many postsecondary institutions offer classes in criminal justice, law enforcement and other topics relevant to community police work. Police agencies encourage their officers to take continuing education courses, and some agencies may cover tuition costs for officers studying to obtain particular certificates or degrees. Police academies also offer training and professional development programs to ensure high job performance levels. Individuals with undergraduate or graduate education may find more promotional opportunities, both within a community police department and within other agencies.

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