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Police Officer: Educational Requirements for Police Officers

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a police officer. Get a quick view of the requirements - such as job duties, and education and training programs - to see if this is the career for you.

The education of a police officer begins in the academy, but continues on the job. Prospective police officers must have at least a high school diploma or GED and be 21 years old before entering a police academy training program, which includes classroom learning as well as physical fitness exercises. Recruits later receive hands-on training from veteran officers in skills such as firearm use, lifesaving techniques, emergency response, and how to apprehend a suspect.

Essential Information

Police officers enforce the laws of a community and ensure the safety of citizens and property. Students who want to become police officers must meet certain educational requirements, in addition to completing a training program. This article discusses the education required to become a police officer, as well as the career outlook.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent; some agencies require college-level training or a degree
Training Requirements Police academy
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% for police and sheriff's patrol officers
Median Salary (2015)* $58,320 for police and sheriff's patrol officers

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Prerequisites

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), prospective police officers must meet certain minimum prerequisites in order to be considered for employment (www.bls.gov). The basic qualifications for becoming a police officer are generally similar across states, because most use civil service regulations when hiring officers. The minimum prerequisites for police officers include the following:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent education
  • Possess a valid driver's license
  • Have no prior convictions

Many departments go beyond the basic prerequisites by requiring applicants to have completed some college coursework and a psychological profile. Also, prior to being hired and assigned to patrol, qualified individuals must complete a police training academy.

Police Academy

It is common for police officers to complete training through an academy before being placed in a live work setting. In large police departments, new recruits receive 12-14 weeks of training through their own in-house academy. Police officers who work for smaller agencies might attend a larger academy within their state or region. Community colleges and universities provide police training academies as well. Typical academy training includes regular physical fitness and stamina exercises. All graduates must pass a written and physical fitness examination in order to be eligible for work.

Academy training for new recruits includes coursework in a classroom setting. In some cases, young recruits, under the minimum age requirement of 21, will do simple work for a police department and attend classes for a few years until they meet the minimum age for street duty. Common areas of education during police training academies include:

  • State ordinances and local laws
  • Working with the public
  • Constitutional law
  • Accident investigation
  • Incident reporting
  • Civil rights
  • Mental preparation for hostility
  • Criminal psychology

While education is important, police officer recruits must learn by doing. Police jobs are dangerous, and they require specific training to succeed in the field. Therefore, recruits also obtain work experience under the supervision of training officers. This training includes common subjects such as:

  • Using firearms
  • Responding to emergencies
  • Controlling traffic
  • CPR and first-aid
  • Self-defense techniques
  • Apprehension techniques
  • Risk assessment
  • Role playing

Career Outlook

The BLS reported that police and sheriff's patrol officer jobs were predicted to increase by five percent from 2014-2024. Applicants who speak a second language or who have prior law enforcement or military experience will have access to the best work opportunities. As of May 2015, police and sheriff's patrol officers made a median yearly salary of $58,320.

To make it through the door of the police academy, you'll need to complete at least your high school education and have a clean criminal record. Some academies prefer to accept recruits who already have a degree or some college experience. Both classroom and hands-on learning will help you build the skills and knowledge required to become a fully-fledged police officer.

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