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What Does IT Take to Be a Police Officer?

Police officers enforce laws and protect citizens in local, regional, state and federal jurisdictions. Job duties include conducting administrative work, apprehending criminal suspects, making arrests and assisting victims. Because police officers are public servants, they face strict physical, mental, behavioral and educational requirements.

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Police Officer Education Requirements

Educational requirements for police officers can differ from one municipality to the next because they are determined by the individual city, state, regional or federal police department. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a high school diploma is almost always required for entry-level employment as a police officer ( Police officers in many cities are also required to possess a bachelor's degree or at least have some college experience. For police officers employed by federal agencies, the BLS reports that a bachelor's degree is always required; in some cases, federal officers must also have a graduate degree and several years of police work experience.

Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring police officers can pursue Bachelor of Science programs in police science or criminal justice. Coursework in these majors helps students gain an in-depth theoretical understanding of the foundations of crime, criminals and victims. Discussion topics may also cover the role of police in society and social issues facing crime and law enforcement, like drugs, race, violence and gender. Courses may also emphasize police operations, with most programs requiring courses in criminal investigations, crime prevention, police administrative clerking and criminal evidence.

Police Officer Employment Requirements

In addition to the educational requirements, aspiring police officers generally conform to several physical, behavioral and other regulations in order to obtain employment. According to the BLS, police officers are typically required to be 21 or older, have a clean criminal record and possess legal U.S. citizen status. Because of the highly physical nature of many police officer job duties, applicants must be physically strong and agile, with no vision, hearing or other impairments. The BLS also reports that some police departments subject candidates to psychological or lie detector testing during the application process.

Police Officer Training Requirements

Regardless of department type or jurisdiction size, all new hires at police departments are required to undergo fairly extensive training prior to officially beginning police work. Police academy training varies in length and intensity depending on the size of the hiring police department and potential job duties. Police academy programs consist of both rigorous physical training and extensive studies in all legal, ethical and procedural regulations relevant to police work. Trainees learn about laws in their area of jurisdiction and become proficient in the proper methods for conducting important job duties, like making traffic stops, conducting searches, making arrests and fingerprinting suspects.

Police Officer Career Outlook

Police officers could look forward to a 6% predicted increase in employment from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. This growth was slower than average, and there should be great competition for federal and state positions. Candidates who hold a bachelor's degree and bilingual skills should have the most favorable opportunities. Police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a mean salary of $58,720 per year in May 2013, reported the BLS.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics