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Become a Traffic Cop: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a traffic cop. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a traffic cop.

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Should I Become a Traffic Cop?

A traffic cop is an officer that works within the traffic bureau of the police department. Traffic cops are responsible for the safety of all motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians on the roadways. They patrol roads, issue tickets and direct traffic. Depending on the city, traffic cops may also investigate hit and run accidents.

This can be a high-stress job, and candidates should be in good physical and mental condition. Long hours and irregular shifts are also common. However, this job pays a higher-than-average salary and might appeal to individuals who are interested in enforcing the law and keeping communities safe.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or GED, college courses or a degree may be required
Degree Fields Criminal justice, law enforcement or related subjects
Training Completion of academy training program
Key Skills Active listening, critical thinking, perceptiveness, negotiation and persuasion skills, familiarity with Microsoft Word & Excel, use of radios, handcuffs, service revolvers and semiautomatic pistols
Salary (2014) $56,810 yearly (median for all police patrol officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, Monster.com job postings in September 2012

Step 1: Complete College Courses

Although a bachelor's degree is not generally required, some departments may want potential recruits who have taken a minimum amount of college-level courses. Criminal justice is one area of study that may be desirable in this field. This program is widely offered at colleges, universities and community colleges. Some courses you can take include police practices, policing systems, legal aspects and American crime.

Success Tip:

  • Consider learning a foreign language. The BLS reports that officers who can speak a foreign language may be desired in some departments, such as those in urban areas. Aspiring traffic cops can find foreign language courses at community colleges or via university extensions and online study programs. Some schools offer language labs and other tools to learn a foreign language.

Step 2: Apply to the Police Department

To be hired as a traffic cop, interested candidates must apply to the police department. Candidates need to have high school diplomas or the equivalent; they also need to be at least 21 years old and be U.S. citizens. A history of lawful behavior is mandatory, along with good financial and driving records.

The hiring process may include a preliminary background application and a personal qualifications essay. A background investigation and polygraph examination are conducted, as well as a test of physical abilities. There will likely be a department interview and a medical and psychological evaluation. If all these steps are passed, then a candidate may be selected for certification and appointment to the next training program.

Success Tip:

  • Develop a physical training program. Physical training is very important for police recruits, and recruits might consider starting their own physical training regimes before they begin the academy. While aspiring cops can prepare on their own time, some agencies offer training programs that can prepare recruits for physical assessment tests.

Step 3: Complete Academy Training Program

If accepted into a police academy, the recruit will need to complete a 22-32 week training program. Recruits are generally paid their full salary during training. Included in the training may be some or all of the following: academics courses, driving and firearms training, human relations, law, physical training, tactics and any training specific to the particular department.

Step 4: Complete a Probationary Period

A probationary period generally follows successful completion of an academy training program. This probationary period typically lasts 6 months. During this time, the probationary officer will be assigned to ride with various training officers. It is common for the probationary officer to rotate through several training officers during this probationary period. They will likely ride along with different training officers in different areas of the town for a set period of time. During this time, the training officer will evaluate the probationary officer as well as mentor and provide additional training. After completion of this probationary period, all officers are assigned to patrol.

Step 5: Consider Getting a College Degree

Many opportunities for advancement require a college or junior college degree. Federal agencies, such as the FBI, Secret Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, generally require candidates to have a degree when applying for openings.

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