Certified Peace Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a certified peace officer though this video. Learn about the job duties and see the step-by-step process to start a career as a peace officer.

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Do I Want to Be a Certified Peace Officer?

Peace officer is a term used in some U.S. states to refer to licensed employees of various state and local law enforcement agencies, including police and sheriff's departments, highway patrol offices, and state bureaus of investigation. Some states also include federal law enforcement officials under their definition of peace officer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the majority of police officers, which include peace officers, work full-time. Licensed employees of law enforcement bodies usually enjoy good benefits and a measure of job security. Those who work with the public often carry firearms and might be exposed to personal injury or death in the line of duty. While police and sheriff's officers may encounter life-threatening circumstances, there is great reward in helping citizens and removing criminals from the streets.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or GED at minimum
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement
Licensure and Certification Requirements vary by state
Experience None required
Key Skills Critical thinking, leadership, communication, computers, handling of firearms, patience
Training Programs are available through law enforcement agencies, technical colleges and/or community colleges
Salary (2014) $56,810 (median annual salary for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)

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

Step 1: Meet Hiring Requirements

State Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) boards generally set hiring requirements for basic peace officers. Requirements vary but typically include being at least 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen, holding a high school diploma or GED certificate and passing psychological and medical/physical exams. Candidates usually undergo a criminal background check, including fingerprinting, and they may have to sit for a personal interview. Some states require college courses or a certificate in law enforcement.

Success Tip

  • Consider a college education. Even in states with no college requirements, an education in law enforcement can improve employment and advancement opportunities. Many community colleges offer courses and programs in law enforcement or criminal justice.

Step 2: Complete Basic Peace Officer Training

Peace officer training programs, which often are taught by law enforcement professionals from various agencies, might be offered through public safety training centers, criminal justice academies, technical schools and community colleges. Some schools and colleges allow students to take their peace officer training as part of an associate's degree program in law enforcement.

Topics of study generally include evidence collection, accident investigation, traffic codes and vehicle searches. Peace officer candidates might learn to process crime scenes, interview witnesses and interrogate suspects. Additionally, they usually get hands-on training in the use of communications equipment, emergency vehicles and firearms. Most programs contain a physical fitness component.

Step 3: Satisfy Probation Requirements

Basic peace officer candidates generally must complete a 1- to 2-year probationary period, the length of which typically is determined by the hiring agency. During this time, the candidate works under the supervision of a licensed law enforcement officer. Peace officer certification typically is awarded at the end of the probationary period.

Step 4: Pursue Additional Certification

A number of states offer certification beyond the basic level. For example, California offers intermediate, advanced, supervisory, management and executive certifications for peace officers. Qualifying for these designations typically requires a combination of experience and advanced education.

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