Introduction to a Police Officer Career
Police officers are first responders who enforce laws and regulations within their jurisdictions. They respond to incidents, collect evidence, and arrest individuals whom they have reason to believe broke the law. Since in-person training is required from a police training academy, it is not possible to fully prepare for this career online.
Refer to the table below for the required skills, salaries, and projected job growth of police officers.
|Required Skills||Empathy; physical strength; knowledge of federal, state, and local laws; passion for law; good judgement; communication skills; perceptiveness|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)*||5% (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$61,380 per year (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Step to Becoming a Police Officer Online
No online course provides police officer certification to candidates; however, there are online certificate programs in law enforcement and criminal justice that can prepare candidates for the police academy. Aspiring candidates must then graduate from a police training academy and complete on-the-job training, as well as meet physical requirements.
Step 1 - Enroll in Postsecondary Courses Online
The minimum education requirement for police officers is a high school diploma or GED. However, law enforcement agencies often prefer that applicants complete a postsecondary education program before entering a police academy for training. For aspiring police officers who have a 2- or 4-year degree in an unrelated field, a certificate may suffice. Those without a degree will typically need to complete a 2- or 4-year program in criminal justice or law enforcement. Certificate programs in criminal justice, law enforcement, or homeland security are offered entirely online and take 6-12 months to complete. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice may be completed entirely online as well.
Step 2 - Apply to Be a Police Officer
After completing a postsecondary program, individuals can apply to become police officers. The application is often a long and involved process and can be completed online. Applicants need to provide detailed and accurate information on their applications, as any inaccurate information may lead to rejection. They may need to submit a personal essay to demonstrate decision making and communication skills. If the applicants are accepted, they are placed into a pool of eligible candidates for future police officer openings. Alongside the application, applicants must pass tests that include a background check, physical fitness test, drug test, medical exam, psychological evaluation, and polygraph test, along with a civil service test that ensures job candidates possess the qualities needed to be a professional in the field.
Step 3 - Complete a Police Academy Training Program
After passing all the tests, accepted applicants need to complete a police academy training program. Police academy training programs generally last about 4-6 months, depending on your location. These programs are usually split into two distinct areas: classroom learning and a physical training program. Classroom coursework covers proper police protocol as well as law and civil rights. Students also learn how to perform duties such as traffic enforcement, investigations, and report writing. Physical training may cover self-defense techniques, stamina and strength building, and proper firearm usage. Programs also cover the operation of emergency vehicles and defensive driving methods.