Requirements to Become a Police Officer: Education & Qualifications

Oct 24, 2019

Police officers are tasked with protecting the citizens of their appointed jurisdiction by responding to emergencies and enforcing the law. Qualifications for police officers are based around physical fitness, a clean background, and basic education.

Police Officer Job Description

Police officers are first responders who enforce laws and regulations in a certain district. They visit the sites of both emergency and everyday calls, investigate incidents, collect evidence at crime scenes, and arrest individuals who they have reason to believe broke the law. Often colloquially referred to as cops, police act as the starting point for the criminal justice system, and regularly interact with judges and other judicial officials, providing paperwork or testimony. Many cops spend their shifts on patrol, moving through a designated area so as to be able to respond promptly should an emergency occur. More experienced officers may have specialties, such as working on homicide or narcotics cases.

Requirements to Be a Cop

In order to join a police force, candidates will need to meet a large number of requirements, which can vary with each department. Generally, cops must:

  • Be citizens
  • Hold a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Meet physical fitness standards
  • Possess no criminal record that resulted in imprisonment
  • Fall within age requirements, be they minimum or maximum

Psychological and health checks are also common, ensuring a sound mind, good hearing, and correctable vision. It is also necessary that officers be deemed suitable to wield a firearm. Those hoping to become a police officer will also need to enroll in a nearby police academy.

Police Academy Enrollment Requirements

Requirements to join a police academy are largely similar to the above, but may also include a formal entrance exam, on which a candidate must score within the acceptable range. Certain requirements, such as meeting the physical fitness standards, may be recorded based on performance at the academy, although a candidate will at least need to prove they are fit enough to make it through the training. During academy training, prospective cops will learn about criminal and traffic law, firearms, defensive tactics, investigative techniques, patrolling, and concepts like community policing and diversity awareness. While attending a police academy, there may be additional requirements placed on conduct and behavior, such as no drinking or smoking, no gambling, abiding dress codes, and maintaining strict adherence to firearm safety.

  • How long is police academy? Academies can last anywhere from 11 to 29 weeks, and may involve boarding at the academy campus. Some academies are day schools, while others will give candidates a break on weekends.

How Many Years of School to Become a Cop?

While most police departments around the country require only a high school diploma or equivalent, some departments, especially larger ones like the NYPD, may require more. These departments generally want applicants to have completed at least two years of school to become a cop.

Do you need a degree to be a police officer? Police officer college requirements typically ask for some post-secondary education, if not a full degree. While specific subjects needed to become a police officer are rarely listed, reading, writing, and mathematics competency at a college level are often what departments are looking for. Online courses geared towards police are plentiful and can serve as a good place to start if you have no prior college education. A full degree in areas such as law enforcement or criminal justice may be beneficial, and these too are commonly available online. For those who hold a degree in other areas, a police certificate program may fulfill a department's police officer education requirements. Military experience can often be used in lieu of college education as well.

Career Advancement for Police Officers

Police departments typically utilize a rank system, somewhat similar to the military. Ranks have names, such as officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, but the exact ranks used and the order can differ from city to city. Promotion through the ranks of a department are primarily based on experience, with performance weighing more heavily the higher one progresses. Written exams are sometimes required for promotion. Promotions are generally accompanied by higher pay and may involve more responsibility, particularly in the form of supervision of lower-ranked officers. Upon achieving a certain level of rank, the opportunity to move into a specialization may become available.

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