How to Become a Police Officer + Salary and Important Tips

steps for how to become a police officer

A career as a police officer can be a very exciting and rewarding. Police officers serve in their community making the area safer by enforcing laws and trying to prevent crime. Many television shows may make it seem that police officers are always dealing with shoot outs and cars exploding, but you should keep in mind that this is not the norm.

What Do Police Officers Do?

Here are some of the most important activities that a police officer performs each day:

  • Filling out paperwork and reports on many, many different things
  • Patrolling the community on foot, by car, on a bicycle or motorcycle and sometimes even on horseback
  • Responding to emergency calls and speaking with victims and witnesses as well as gathering evidence, making an initial report and securing the scene
  • Arrest people who are suspected of committing crimes
  • Providing a presence at public areas or events to both reassure people and prevent any incidents
  • Taking care of public road issues, such as crashes or broken traffic lights, and traffic offences
  • Issuing tickets and citations
  • Working with community members to find ways to reduce crime and make the neighborhood a safer place

It is important to note that accurate and precise note taking is one of the most important skills a police officer can have. Having accurate and complete information to work with is the first step in being able to access a situation properly and solve crimes. Physical fitness, a positive and outgoing attitude and quick decision making skills are also very desirable.

Steps on How to Become a Police Officer and Police Academy Requirements

If you’re still interested in the job, you should keep reading the steps below on how to become a police officer.

Make sure you meet the basic requirements for the job

Work as a police officer comes with a lot of responsibility and candidates must be very upstanding citizens who take the law seriously. There are also many dangers and physical requirements you should know about and be prepared for. You will want to check with the specific department(s) you wish to apply to but general requirements include age, high school diploma/GED, citizenship, clean criminal record and a valid drivers license are all likely to be required.

Special considerations are also given for knowing a second language, past military experience and college or university education. Make sure to mention these when applying.

Apply and Pass Performance and Pre-Screening Tests

Passing all the requirements to be a police officerIf you meet the basic requirements, you can contact the police recruiting office to get more details about the first steps. Usually this includes some basic mentoring or information sessions followed by a number of tests. These test can cover a lot of different areas but will usually include:

  • Physical Fitness/Readiness Test – Can you perform the physical duties required of an officer?
  • Analytical Thinking – Can you analyze situations and respond in an appropriate manner?
  • Written Communications – Can you take notes and write reports that can be easily understood and pass on the required information?
  • Vision and Hearing – Do you meet minimum requirements for vision and hearing?
  • Personal Behaviour Assessment – How will you behave in certain scenarios?
  • Personality Test – A test designed to gauge personality and to determine if your thoughts and feelings are in line with those of a police officer.

Pre-screening and preliminary background checks may also be run to make sure you are eligible to proceed as far as basic requirements are concerned. If you pass these checks and the performance tests, more in-depth tests will be conducted later on.

Interviews and In-depth Background and Psychological Tests

Once you have passed the basic testing you will move on to a new level of tests which may include interviews with psychologists or other mental health specialists and police staff. Like other job interviews these are designed to get a general feel of you and your goals and make sure you are a good fit for the job. Unlike normal job interviews, the psychological assessments will be done with a professional therapist to get a more in-depth picture of you as a person and try to weed out anyone trying to lie or conceal things. They will also be looking for signs of racism, sexism or other negative traits that would not make you a good candidate.

A background check will also be done to be sure that you are who you say you are and that you have a clean record as covered in basic requirements. This check will also look for other red flags that may hinder your ability to perform properly such as bad credit. Bad credit is sometimes an indicator that an officer might be vulnerable to bribery.

Police Interview Tips

police interview attire

Police officers must follow dress and grooming codes, so look the part at your interview.

A job interview is a very important part of the hiring process and you should do your best to be professional and polite at all times. This may include:

  • Looking your Best – A proper haircut and shave along with a clean suit and tie or other professional clothes. Avoid strong scents.
  • Be Prompt – It is important to be on time. Try to arrive a bit early if possible but not too early and certainly not late.
  • Be Prepared – You should bring multiple copies of your resume and any other documents and be ready with your answers to common questions like: Why do you want the job? What makes you a good choice? What are your strengths/weaknesses? Do you drink or do drugs? Your goals? Practice your answers beforehand and have some questions ready to ask when the interview is over and you are asked if you have anything to add.
  • Be Personable – An enthusiastic attitude and a firm handshake and a smile go a long way towards making a good impression. It is important to tell the truth during your interview as a thorough background check will reveal any deceit.
  • Be Confident – A police job is tough. Appearing confident in your ability is important. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, it makes it hard for the public and your co-workers to do so.
  • Communicate Effectively – You may want to do practice interviews to go over your answers and get a feel for the interview process. Being able to communicate is a big part of a good police officer.

Undergo a Physical and Join the Academy

If you pass the second round of tests then you are almost ready to begin your new career as a police officer. The final step is to undergo a full physical examination to check for any possible health problems and then to undergo training at the police academy.

Many large police forces have their own academy where cadets train in all the procedures and techniques necessary to do the job. This includes both classroom training as well as hands on practice.

firearms instruction at police academyPolice academy training is often a long and challenging process, usually lasting around 6 months. It is also worth noting that when entering an academy after being recruited by a police force training is usually free plus you will receive your full starting salary during training.

Police Academy Information

Some subject you will likely be trained in include:

  • Human Relations – Dealing with co-workers and the public. People of all cultures, sexes and races as well as those with disabilities and the media.
  • Legal Training – It is very important that you know the laws you will be enforcing especially arrest procedures, search and seizure and knowing when a crime has been committed.
  • Field Tactics – Proper techniques when in the field. This can be anything from proper patrol techniques to building searches or pursuit of a suspect and use of deadly force.
  • Firearms Training – Safe use and care of your firearm is important. This also covers marksmanship and tactical use as well as knowing when to draw and fire your weapon.
  • Driver Training – There is more to know than when you are driving your personal car. You will cover pursuit policy, defensive driving tactics and the proper procedure for driving an emergency vehicle such as when to use your lights and sirens and how to react to the public.
  • Physical Fitness Training – It is important that you stay physically fit during your career as a police officer. You should receive training on proper workout and nutrition information as well as supervised exercise while at the academy.
  • Procedural and Academic Training – How to properly arrest and book suspect, proper radio protocol, the very important duty of filling out proper reports and note taking as well as investigation techniques and traffic procedures.
  • Special Training – Based on your location you may also receive special training for situations you are likely to encounter while on duty in your specific locale.


After the Academy and Moving up the Ranks

Once you graduate from the police academy you are ready to begin serving as a uniformed police officer. Most new graduates begin with a title such as junior patrol officer, recruit officer or Probational Police Officer (aka Probie). You may be paired with a more experienced officer as a mentor.

Seniority and experience are very important on a police force. At first you may think that the tasks you have been assigned are beneath you or not important. This sort of attitude can get you in trouble. With few exceptions, each officer will start off doing a similar first assignment. This not only gives you experience to see the general goings on of the police force but should also give you experience and improve your judgement and responses to many situations. As you learn more you will be able to consider where you want your career to go and work towards promotions.

Generally after 2 years on the job you may start training towards a specialized assignment. In addition to specialized training, promotion up the ranks (ie. corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain rank) is also important to consider and is usually determined by several factors like written test scores, job performance and seniority/experience.

There are many different careers available in a police force which you might be interested in such as: K9 officer, traffic control officer, school or community liaison, detective, SWAT, narcotics, gang task force, Firearms instructor and more. (Note – If you are interested in law enforcement work in other agencies, especially federal agencies like the FBI, ICE or DEA, police experience is a very important qualification, along with higher education)

Once you have decided which route you wish to take you should talk with your supervisor or HR representative about what training and other steps you should undertake to achieve your goal. Some jobs may require special courses, while some could involve a degree (usually in law enforcement a criminal justice degree is very highly valued).

Top Police Science and Criminal Justice Schools for Police Training

A police science degree is a great alternative to a criminal justice degree for someone looking to become involved in law enforcement in particular. There may be a good deal of overlap between these two programs, but police science will include some specific police/law enforcement training, such as: Police Report Writing, Collection and Handling of Evidence, Essentials of Fingerprinting, Police Policies and Procedures, Criminal Psychology, Courtroom Testimony, Probation and Parole, amongst others. This specific police centric training from a Police Science program will give you an advantage when it comes to finding a job and advancing in the police force or to other law enforcement, or even correctional, agencies.

1. George Washington University – Arlington, VA + Online – GWU is regularly regarded as one of the top schools in the country for pursuits related to criminal justice and their BA in Police and Security Studies or Police Science are not an exception. Though Police Science is taught in Arlington, GWU main campus is located in Washington, D.C. and thus is a real center for criminal justice experts and government agencies, who often teach, recruit or offer internships to students. GWU is also consistently rated as a top 50 school in the USA in national surveys.

2. John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY – New York, NY – One of the most diverse criminal justice schools in the country, John Jay offers an extremely wide variety of different degrees aimed to target each particular niche that exists in the criminal justice field. Thanks to this specialization, they offer some of the most in-depth full credit courses in interesting subjects such as: Comparative Police Systems, Money and the Police Manager, Police and the Ghetto and a variety of others, along with a strong core program covering all aspects of police work.

Police Officer Salary and Benefits

Salaries for police officers varies from location to location but is generally related to rank, specialization and length of service. Overtime is also frequently available as police work is very demanding and police forces are on the job 24/7 365 days a year.

As a new recruit it is important to realize that more experienced employees will generally receive preference to choose hours and you may be asked to work nights, weekends or holidays.

police officer salary info

May 2012, bls.gov

Police officer salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 showed that the lowest 10% of police earned less than $33,060 per year and the top 10% earned over $93,450 with a median annual wage of $56,980. Detectives earned more with a median wage of $74,300 while police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned a median of $55,270. As you may have guessed, newer officers will earn less and begin earning more with experience.

Many police forces are also unionized and employ collective bargaining to get the best wages and benefits for union members. If you join a unionized police force it is almost guaranteed that you will become a member of the union.

Benefits for police officers will also vary from location to location and state to state but you can likely expect to receive excellent medical and dental coverage, paid vacation, bonus pay for holidays and overtime and a full pension if you stay on the job until retirement. You may also get other bonuses in different areas such as a bonus for being bilingual or for prior military service. Along with these monetary benefits you will also be a part of an organization that you can be proud of where you will form a close bond with your co-workers.

Police Salary Information by State

The following table contains information on Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officer salary and employment information from May 2013 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. You may sort the table to find more information. Remember, this information contains AVERAGE information, a recruit will likely earn less than average while a seasoned officer may earn more. This table does not include First-Line Supervisors of Police or Detective information.

State
Approximate Number of Officers Employed
Averaged Hourly Wage
Averaged Yearly Wage
California68,340$41.37$86,040
Texas56,890$25.50$53,030
New York50,390$33.98$70,670
Florida36,550$27.54$57,280
Illinois31,290$32.97$68,570
Washington, D.C5,140$33.38$69,420
Mississippi7,070$15.30$31,820
Alabama10,850$19.73$41,040
Louisiana10,840$18.73$38,970
New Jersey21,130$42.41$88,220
Alaska1,100$35.57$73,990
Washington8,160$33.96$70,640
Arizona11,910$28.42$59,100
Arkansas5,410$17.81$37,050
Colorado9,350$30.47$63,370
Connecticut7,180$30.78$64,020
Delaware1,690$31.05$64,580
Georgia21,120$18.42$38,320
Hawaii2,860$27.63$57,470
Idaho2,790$22.70$47,210
Indiana10,980$22.66$47,120
Iowa4,960$25.12$52,240
Kansas6,440$21.18$44,060
Kentucky6,630$19.92$41,440
Maine2,210$20.58$42,800
Maryland14,480$28.36$58,980
Massachusetts16,480$27.89$58,000
Michigan15,210$25.87$53,800
Minnesota8,840$27.99$58,220
Missouri12,190$21.15$43,980
Montana1,620$22.68$47,180
Nebraska3,490$24.81$51,600
Nevada4,460$32.82$68,260
New Hampshire2,930$24.52$51,000
New Mexico4,290$22.64$47,100
North Carolina19,630$19.68$40,940
North Dakota1,040$24.16$50,250
Ohio22,930$25.82$53,700
Oklahoma7,610$20.18$41,980
Oregon4,440$29.81$62,000
Pennsylvania27,760$28.91$60,130
Rhode Island1,970$26.36$54,830
South Carolina9,850$18.19$37,840
South Dakota1,590$20.21$42,030
Tennessee12,570$20.00$41,600
Utah5,480$22.31$46,400
Vermont1,350$20.65$42,950
Virginia18,070$24.48$50,920
West Virginia3,500$18.19$37,830
Wisconsin11,180$26.03$54,140
Wyoming1,190$24.57$51,110

Things to Consider

Police officers put their own safety on the line everyday to protect the safety of people and property each day. It is a very demanding and potentially dangerous occupation and you should consider your reasons for pursuing a career as a police officer seriously before you apply. Why do you want to become a police officer?

Important qualities include:

  • Excellent Written and Verbal Communication
  • Outgoing Personality
  • Quick Analysis of a situation and Decision Making
  • Keen Observation Skills
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Memory of locations, names, faces and other details
  • Basic Computer Skills in Email and Word Processing
  • Great Driving Skill
  • Healthy Self-Image and Self-Esteem
  • Respect for Force and Proper Knowledge of How and When to Use it
  • Respect for the Law

If you are lacking in any of these skills it may be a good idea to find a way to improve them when applying for a job. Some may be improved on the job with experience and others could be trained through continuing education and other courses.

A career as a police officer is a serious undertaking with many responsibilities and pressures to match. On the positive side is a sense of camaraderie, community and the feeling that you truly make a difference every day in a tangible way.