How to Become a Police Officer in 3 Simple Steps

What is a Police Officer?

Working as a police officer can be a dangerous job yet many find it both challenging and rewarding. Becoming a police involves education and training. If you’re interested in learning how to become a police officer, continue reading.

Police officers are tasked with the duties of protecting and keeping their communities safe and as crime-free as possible. With the increasing turmoil in the world today, police officers are more in demand than ever. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that police officers and detectives should see an employment growth of 7 percent from 2016-2026. As part of their job, police officers have the following duties.

  • Responding to emergency and non-emergency calls
  • Monitoring traffic and issuing citations
  • Assisting in accidents and home disturbances
  • Enforcing the laws
  • Obtaining warrants, performing searches and making arrests
  • Filling out paperwork following each procedure
  • Working as dispatchers
  • Testifying in court

Work Environment

While many police officers work for the state or federal government, most of them work for local government as police officers, detectives, sheriffs or patrol officers. Their day-to-day routine may have them working in the office, out investigating, or at accident and crime scenes.

While police officers typically work eight-hour shifts, this career often requires a 24/7 commitment that may include evenings, weekends and overtime as needed. Police officers may find themselves working outdoors a great deal of the time whether they’re patrolling the streets, searching for criminals or missing individuals, or responding to calls.

The average police officer salary is $61,380.

Qualities Required of Police Officers

Police officers work in various situations and must possess many qualities to be successful at their jobs. Due to privacy laws, they must have integrity and honor. Despite the public’s curiosity and need to know what’s going on in their communities, police officers must be able to keep information confidential. Other qualities and skills necessary to being a good police officer include:

  • Good problem solving skills – Police officers must be able to not only solve problems but use good judgement while doing so.
  • Assertiveness – Many accident or crime scenes demand instant action so police officers must be able to be assertive when necessary.
  • Capacity for compassion and empathy – Police officers will encounter accident or crime victims and must be able to demonstrate compassion when dealing with individuals directly and indirectly involved.
  • Good physical condition – Because this job can be both physically demanding and dangerous at times, police officers must be in good condition both physically and mentally.
  • Ability to be a team player – Police officers often work in pairs or as part of teams so they must be able to work well with others regardless of their political views or their opinions of current situations.
  • Good communication skills – Due to the large amount of time spend speaking with the community and coworkers, police officers must possess good communication skills.

What is a Police Officer

Becoming a Police Officer

Step 1: High School Requirements

High School Courses for Police Officers

Becoming a police officer involves both education and training. While a police officer may have only a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training, this is rare. Most police officers must obtain specific police training. High school students aspiring to become police officers may wish to work this into their curriculum by taking as many courses in science, math and psychology as possible.

Completing these courses early enables the candidate to focus more on police-related courses when entering college. Because of the strenuous activities required of police officers, high school students may also want to take as many physical education courses as possible so they’re in good physical condition and can successfully pass the physical education portion of police officer training.

Formal Education Requirements

Graduates of police training may want to work in many capacities, including patrol officers; sheriffs; dispatchers; jailers; fish and game wardens; FBI agents; or DEA agents. While some positions can be obtained by completing training or associate degree programs, working for the Federal government requires a bachelor’s degree and possible training.

Having a bachelor’s degree can also improve both job opportunities and salary potential. Individuals working in criminal justice careers receive good wages and good benefits, which make this a competitive career. Earning a bachelor degree may give them the edge. The more training an individual has, the better the career options they’re going to have when pursuing a specific job.

Another advantage to completing a bachelor degree program is that the candidate can choose specific areas of concentration. Some of the concentrations available in criminal justice baccalaureate programs include forensic science, law enforcement, information assurance and security, homeland security, digital investigation, forensic accounting, cyber security, criminology, corrections, legal studies, security, and police administration, among others.

Step 2: Get an Bachelor’s Degree (Optional)

Completing a bachelor’s degree program generally requires completing at least 120 credit hours, which usually takes at least four years to complete unless the student is enrolled in an online program. Programs typically include general education courses, core courses and electives.


General Education Courses (58 Credits)

  • Introduction to Computers
  • Introduction to Computers Lab
  • Ethics and Criminal Justice
  • English Composition I
  • English Composition II
  • Art Appreciation
  • Introduction to Philosophy
  • General College Mathematics
  • Presentation Essentials
  • Aspects of Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Biology
  • Biology Lab
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Science Lab

Core Courses(50 Credits)

  • Foundations of Criminal Justice Systems
  • Theories of Crime Causation
  • Introduction to Criminal Law
  • Introduction to Law Enforcement
  • Introduction to American Court System
  • Foundations of Corrections
  • Crime Victim Studies
  • Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Theory
  • Constitutional Issues in Criminal Procedures
  • Evidence
  • Research Methods & Statistics for Criminal Justice

Electives (30 Credits)

  • Crime Causation, Prevention, and Control
  • Foundations in Homeland Security
  • Pro-seminar in Criminal Justice
  • Comparative Criminal Justice
  • Globalization of Crime
  • Counter-terrorism and Intelligence
  • Terrorism
  • Analytic Thinking and Intelligence
  • Advanced Topics in Policing
  • Geo-spatial Technology

The cost of a law enforcement bachelor degree program is $46,200- $72,220.

Step 3: Go to Police Academy

Once you’ve completed your education, you need to attend a police academy where you’ll take classes on police ethics, civil rights, state and local laws, constitutional law, traffic control, self-defense and firearm use. The police academy generally takes at least 12 weeks to complete. Police academy applicants must satisfy the same admission requirements as for entrance into the college program as well as the following.

  • Submit to finger printing
  • Not be convicted of felonies or a number of misdemeanors
  • Possess good moral character
  • Be free of emotional, mental and physical conditions that may affect your job performance
  • Complete a policy academy entrance exam

Before you can actually work as a police officer, you’ll need to pass a two-part civil service exam that demonstrates physical condition and cognitive skills. Once you pass this, you’re ready to work as a police officer.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Police Officer and How Much Does it Cost?

Degree Time Cost
Bachelor’s 4 years$46,200- $72,220
Police Academy6 months
Total 4 yearsand 6 months$34,080- $147,528

Police Officer Training Video

Noel Griffith, Ph.D.
Noel Griffith is a Doctor of Philosophy with a strong interest in educational research. He has been an editor-in-chief of since 2014. Noel is an avid reader (non-fiction), enjoys good food, live theatre, and helping others make wiser career decisions.

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