Police officers work across wide range of local, rural, regional and state police organizations, each with its own set of hiring and promotion requirements. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that educational requirements across the nation can range from a high school diploma to college undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Knowing that, how should you prepare for your career? Do you need specialized training to work in a federal law enforcement agency? How much will you earn?
This extensive guide answers many of these types of questions, as well as how to find the right training and education, how much you can earn, job prospects and how to advance in rank.
Police officers are sworn to protect and serve the communities in which they live and work. They enforce laws, obtain warrants, arrest and interview suspects, write detailed reports and testify in court, among other duties. Those who work in patrol might have a certain area in a city, region or state that they monitor. Officers often respond to emergency calls, working shifts that operate around the clock. Based on your appointment, length of service and training, you may work with a K-9 unit responding to suspicions of drugs or dangerous weapons in vehicles and other property. Or, you might take a role on the SWAT team where you need to know tactics and procedure under dangerous conditions.
Police officers may work under intense stress, physically and emotionally. You need to be physically fit and have well-developed communication skills. Independent judgment, empathy and strong leadership skills are valuable assets. You also benefit from having computer skills and the aptitude to learn laws and codes used in daily practice.
Most police officers work full-time, and many of them are on shift work, especially in the early years of employment. In 2012, police officers made a median wage of $56,980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the top ten percent in the profession made $93,450 or more. There are also the added bonuses and allowances for uniforms, extensive benefits and early retirement possibilities.
The map below shows details of the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earners for each state.
All law enforcement officers are required to be a citizen of the United States, hold a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and have a clean criminal record at any level: local, state and federal. You should be at least 21 years old at the time of your application for employment.
While positions exist for those who choose a general path, those who have a specific career goal in mind should be aware of more extensive requirements. For instance, those who want to work in federal law enforcement must have at least at bachelor’s degree as well as three years of related work experience. A two-year associate degree in criminal justice or law enforcement can move you up in the hiring line for non-federal jobs. Military experience or fluency in a foreign language can also help, especially if working where a language other than English is spoken commonly.
The ASSET or COMPASS test is a common official entrance exam required by many law enforcement organizations. Your exam scores will be ranked as the agency qualifies candidates for entry to their academy. The prospective employer may also conduct a background investigation, physical aptitude test, oral board interview, polygraph and/or medical exam as part of the screening process.
Upon hiring, you’ll be assigned to basic training at a law enforcement academy operated by city, regional, state or federal law enforcement agencies before you’re allowed to work in the field. You’ll study subjects like policing tactics, constitutional law, ethics, crime scene documentation and proper use and care of firearms. Federal officers receive training at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or another national facility.
Law enforcement agencies have well-documented, standardized procedures for moving up in rank. Once your probation period is over, you can begin to accrue hours and study to take promotion exams. Test scores and police performance are ways that organizations rank candidates for advancement. For those who work in federal jobs, earning an graduate degree can boost promotion opportunities.
If you are interested in learning how to become a police officer, you can often gather a wealth of information from schools that offer criminal justice and criminology programs. These schools are tops for future cops:
|SCHOOL NAME||CITY, STATE||DEGREE LEVEL||SUBJECT|
|Abilene Christian University||Abilene, TX||Bachelor's||Criminal Justice|
|Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College||Tifton, GA||Associate||Criminal Justice/Police Science|
|Academia Serrant Inc||Ponce, PR||Award (<2 years)||Criminal Justice/Police Science|
|Adams State College||Alamosa, CO||Bachelor's||Criminology|
|Adirondack Community College||Queensbury, NY||Associate||Criminal Justice/Police Science|
|Adrian College||Adrian, MI||Bachelor's||Criminal Justice|
|Aims Community College||Greeley, CO||Award (<2 years)||Criminal Justice/Police Science|
|Aims Community College||Greeley, CO||Associate||Criminal Justice|
|Akron Institute of Herzing University||Akron, OH||Associate||Criminal Justice|
|Albright College||Reading, PA||Bachelor's||Criminology|
When you are learning to become a police officer, many of the courses can be taken online. However, keep in mind that some criminal justice programs might require hands-on training in some areas, and so a hybrid degree is a possibility. These colleges offer either online only education or hybrid education for aspiring police officers:
|SCHOOL NAME||DEGREE LEVEL GRANTED||DEGREE PROGRAM|
|Adams State College||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Arts In Sociology With Criminology Emphasis|
|Adler School of Professional Psychology||Master's||Master Of Arts In Criminology|
|Albany State University||Master's||Master Of Science In Criminal Justice|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Associate||Associate Of Science In Criminal Justice|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Criminal Justice - Generalist Specialization|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Criminal Justice With A Specialization In Corrections And Case Management|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Criminal Justice With A Specialization In Forensic Science|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Criminal Justice With A Specialization In Homeland Security And Crisis Management|
|American InterContinental University-Online||Bachelor's||Bachelor Of Science In Criminal Justice With A Specialization In Law Enforcement|
|Amridge University||Bachelor's||Public Safety And Criminal Justice|
If you’re interested in how to become a police officer, you might also be interested in related professions. Working as a correctional officer, EMT or paramedic, firefighter, probation officer, security guard, gaming surveillance officer, game warden or firefighter might be on your radar. If that’s the case, you can peruse the list of related occupations below, which includes average salaries:
What you earn depends on where you live, including the region, state or city. To help determine what you can expect to make in your particular area, our handy salary comparison tool can help.
Police officers will always be needed to help assure public safety. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of police officers will rise by 5 percent from 2012 to 2022. Growth will be strongest among police and sheriff’s patrol officers. Those who have fluency in a foreign language, military experience, or a bachelor’s degree will see the best prospects for jobs.
To see more on employment or job growth for police officers, select a state below.
This is the largest and oldest worldwide fraternal police organization.
NAPO is a coalition of police units and associations from across the U.S. organized to advance the interests of America’s law enforcement officers through legislative advocacy, political action, and education.
With more than 325,000 members in more than 2,100 lodges, FOP holds an annual National Conference & Expo.
The PBA provides disaster relief, offers scholarships, and other programs.