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How To Become A Police Officer: Career & Salary Information

Police officers – they are the heroes of society; they are brave enough to take on challenges that communities face and they risk their lives on a daily basis for others. Police officers stand true to the notion that not all heroes wear capes. It can therefore be understood that the process of becoming a police officer is quite rigorous.

To pursue a career as a police officer, you need to meet basic minimum requirements, and you're required to complete a battery of tests before you can even apply for an open position. From a polygraph test to psychological assessments, these results will show if you are an eligible candidate.

After ticking off the boxes that meet the minimum requirements to be a police officer, after completing a range of character evaluations, and after completing a bachelor's degree or an associate degree in criminal justice or criminology, you will then need to undergo vigorous training.

Let us take a deeper look at the fascinating career of a police officer and the steps you would need to take to pursue this career

What Is A Police Officer?

Before we venture down the path of what it takes to be a police officer, it would be useful to shed some light on what a police officer actually is. A police officer is a member of a police force, and they have a legal obligation to enforce the law of a specific jurisdiction, state, or country.

They are the ones entrusted to "serve and protect" doing everything in their ability to keep communities safe and to answer the call of society. They are civil servants who uphold the law.

Police officers have different ranks in which they execute vital roles; each function serves as an important component in the smooth operation of a police station and in the safekeeping of the community in which they operate.

With the responsibility of detaining criminals, they face danger on a daily basis, and they are required to conduct justice in a way that maintains the humanity and dignity of all involved.

What Does A Police Officer Do?

As an agent of the law, it is the duty of a police officer to uphold and enforce the law. However, this role goes far beyond a sometimes-distorted image that we see on fictionalized television and movies. While police officers do aim to detain criminals, they also seek to protect people and property.

Their responsibility covers a wide range of duties, from issuing minor fines for misconduct or for traffic violations, to actually needing to intervene in life threatening situations where deadly weapons may be used.

While they do risk their lives on a daily basis, even just by wearing their uniform, they do complete administrative tasks that are fundamental for the successful and smooth operation of society.

In the midst of establishing a police presence in society and patrolling designated areas, they are also required to attend court hearings, responding to calls, and taking the lead in disaster situations.

They are also the first responders, along with firefighters and paramedics, when emergencies arise.

Steps To Become A Police Officer

As much as anyone would love to save the day and be the everyday hero that police officers often embody, it takes a lot of hard work to pursue this career. Let us break down the steps that you would need to take to pursue a career as a police officer.

Step One: A Background Check

As upholders and enforcers of the law, police officers are required to have a clean slate. Now, while even a speeding fine is considered a misdemeanor, it may not entirely revoke your candidacy. But any other misconducts, such as violence and possible charges of reckless endangerment, are a sure way of getting you kicked out of the selection process.

If you do have any misconducts as a juvenile, it wouldn't place you under as much scrutiny than the misconducts you would have as an adult.

It may seem like a strange concept, but much like with sentencing and prison time, the amount of time you are sentenced to serve will depend on the severity of the crime. The same goes for misconducts, misdemeanors, and possible crimes you may have committed if you are hoping to get into the police force.

A lot of employers do a credit check, but when the police force is your potential employer, you can be certain that they will delve deep into your personal, professional, and financial background. The reason for this is to pick up on any gambling history the candidate may have had.

Step Two: Higher Level Training

While some police departments may not require you to have a college-level education, for your benefit, as well as for your career, it would be recommended that you receive a bachelor's degree or an associate degree in criminal justice, or in criminology.

Having a higher qualification can provide you with the necessary skills to not only effectively conduct your job, but to also aid you in achieving a promotion and working your way up the proverbial food chain.

There is also extensive academy training that is required for you to be a successful candidate. You would need to complete a POST Entry-Level Law Enforcement Test Battery, or you would need to complete government-approved academy training.

Step Three: Complete The Peace Officer Standards and Training Exam

After all the assessments and training, you would then need to take the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) exam, which is your state's police licensing board exam. It is only once you have successfully obtained this license that you would be eligible to apply for employment in a police officer's position.

Step Four: Psychological Evaluation

We have all seen the thriller movies with the corrupt police officer, or the one who has left the police force to become a rogue vigilante. In reality, steps to mitigate these occurrences are taken well before the recruitment process.

Potential police officers are required to have extensive psychological evaluations which assesses their mental agility and their psychological stability. These tests can vary from written evaluations, polygraph tests, and even interviews with a psychologist.

The motive behind such tests is to assess if the potential candidate may have, has, or had exhibited signs of aggression and anger, and to determine what is their level of impulsiveness. After all, this is someone who will have a legal authority to carry a firearm in public. We would need to make sure that these potential candidates are not 'trigger happy.'

Step Five: Pursue Your Career

Along with furthering your qualifications and your certifications, and once you have obtained your certifications and the relevant training, you can begin applying for police officer positions.

Ongoing training and development are required throughout your career as a police officer to make sure each officer never loses their acute skill and agility. This includes physical training drills, gun safety and accuracy training, and much more.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Police Officer?

While the minimum academic requirement would be a obtaining a high school diploma or a GED qualification, obtaining a college degree will enhance your career as a police officer.

Any field-related qualifications such as a bachelor's degree or associate degree in criminology or criminal justice will be beneficial to your role as a police officer. These qualifications can even open up opportunities to pursue further vocational prospects within federal departments.

Additionally, being bilingual in the field of law enforcement is highly sought after. While additional languages may differ according to the state in which you are hoping to become a police officer, having an additional language under your belt will be to your benefit.

For example, in California, Spanish is a desired second language.

What Is The Average Salary For A Police Officer?

Considering the physical, mental, and emotional load that it takes to be a police officer, they receive an average yearly salary of $66,020 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics according to the results compiled in May 2021.

What Makes A Good Police Officer?

Aside from needing the skills and training to successfully carry out their duties, police officers need to have some innate skills that will contribute to them being brilliant police officers.

At the most fundamental level of being a police officer lies communication. From dealing with perpetrators and victims, defusing hostile environments, and interacting with the community, police officers communicate with people from all walks of life, and it is necessary for them to do so successfully.

Compassion, empathy, honesty, and integrity are also qualities that they need to possess to be successful in their role. This comes with the need for them to interact with such a wide array of people. They also need to have superior negotiation skills.

They need to have high moral standing and sound judgement, especially when difficult situations arise – situations that may test their character and integrity.


Which Degree Is Best For Becoming A Police Officer?

A bachelor's degree or an associate degree in criminal justice, criminology, or any other related field is best for pursuing a career as a police officer.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Police Officer?

While the entire process from start to end can seem quite lengthy, a general rule of thumb would be about two years before you would have the required certification and clearance to pursue a role as a police officer.

Can I Join The Police Force With A Criminal Record?

If you have a criminal record, you may not pursue a career as a police officer. Misdemeanors, such as traffic violations, may be overlooked, but extensive background checks are conducted on all potential candidates.

Can You Join The Police Force With Tattoos?

While tattoos are not forbidden, they shall not be visible on a police officer's body when they are in uniform. This means that neck and facial tattoos, and tattoos behind the ears are forbidden.

It is also forbidden for tattoos to display any form of profanity, drug, or gang related symbols, as well as any obscene, racist, and sexual forms of body art.

Why Do People Become Police Officers?

While some do pursue the career of a police officer for the thrill, the joy, and the passion that the job provides, other's find themselves drawn to the role because of its stability and the opportunity to gain experience within the career.

Can You Become A Police Officer With A GED?

While it will limit your career growth prospects, you can become a police officer with just GED or a high school diploma. However, pursuing further academic qualifications is highly encouraged.


Not everyone seeks to be the hero, but those who venture down the path of being police officers do hold a heroic air to them. If you find passion in helping others and you are not afraid to defend and protect those in need, being a police officer may be just the calling for you. Afterall, that is what it is – a calling and a passion.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you