Law Enforcement Careers in California

With a state the size of California, both in terms of land area and population, law enforcement must be an expertly coordinated effort between state, county, and municipal agencies. According to FBI crime stats, California reported a total of 174,331 violent crimes and more than 921,000 incidents of property crime in 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, however, violent crime here has fallen by 1.3%, which speaks to the outstanding efforts made by law enforcement at every level.

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According to the Public Policy Institute of California, crime rose slightly in 2017 but is still historically low. The crime rate in the Golden State, as of 2017, is 451 per 100,000 residents. The violent crime rate ranks California 16th in the nation, slightly higher than the national rate of 394 per 100,000 residents. Most of the violent crimes reported in California in 2017 were aggravated assaults (59%) and robberies (32%).

With your strong moral compass and the right training and education, you can become part of California’s law enforcement community who are dedicated to providing law enforcement services that protect people, property, and the quality of life for its nearly 40 million residents and nearly 50 million annual visitors.

Jobs with the California Highway Patrol

The Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol oversees the California Highway Patrol (CHP), one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States.

The Assistant Field Commissioner oversees the Office of Air Operations, the Protective Services Division, and the State Security Division, as well as the following eight geographical divisions:

  • Border Division
  • Central Division
  • Coastal Division
  • Golden Gate Division
  • Inland Division
  • Northern Division
  • Southern Division
  • Valley Division

The CHP, which includes more than 10,000 employees (7,500 of whom are sworn police officers) and more than 100 offices, serves as the state police agency (The CHP merged with the California State Police in 1995.) and the law enforcement agency that patrols California highways. The CHP also provides protection to California state buildings and facilities and serves as bodyguards for state officials. The CHP works alongside other municipal law enforcement agencies and provides assistance in all aspects of law enforcement, including investigations and patrol.

All state trooper job candidates in California must meet minimum requirements before they can begin training. All applicants must:

  • Be between the ages of 20 and 35
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Have no felony convictions
  • Have adequate vision, be in good health, and be free of any physical, mental, or emotional conditions that would prevent them from doing their job as a CHP officer

CHP considers a degree (associate’s or higher) from an accredited college or university to be highly desirable.

Jobs with Municipal Police Departments in California

In a state where most of the population in concentrated in sprawling metro areas, much of the police work is handled by municipal departments. California is a huge and diverse state, and though the concentration and nature of crime might differ between lower income areas like the San Joaquin Valley and higher income areas like the San Francisco Bay area, skilled law enforcement officers serve a vital role in every corner of the state.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Police Department includes 9,985 officers and 2,961 civilian staff members, which makes it the third largest local law enforcement agency in the United States (just behind the New York City Police Department and the Chicago Police Department). Los Angeles Police Officers patrol an area of 498 square miles and serve nearly four million residents.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is organized into the following offices:

  • Office of the Executive Director
  • Advocates Unit
  • Community Policing Liaison
  • Personnel Services Unit
  • Discrimination Unit
  • Office of the Inspector General
  • Commission Investigation Division
  • Office of Community Policing

All police officer candidates in Los Angeles must be at least 21 years of age before they can begin training with the police academy. All applicants must also be U.S. citizens and have a high school diploma or GED.

All LAPD officers begin their careers in patrol and may transfer to specialized divisions after a few years in the field. There are over 250 specialized jobs in the LAPD, including the SWAT Team, horseback officers, helicopter pilots, K-9 Officers, and bike officers, just to name a few.

San Diego

The San Diego Police Department is divided into 19 service areas and serves 123 neighborhoods. There are about 2,644 employees with the Department, with about 1,800 of those being police officers. The San Diego PD polices a jurisdiction comprised of nine separate divisions:

  • Western
  • Southern
  • Southeastern
  • Northwestern
  • Northern
  • Northeastern
  • Mid City
  • Eastern
  • Central

There is also a number of specialized Units within the San Diego Police Department, including the Air Support Unit, SWAT, Auto Theft Unit; Background Investigations, Canine Unit, Child Abuse, Cold Case Homicide Unit, and Criminal Intelligence, just to name a few.

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All candidates must pass a written test, physical abilities test, polygraph examination, background investigation, appointing authority interview, psychological evaluation, and medical evaluation to be considered for recruitment.

San Jose

The San Jose Police Department has over 1,400 employees, four bureaus, 11 divisions, and more than 50 specialized units and assignments that include a canine unit, bomb squad, assaults unit, airport police, crime scene unit, metro unit, and a mounted unit, just to name a few.

The selection process for police officer candidates of the San Jose Police Department takes approximately six to eight months. All candidates must pass the California P.O.S.T. Entry-Level Law Enforcement Test Battery, a physical agility test, and a background check process that includes a polygraph exam, a psychological oral interview, and a psychological written test.

San Francisco

The San Francisco Police Department is divided into the following divisions:

  • Office of Chief of Staff
  • Office of Operations
  • Patrol Division
  • Metro Division
  • Golden Gate Division
  • Airport
  • Investigations
  • Homeland Security
  • Office of Administration

The San Francisco Police Department also has a number of district stations located throughout the city:

  • Tenderloin
  • Taraval
  • Southern
  • Richmond
  • Park
  • Northern
  • Mission
  • Ingleside
  • Central
  • Bayview

The Specialized Units of the San Francisco Police Department include the Homeland Security Unit, SWAT Team, Bomb Squad, HSU & Marine Unit, Hostage Negotiation Team, and a Canine Unit, just to name a few.

Police officer candidates here must be at least 20 years old. They must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien and must have no felony convictions. All candidates must also hold a two-year/four-year degree from an accredited college or university and must successfully complete the background investigation process.

Jobs with County Sheriff’s Departments in California

In unincorporated regions of the state that fall outside the jurisdiction of city police agencies, county sheriff’s departments are there to enforce the law. It is commonplace for sheriff’s departments to also oversee court security, county jail operations, criminal investigations, and backup for state and municipal police agencies.

Los Angeles County

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is the largest sheriff’s department in the world. It is organized into 11 divisions, with each division headed by a Division Chief.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also has three patrol divisions, a Custody Operations Division, a Correctional Services Division, a Court Services Division, a Leadership and Training Division, an Office of Homeland Security, a Detective Division, and an Administrative Services Division.

The hiring process with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department includes a two-part written examination, personal interview, background investigation, physical fitness assessment and psychological assessment.

San Diego County

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department consists of 4,000 employees, including sworn officers and support staff. The sworn officers of the Department patrol an area of nearly 4,200 square miles. The Divisions of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department include:

  • Court Services
  • Detention Facility Services
  • Human Resource Services
  • Law Enforcement Services
  • Management Services
  • Office of the Sheriff

Candidates must be able to successfully pass a written examination, prescreen questionnaire, background investigation, physical agility exam, and medial exam to be considered for employment.

Orange County

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is organized into the following divisions:

  • Uniform Patrol Division
  • Criminal Investigations Division
  • Special Operations Division

The Department is also home to a number of specialized units, including a SWAT Team, Emergency Response Team, Hostage Negotiation Team, Bureau of Investigation, and a Hazardous Device Team.

Steps to employment here include meeting the department’s basic qualifications, passing written and physical agility assessments, passing the interview and background investigation process, and passing polygraph, psychological, and medical examinations.

Riverside County

The Riverside Sheriff’s Department is the second largest sheriff’s office in California, serving more than 7,200 square miles across 17 cities. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department also manages five correctional facilities and provides court services.

Sheriff Stations in Riverside County include:

  • Cabazon
  • Colorado River
  • Hemet
  • Jurupa Valley
  • Lake Elsinore
  • Moreno Valley
  • Palm Desert
  • Perris
  • Southwest
  • Thermal

Interested applicants must meet the department’s basic qualifications to be considered, which include being at least 20 years nine months old at the start of academy training; possessing a high school diploma, GED, or Certificate of Proficiency from California; having good hearing and vision (corrected or uncorrected); and holding a California driver’s license.

San Bernardino County

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement services to the unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County, as well as 14 cities, all of which include nearly 1.1 million residents. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department also operates a county jail, and sheriff’s deputies here also provide marshal services to the superior courts.

The hiring process here includes meeting basic qualifications, passing a written examination, physical agility assessment, background and polygraph investigation, departmental interview, and medical and psychological evaluations.

California Law Enforcement Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police officers in California earned an average salary of $102,920 as of May 2021, making them the highest paid in the nation.

The following police/sheriff’s department salary data was sourced from May 2021 BLS stats (early career = 25th percentile, senior/late career = 90th percentile).

Police Officer Salaries

The starting average salary (post-training) for police officers among California’s largest police departments is about $90,000 These salaries come in well above the national average and are largely indicative of the higher cost of living in the Golden State.

Fresno Police Department

Police officers with the Fresno Police Department earn a salary of between $76,880 and $126,520. The average salary for these officers is $92,290.

Los Angeles Police Department

Police officers with the Los Angeles Police Department earn a starting salary of about $98,080. Senior level officers here earn about $126,520.

San Diego Police Department

Police officer recruits with the San Diego Police Department earn about $79,490. Those at the highest end of the pay scale can earn about $128,200.

San Francisco Police Department

Police officers with the San Francisco Police Department earn a starting salary of about $100,330. Police officers here can earn as much as $159,510.

San Jose Police Department

Police officer recruits with the San Jose Police Department earn a salary of about $101,330. Senior-level officers can earn as much as $162,120.

Sheriff’s Deputy Salaries

The average starting salary (post-training) for deputy sheriffs among California’s largest sheriff’s department is $66,923, which is about $9,000 lower than the average starting salary for California police officers but still well above the national average.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy sheriff trainees with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department earn between $98,080 – $126,520.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy sheriffs with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department earn between $98,080 – $126,520

Deputy sheriffs here may also earn incentive pay for:

  • Bilingual
  • POST certification
  • Special assignments
  • Field training officers

Riverside County Sheriff’s Department

Sheriff’s deputies with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department earn a salary of between $78,540 – $127,590.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department

Sheriff’s deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department earn a salary of between $78,540 and $127,590.

San Diego County Sheriff’s

Cadets with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department begin their careers with a salary of $79,490. Upon graduation, these professionals enjoy salaries up to $128,200.

Sheriff’s deputies with Basic POST certification earn an additional 5%, while those with Advanced POST certification earn an additional 7½%.

State Trooper and State Police Salaries

The state troopers of the California Highway Patrol earn a starting salary of about $80,420 and a top salary of about $128,300.

Some of the salary incentives offered to troopers here include:

  • Bilingual pay
  • Canine handlers

Educational incentive: 2.5% for Intermediate POST certification or an associate’s degree and 5% for Advanced POST certification or a bachelor’s degree

  • Field training officer
  • Investigator pay
  • Motorcycle pay

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for police and sheriff’s patrol officers. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022