Becoming a Police Officer

Serving in the local police is a lifelong dream for many young men and women who are eager to protect others, enforce the laws of the country and demonstrate the heroism that is common to this hallowed profession.  Becoming a police officer requires hard work, both at the gym and in the classroom.

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In 2008, there were almost 460,000 local police officers serving in 12,501 local police departments around the nation. Although this many police jobs suggests that there are plenty of employment opportunities, the recent economic downturn has made these jobs very competitive as more professionals seek the job security and lucrative salaries that local police careers offer.  Many police departments in major cities have reported as much as a 50 percent increase in the number of applications being processed, and many of the applicants present exceptional academic and professional credentials.

The steps necessary for those interested in learning how to become a police officer typically include:

  1. Attaining peak physical condition
  2. Obtaining education and experience
  3. Applying
  4. Passing the basic skills tests
  5. Submitting to a background check, polygraph and interviews
  6. Passing the medical and psychological evaluations
  7. Completing the police officer training


Step 1. Attain Peak Physical Condition

Many of the duties local police perform require physical strength, stamina and dexterity.  From pursuing a suspect on foot to repeatedly firing a weapon, a strong and conditioned physique is critical.  Police organizations recognize this and require that their officers enter the agency in top physical form and maintain it throughout their careers.

Cardiovascular exercises like running and swimming are superb methods for improving stamina and preparing for the fitness exams that will be administered during the selection process.  Most tests require candidates to complete a 1.5-mile run as well as a short sprint within allotted time periods. Many police organizations also require a set number of sit-ups and push-ups during a timed period, so it is advisable to improve core and upper body strength.

Obstacle courses are a staple of fitness tests and may include wall climbing or tight corner running.  Some organizations require rapid firing of a handgun or shotgun, so hand strength and coordination are essential.

Step 2. Obtain Education and Experience

Due to the competitive nature of the application process, candidates should obtain as much classroom training in law enforcement as possible.  There are numerous schools that provide associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or related fields specifically designed for those interested in becoming police officers. Many vocational or specialized law enforcement training schools have been established that provide certifications and training programs that are useful for prospective police officers.

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College and post-graduate degrees are highly advisable.  Not only do such degrees often signify that the candidate is committed to professional success, but they also provide valuable skills that can be helpful in the selection process.  Logical thinking, written and oral communication, and problem solving are critical skills to most police organizations and many of them test candidates for those abilities.

Step 3. Apply

Applying to become a police officer is often a long and involved process.  Almost all law police departments require absolutely detailed and accurate completion of their application forms. Most also require documentation supporting academic and employment histories.  This may necessitate transcripts, employer recommendations or evaluations, and military veteran documents. While some of these documents can be copies, some agencies require original documentation directly from the organization.  It is wise to plan ahead so that deadlines are not missed.

Step 4. Pass the Basic Skills Tests

These tests evaluate the physical and mental abilities of candidates. The written exam usually includes portions in math, reading comprehension and grammar.

The physical exam typically includes running, upper body exercises, and obstacle course completion.

Some organizations may allow subpar performances in one or more sections if the candidate can excel in other categories, but it is often wise to train rigorously for success in all test portions.

Step 5. Submit to a Background Check, Polygraph and Interview

Strong moral character is critical to becoming a police officer, so almost all police agencies conduct thorough examinations of their candidate’s criminal, employment and financial histories. Using various investigative tools, police organizations attempt to learn if the candidate possesses disqualifying factors like felony convictions, narcotics usage, or habitual insolvency.

A polygraph test is also administered to ensure that the candidate is honest and forthright about their personal history.

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Interviews with senior officers are also conducted to assess the oral communication skills, problem solving abilities and personal demeanor.

Step 6. Pass Medical and Psychological Evaluations

Medical and psychological evaluations are conducted to ensure that candidates are physically and psychologically capable of performing their duties.  These tests include vision, hearing and drug tests.

Step 7. Complete Police Officer Training Academy

Local police organizations require new recruits to complete basic training programs that introduce them to legal concepts, police procedures, and law enforcement tools. These programs are usually styled after military boot camps that subject recruits to harsh physical training regimens as well as extensive classroom instruction.

Following academy training, most recruits will be enrolled in field training, which introduces them to actual police work in the field.

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