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What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Police Officer?

A police officer is an advocate of the law. Police officers maintain the safety of others by making sure laws are upheld and criminals are apprehended. These law enforcement professionals receive specialized training through post-secondary education and police academies. Read on to learn specific requirements for becoming a police officer.

General Requirements for a Police Officer

Basic requirements for becoming a police officer include a high school diploma or GED, some post-secondary education or a degree and completion of police academy training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to become a police officer, you need to be a U.S. citizen 21 years old or older. You must pass both physical and written exams.

Before becoming a police officer, you may also undergo a psychiatric evaluation and background check. A felony record may disqualify you as an applicant. Depending on specific job requirements, you may need to hold a driver's license and have a good driving record as well.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2020) $65,540
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 6%
Work EnvironmentWeekend/evening/holiday hours common; mentally and physically demanding work environment requiring constant alertness to respond to dangerous situations
Similar OccupationsPrivate Detectives, Correctional Officers, EMTs and Paramedics, Firefighters, Security Guards

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Formal post-secondary education isn't always required to become a police officer, but it's typically a benefit, especially for those wishing to advance in the field. Specific education requirements will also vary, depending on the police department where you wish to work. In general, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology or a related area is helpful for aspiring police officers. Students within such programs may study the following topics:

  • Law enforcement administration
  • Criminology
  • Juvenile crime
  • Ethics
  • Corrections and victimology

Training and Probationary Periods

As a police officer, you'll undergo training before obtaining your first assignment, and may start working on a probationary basis. Training through a police academy takes, on average, around 19 weeks and may include an additional period of mandatory field training on top of that. Trainees will develop skills in areas such as conflict resolution, police procedures, cultural diversity, ethics, and the use of force. At the academy, you'll also go through physical testing to ensure you have adequate strength and agility for your job duties.