How to Become a Police Officer

A police officer is a professional who is given the task of making his or her community, city or state a safer place to live. Their duties include patrolling their given areas and ensuring the protection of citizens, maintaining public order, apprehending criminals and preventing criminal activity. Depending on your exact duties, your job as a police officer may be a slow paced desk job, or it may be in a higher paced, higher stress area such as counter-terrorism or drug trafficking.

A police officer’s job may be dangerous at times. While the job is rarely as glamorous as it is portrayed in the media, it is a highly rewarding career with many opportunities for advancement.

Regardless of their specialty, all police officers are tasked with enforcing the law. However, careers within law enforcement are highly diverse. Some police officers may spend their days arresting criminals or collecting evidence from the scene of a crime. Others may have less exciting jobs, such as writing up reports or directing traffic. Still others are in charge of the police K9 unit, and spend their days training and caring for police dogs. Other duties of a police officer include transporting prisoners, serving subpoenas, testifying in court and responding to domestic disturbances.

While you are training you will learn everything you need to know to carry out your day-to-day duties as a police officer. You will learn all about law enforcement, police tactics, human relations, first aid, state laws, local jurisdiction and laws, constitutional rights, and civil rights.

Most Important Skills for Police Officers

Poised
It is important to remain calm and focused in pressure-packed situations.
Inquisitive
Investigative and intelligent police officers can make a big impact on communities.
Detail Oriented
Writing detailed reports and accounting for specifics is imperative for any officer.

Some of the skills you can expect to gain during your training are how to handle firearms, interviewing techniques, investigative procedures, criminal investigation, emergency response, apprehending and arresting suspects, patrol techniques, self-defense, booking procedures, report writing, interrogation techniques, collecting evidence, traffic control and writing reports.

A police officer’s work schedule may be very demanding. Officer shifts are scheduled around the clock, and many officers work more than 40 hours a week. They may be required to travel on short notice and work holidays and weekends.

Education Requirements

As with most career paths, the higher your level of education, the more career opportunities you will have. To obtain an entry level job at a law enforcement agency, you should have at least an associate’s degree in a related field. Once hired, you may have an opportunity to pursue a higher degree of education through evening or online classes. Those with a bachelor’s degree in a field such as criminal justice or public relations are at an advantage, and may have an easier time securing employment. A professional who aspires to be a police chief will need at least a master’s degree in the field.

The career of a police officer is both exciting and dangerous. They prevent crime and keep people safe by keeping the criminals off the streets. If you want to work in a respected profession with a strong employment outlook, you should consider a demanding, yet rewarding career as a police officer.

Most police officer training school programs require their recruits to have a high school diploma, be at least 21, have a valid driver’s license, and be in good physical condition. In a foot chase police officers have to be fast on their feet and able to chase suspects without tiring, so physical endurance is a must.

After you complete your course, you can expect to qualify to work as a police officer, sheriff, investigator, narcotics officer, security guard, community liaison officer, or even a corrections officer.

Police officers are defenders of a city and its people. They stand as representatives of the law, symbols of civility and enforcers of justice. If you have graduated high school and are 21 or older, some agencies will allow you to apply to a police academy to become an officer. However, enter the field after they have studied and earned an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from an accredited college.

There are also police careers besides an officer that require formal education, and it all begins at university.

How can a degree in criminal justice help prepare me for a career as a police officer?

Many states require that candidates for their police departments have a minimum of an associate or a bachelor’s degree. A criminal justice degree is perfect for individuals who are passionate about a career as a police officer because you will learn about the legal and justice system while you study law, psychology, sociology, public administration, and many other related subjects.

Even police departments in states that don’t require a degree tend to hire candidates with a degree over those those without. Having a degree will also help you earn promotions down the road, even if you don’t necessarily need it right now.

Featured Law Enforcement Programs

MS - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement, MS - Criminal Justice: Legal Studies, Bachelor's and Master's programs in Counseling and Psychology.

AZ, ONLINE PROGRAMS 

Over 20+ criminal justice programs. Associate's, Bachelor's, and Master's degrees. Specializations include: Criminal Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, Corrections, Cyber Crime, Forensics, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Paralegal, and more.

ONLINE PROGRAMS 

Multiple online programs, including an Associate's of Arts in Criminal Justice, and Bachelor's programs in Criminal Justice, Corrections and Case Management, Forensic Science, Homeland Security, and Law Enforcement.

IL, ONLINE PROGRAMS 

100% online programs: Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Analysis of Criminal Behavior, Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Corrections and Offender Rehabilitation, Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement & Crime Prevention.

OH, ONLINE PROGRAMS 

AS & BS - Criminal Justice, Legal Studies, BS - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement

CT, ONLINE PROGRAMS 

University of the Southwest

ONLINE PROGRAMS 

Additional Resources

Finding Careers

You can visit policeone.com to view available police careers throughout the United States.

The FBI posts its own job listings on the official government site, as well as provide in-depth looks at some of the careers one can have with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Information on Police Careers
Discoverpolicing.org is a great resource for those interested in working in law enforcement. Besides featuring job openings throughout the country, there is also information on police careers in each state that includes pre-screening requirements and helpful statistics.

The Department of Homeland Security has a detailed page about becoming a part of the Federal Protective Services (FPS).

If you have a desire to make a difference in your community and become a part of something that is bigger than yourself, a police career may be right for you. Dedication, perseverance and compassion is required to do the job right and although it may be one of the most difficult, officers of the law are able to contribute to society in a way that ensures citizens are kept safe and those who break the law are apprehended and, depending on the circumstances, given the chance to rehabilitate and become a productive member of society.