Becoming a police officer: All you need to know

Becoming a police officer: All you need to know

Becoming a police officer is an honorable and impactful way to serve a community. Unlike many jobs that carry a similar status, becoming a police officer does not require formal education. Often, a high school diploma is the minimum formal education needed.

Aspiring police officers are required to receive specialized training, which can often be extensive. Police academies often facilitate this training at local, regional, provincial or state levels.

This begs the question: Why do you need to get an enforcement degree at all? Well, two clear reasons to state straight away would be that you will receive better opportunities for advancement and potentially receive higher pay. This guide discusses how education can help aspiring police officers achieve their goals.

What is a police officer’s job?

Watching TV shows to receive all your information is not a good way to start as the representations are hardly ever 100% accurate. A police officer’s main job is to patrol a section of their community to ensure safety. In the most basic sense, police officers enforce laws and safeguard life and property. Of course, there’s much more to this job than meets the eye.

Aside from the duties mentioned earlier, police officers fulfill the following tasks (and more) should they come their way:

  • Obtain warrants
  • Arrest and interview law violators
  • Secure crime or accident scenes
  • Write detailed reports
  • Testify in court
  • Respond to emergency calls
  • Work shifts operating round the clock

Police officer careers — An in-depth explanation

Based on university police teachings, training, length of service and appointment, the specific duties of a police officer are diverse. They might work with a K-9 unit responding to suspicions of dangerous weapons or drugs in vehicles and other property.

A police officer may even take on a role on the SWAT team, where they must know procedures and tactics for working under dangerous conditions.

As previously mentioned, most of an officer’s daily routine involves patrolling a specific area, such as a part of a town or city. As the officer moves up the ranks, they may need to investigate crimes that could range from petty theft to murder.

Is it worth becoming a police officer?

Working as a police officer is attractive for many reasons, from emotional benefits to financial incentives. Below are the perks discussed in detail:

The opportunity to make a difference

Becoming a police officer allows you to positively impact the community you serve, down to the individual level. Given they perform their duties well, police officers can help improve the peace of mind and the quality of life of the communities they vow to protect. These duties include promptly responding to emergencies, providing assurances after home intrusions, keeping children safe at crosswalks and more.

Overall, police officers can make a world of difference through simple acts of kindness and courage.

Remaining active

Being a police officer includes administrative duties, such as the requirement to fill out paperwork promptly. However, the job offers numerous opportunities to be physically active. Examples of this include pursuing suspected criminals, patrolling a neighborhood or making the rounds while providing security at a social event.

The job’s eclectic nature

Those who do not like monotonous professions may appreciate the variety offered by working as a law enforcement officer. Since the needs of different communities vary, the directives of a police department may constantly shift over time. Police officers may find that no two days are the same, as there will always be a change of environment available to them. Activities can range from responding to distress calls and patrolling neighborhoods to testifying in legal proceedings and making arrests.

The financial advantages 

Choosing the law enforcement profession also offers financial security. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, detectives and officers earn a median annual salary between $56,900 and $66,300.

In addition, many police forces offer options for early retirement, allowing retired officers to receive income from pension accounts. In certain areas, police officers may also qualify for early retirement after 20 years of working in the force. The job may also offer overtime pay, paid time off, health benefits and insurance coverage options.

Strong bonds with colleagues

Last but not least, many individuals are drawn to the job for the sense of companionship available with colleagues. Being a police officer can be challenging, but it makes for real bonds with others in the same profession.

The steps to becoming a police officer

As mentioned, law enforcement officers are society’s shield from violence and lawlessness. They protect individuals and their property, keep neighborhoods safe from crime, enforce laws and apprehend law violators. In a way, they become the most distinguishable law enforcement community members. 

If providing protection and aiding your community is your calling, pursuing a law enforcement career would be a great place to begin. Start by searching for the main requirements to become a police officer, including the education, training and application procedures. 

It is also best that you take the time to research the job outlook, salary, job expectations and risks and advancement opportunities. Take the time to explore the working conditions and environment of the agency or department you want to join. To learn more about the process in detail, refer to the below steps:

Meet the minimum requirements

There are several requirements to consider when becoming a police officer: 

  • You must have at least a high school diploma or a GED
  • You must be at least 21 years old and, depending on the department, have a valid driver’s license
  • Be physically fit. As the job is strenuous, you must pass fitness tests to prove your strength, agility and stamina
  • All applicants must pass a rigorous background check, drug-screening tests and more
  • A medical examination is also necessary for ensuring that you have no medical conditions that could keep you from fulfilling your duties
  • You must pass a written exam where your practical, analytical and problem-solving skills are tested

Obtain an Associate’s degree

The criteria for becoming a Police Officer vary from state to state and department to department. Some employers require candidates to earn Associate’s degrees to gain employment.

An Associate’s degree usually takes around two years to complete, and applicants can take the classes online or on campus. After obtaining an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, you may gain employment as a:

  • Jail officer
  • Corrections officer

Others may also require a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice or any other similar field. The Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice degree can include subjects such as:

  • Introduction to corrections
  • Critical thinking in criminal justice
  • Introduction to police theory and practices
  • Criminal justice
  • Juvenile justice systems

To determine your best direction, check with your local, provincial or state police bureau to know their requirements. More possibilities open up with a bachelor’s degree in hand. With that, you could find an occupation as a:

  • Police officer
  • Probation officer
  • Security guard
  • Forensic science technician
  • Private detective
  • State trooper
  • Game warden

Though this is optional, those who want to ascend the ranks may also choose to work towards a master’s degree in Criminal Justice.

Pass the exam

After graduating, you can’t just walk into a police office and demand a job. You must take an exam and achieve a passing score to be admitted into the police academy. The exams may differ depending on your police station’s jurisdiction and the academy you attend. Some of the tests available include Compass, Asset and LEE (Law Enforcement Examination).

Whichever test you take at the facility, your score must be 75% or over. Otherwise, you will not be granted admittance. If you do not pass, you can take the test three more times a year.

Police academy training

Passing the exam gets you into the police academy, where the official training commences. The police academy teaches you everything you need to know to become a police officer. Attending the police academy often means you will earn while attending. Specific programs also provide tuition reimbursement for college.

You will also be asked to take a physical exam. The length of the training program depends on your jurisdiction, but it may take 12 weeks to 12 months to complete.

For a bit more detail, the program includes two components: classroom education and field training.

Classroom education – In this component, you learn about the law (criminal law, constitutional law, case law and other relevant laws), criminal investigative techniques, criminal procedure, policing strategies and an overview of law enforcement. It also includes training in soft skills, such as stress management, cultural tolerance, ethics and negotiation. 

Field training – This improves the overall physical capability of a cadet in a working environment. It helps improve a cadet’s general skills. These include defensive tactics, first-aid administration, firearms handling, use of force, handling hazardous materials, vehicle operations, patrol operations and more.

In some police academies, trainees are tasked with simulating situations emulating domestic violence, hate crimes, juvenile delinquency and terrorism. They may also be asked to interact with the public.

In-service training – When police officers complete the training program and graduate, they move on to the next level: full-fledged employment. However, they are usually hired on a conditional basis. This probation period usually lasts around 12 months and calls for continued learning. Newcomers receive orientation and are taught the institutional standards and core values.

Newcomers receive on-the-job training from senior police officers and administrators during probation. The policing environment becomes a classroom, and everything cadets learn at the academy is applied in real situations. The cadets’ performance is evaluated, determining whether they deserve the badge of honor.

Taking an oath

At the beginning of a law enforcement career, cadets who make it take their sworn oath of office. They take an important vow in front of colleagues, department admins and authorized witnesses. They also need to sign the oath in written form as confirmation that they have formally committed to the service. 

At this point, you become a bona fide police officer, exercising due authority on maintaining order, peace and safety in your jurisdiction. After swearing in, you will receive your badge, gun, assignments and full law enforcement power. 

Non-sworn cops also exist but are assistants who play supporting roles, and do not have full law enforcement powers. There is no standard oath across all levels of law enforcement agencies. The message remains the same though: A pledge of loyalty and allegiance to the constitution and a commitment to the faithful discharge of police officer roles.

Other helpful skills

Additional skills such as stamina and physical strength can allow candidates to meet police officer criteria more efficiently. Detectives and officers must maintain optimal physical shape and demonstrate resilience. That way, they will be better able to keep up with their daily job requirements, apprehend law-violating suspects and pass physical tests to enter the field easily. 

Employers also see past military or security experiences as a plus as such candidates have already completed physical and firearm training.

Furthermore, police officers must possess good oral and written communication skills to provide detailed incident reports and communicate well with the public during fact gathering.

Police officers may also speak with suspects who speak other languages. To support varying communities, officers must be able to understand different perspectives and show empathy. Law enforcement officers must also practice fair judgment, looking for the best ways to solve problems.

Officers holding higher ranks, such as game wardens and detectives, may require critical thinking and perception to study why suspects behave in certain ways. Since the public turn to police officers for aid during emergencies, these professionals gain significant exposure. Officers often act as role models in their positions and must possess good leadership skills.

In conclusion

The demand for police officers to be around to protect people is higher than ever. Nearly 900,000 law enforcement officers and detectives are employed throughout the US, each with the prospect of playing a significant role in molding their community. 

These individuals help the vulnerable, ensure their safety and foster strong relationships between the police and the masses. It begins with the proper preparation for the police academy and life on the force. If you believe you have what it takes to help those in need, law enforcement may be just the career for you.

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