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How to Become a Police Officer

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Officers.
New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Police Officers. Source: Creative Commons.

Police officers are responsible for patrolling an area, for responding to calls, for takeing necessary action at the scene of a crime, for conducting investigations, testifying in court, and completing routine paperwork. The median salary for a police officer here in Phoenix is $51,014. Except in times when the economy collapses, in a rapidly growing city like Phoenix there is always a demand for police officers.

Meet the Basic Requirements

You must be at least 18 years of age, have a drivers license, and be a legal resident of the United States in order to become a police officer. Some police departments require recruits to be at least 21.

Be an Upstanding Citizen

Police officers are expected to act as role models in their communities, and it's never too early to start embodying the values you will be tasked with enforcing. Avoid using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol to excess, and committing crimes, no matter how small. All of these behaviors can make it tougher to get a job as a police officer when it comes time to apply.

• Having a felony conviction as an adult, a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, or a conviction for a crime related in any way to race (a hate crime) disqualifies you from being able to pursue a career as a police officer.

• Juvenile convictions can't legally be held against you, since the record is sealed when you reach 18, but getting tangled up in crimes as a teenager is not good preparation for becoming a police officer. Having a good reputation in your community will be important when you apply for jobs.

Building Good Credit

When you apply to become a police officer, the department will run a credit check as part of your background check, and you will be penalized if your score is quite low. Avoid accumulating debt, and pay your bills on time.

• Get a credit check now so you know exactly what financial state you are in.
• If you don't have good credit, take steps toward building it back up. Even if your credit score is low, the efforts you make to attain better credit will show that you're a responsible person.

Have a Strong Work Ethic

Having work experience helps prepare you for the long hours and strict requirements of a police officer job, and it also gives you an edge over applicants with no experience. Your job experience doesn't have to be related to law enforcement, although that can help; any work experience that shows you're responsible and capable of doing a job well will help.

• Consider taking a job that requires you to interact with the public. Police officers need excellent communication skills.
• Other government jobs, such as a job at your local state park, can give you a sense of what it's like to work as part of a law enforcement team.
• Some choose to join the military service for a year or two before joining the police force, as this prepares them physically and mentally for the duties of a cop.

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