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.

Get Physically Fit

Police officers have to have quick reflexes, the ability to run short or long distances, and the strength to detain suspects. You'll have to pass a physical agility test to qualify for becoming a police officer, so start working out now to make sure you're in your best physical shape.

• Start running. Do sprints to build up your strength and longer runs to build up your endurance.
• Work on your reflexes. Run on trails and play dodgeball to develop a quicker reaction time. Read How to Improve Your Reflexes for more information.
• Lift weights. Strength training builds your muscles, which is essential for total-body fitness.

Know What the Job Entails

Police officers are a familiar sight around communities and in the media, but in order to really understand what its like to be a police officer, you have to spend time on the job with one.

• Contact your local police station and find out whether you can participate in a "ride-along" - essentially, spend a day shadowing a police officer.
• Have questions prepared so that you'll get the most out of the ride-along. Ask the officer why he or she entered the police force, what you should do to prepare yourself, and what to expect on the job.

Consider Higher Education

Having a college degree is not a requirement for getting hired by most police departments, but it can help to have even a few years of education in a related field, especially if you plan to later become a detective or hold an administrative position.

• Take courses in law enforcement, criminal justice, or a related discipline.
• Some departments provide tuition assistance to offers pursuing a degree.

Pass Examinations

Each department has different examinations you must pass in order to become a police officer. Examinations are usually administered to test your competence in the subjects and skills you studied in police academy. In addition to written tests, you will have to pass a physical fitness test, a background check, drug tests and possibly a psychological exam.

Apply for Jobs

Find out whether there are openings at your local police department. If there aren't, you may need to apply for jobs in other towns or cities.

When considering where to work as a police officer, you should take into account the level of crime, unemployment, and standard of living in a given community. Some officers enjoy working in crime-heavy areas, while others do not.
Other factors that you should take into consideration include commute time and the level of competition for police officer positions.
You may also be recruited by a department during police academy training.
Previous military experience will also help your job prospects.
Knowing a foreign language will serve as an asset in certain areas.

Excel During Your Interview

Competition can often be steep, so you will need to do your best during the interview. Bring your resume along, dress professionally, and make it clear that you have the right values and skills to become a police officer.

• Be assertive. This is an important quality for a police officer to have. If you're feeling nervous in the days leading up to the interview, do a practice interview with a friend or family member to help build up your confidence.
• Be honest. Don't lie about past crimes you have committed or mistakes you have made. Honesty and integrity are of utmost importance in police work.

Accept a Position

Attend the necessary trainings and courses required to help you learn how to do your job well. Consider working your way up to a management or detective position.

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