A police officer is someone who’s tasked with handling the response and investigations of criminal matters. Law enforcement officials also conduct patrols in their respective jurisdictions using means such as bicycles, cars and motorcycles. While doing this, they may stop, question and detain any suspicious characters or people caught breaking the law.
There are various risks that come with this job. This especially applies when one is posted to a neighborhood with high crime levels. Police officers are also expected to respond to crimes as they occur and stop them. Here, they may be forced to confront and apprehend the culprits, who may be armed.
How to Become a Police Officer
An officer could be posted to a town, village city, county, state or even higher learning institutions such as universities and colleges. Some officers also work under the federal government. To pursue a career in law enforcement, special training is required.
Police Officer Training
Upon a successful application, all new recruits are admitted into a special academy where they attend full time training for about six months. During this time, the recruits receive remuneration as they’re considered hired by the particular department. Training entails several areas such as physical training, driver education, defensive tactics, computers, physical and firearms training. Laws and regulations are also covered here.
A recruit has to pass written exams in addition to meeting physical standards. They then proceed to a field training program. Here, the new officer works under a more experienced one as they learn to apply the skills acquired during training.
Some departments could require applicants to have completed some coursework in college, while others only ask for a GED or high school diploma. In most departments, there are cadet training programs to enable college students undergo training while still working on their degree. Such programs could offer tuition assistance and a chance for the cadets to work within the department, albeit in a limited capacity.
People seeking to work in departments where college education is a requirement could undertake a bachelor’s or associate degree in criminal justice. This field entails courses like the legal system, investigating criminal matters, correctional systems and psychology.
Licensure and Certification Requirements
There are different standards set in every state for the certification of police officers. The specifics could vary across states. Most requirements touch on:
Age: An officer needs to be 18, 19 or 21 years old, or older.
Citizenship: One needs to be a United States Citizen. Some states allow people working towards citizenship.
Education: The threshold is mostly in the form of a GED, a high school diploma, or college education.
Passing a physical exam by a physician: psychological evaluations are also mandatory in some states
Submitting fingerprints and having a clean background: One must not have been convicted of a felony, or some types of criminal offenses.
Physical fitness: In each state, candidates must pass a physical fitness test. Officers could be asked to complete a specific number of pushups and sit-ups, or complete a mile-long run in a certain time period.
States also set the passing threshold for every recruit who completes academy training. Recruits need to meet these thresholds in order to attain certification. When this is done, an officer is granted the authority to enforce laws within the community and carry a gun in the process.
How Long Does it Take?
This could vary, depending on circumstance and time. If one is 18 and the states require officers to have reached 19 or 21 years, one has to wait till they attain the minimum age. A civil service certification could also be required, and these are only offered annually in some states.
If college education or residency in the area is a requirement, one needs to wait till they attain these. Training could also be set to go on during certain times of the year. As such, one could be forced to wait till the specific window arises.
Police Officer Salary
The average annual salary for a police officer or detective in the United States was about $55,000 in the year 2010. While considered separately, criminal investigators and detectives had an average salary of about $68,000. Sheriff’s patrol officers earned about $54,000 annually.
Over the near future, openings for police officers aren’t expected to grow rapidly. Opportunities for detectives and police officers were forecasted to grow at a rate of only 7% in the decade starting from 2010. This is slower than the average for various other occupations during this period.
These opportunities could further be limited by one’s residence, as some departments require one to be staying in the specific county, state or town. The hiring capacity also depends on the current workforce and budgetary allocation. In some cases, one could only be required to establish residency when hired.
One stands a better chance of getting hired if they have some military experience or college education. Some departments also provide samples of the written exams and physical fitness requirements. One could therefore prepare adequately before submitting an application.
Upon succeeding through recruitment and training, there are a number of paths that one could opt in order to advance and specialize. There are set rankings and pay grades in all departments. One could first gain experience then pursue additional training if they want to become a detective, sergeant, lieutenant or captain.
Finding a Job as a Police Officer
If one wants to work as an officer in a certain area, it’s important to research the specific department’s hiring thresholds. In certain areas, the application window only opens at a specific season during the year. One needs to strategize on the steps needed to take before and during application so that they don’t miss the application process. This would involve preparation and taking exams, college courses and working on physical fitness.
Learning More About Becoming a Police Officer
In most areas, there are community outreach programs. One could get in touch with the local department to see the kind of programs and events offered. Here, there could be opportunities to go along with an officer or volunteer for community patrols. One could also gain insight into the work by talking to serving officers.