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Police Officer

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The famous police motto, “To Protect and to Serve,” was the winning slogan from a 1955 L.A. Police Department contest. Those five winning words were entered by Officer Joseph S. Dorobek. The slogan has since been adopted by all police forces around our nation, and it’s what police officers are sworn to do when entering into their chosen profession. If becoming a police officer is your ambition, find out all the facts and "how to’s" in the following article.

Find a criminal justice school with police officer training classes.

What Do Officers Do?

A police officer is a position within law enforcement. The main duty of a police officer is to protect citizens and property within his or her jurisdiction. Police officers have a huge list of duties that come with their position such as responding to calls of both emergency and non-emergency nature, patrolling their "beat," warrants, arrests, tickets, court—and the to-do list goes on. Not to mention, they put their lives on the line every single day, especially now as hostility toward police is escalating. Police officers' responsibilities may differ depending on whether you work on the local, city, or federal level.

Qualifications Needed To Become A Police Officer

If you want to be an effective police officer, then you should possess some key qualities. Police departments across the nation look for candidates who are honest, ethical, hard-working, and empathetic. Police officers should have good judgement; they have to make quick decisions multiple times a day. Being physically fit is definitely beneficial to being a great police officer, not only will you need to prove yourself for entrance exams, but once you’re hired, your fitness will be tested daily.

Step by step at a glance: how to become an officer of the law

  1. Finish high school to get a diploma, or obtain a GED.
  2. Get your degree whether it’s an associate or bachelor’s. The degree should be focused on criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field (this is optional but recommended).
  3. Pass a law enforcement entrance exam.
  4. Pass a physical exam, psychological exam, background check, and other applicable exams.
  5. Apply to your local police academy.
  6. After graduating police academy, get on-the-job training.
  7. Apply for police officer positions.

More detailed version on how to become a police officer

The very basics for entry into the police academy are a high school diploma or GED, and being a minimum of 18 years old. Because gaining entrance into the police academy is competitive, it could be beneficial to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement fields. Military experience is counted as credit, as well. Having a degree or diploma will give you one leg up on competition.

There is another factor that will weigh heavily in your acceptance into police academy. You will need to pass the law enforcement entrance exam and all its components, such as the physical and psychological portion, plus pass a polygraph test before being accepted into the police academy. The typical entrance tests given are the Compass, LEE (Law Enforcement Examination), and Asset. The jurisdiction determines which entrance exam is given. Once you’ve passed the exam, you’ll head to police academy for the next six months and, after you graduate, you’ll be working as a police officer.

School Cost

The cost of police academy is rather modest, considering it repays with a rewarding career. The average cost of police academy is $6,500. The fees should include both the cost of tuition and any other type of cost associated with police academy such as the uniform. As with most educational costs, in-state tuition is far less expensive than out-of-state or out-of-county tuition for police academy. Some community colleges, in conjunction with local police departments, host the police academy. The amount of time spent in police academy can vary, with 6 months being the national average.

What Is The Law Enforcement Entrance Exam Like?

The Law Enforcement Entrance exam is a pretty daunting beast due to all its components. While each jurisdiction may use a different exam, there are still similarities.

When you take the law enforcement entrance exam, here is an overview of what to expect:

  • The written exam will have multiple choice, true and false, and open-ended questions.  
  • With the Law Enforcement Exam essay, candidates taking the exam write an essay in response to a prompt.
  • Much like a resume, the personal history statement will give potential employers a look at your working history, which will include your education, as well as past work.
  • There will be an extensive background check using the personal history statement as the sort-of "road map" into your life.
  • Your physical fitness will be tested through the Physical Ability Test (PAT). This test is done to ensure you will physically be able to handle police academy. Your strength, endurance, and flexibility will all be put to the test.
  • A hiring panel made up of police department leaders, local business people, and local government reps will interview you for the oral interview process.
  • Of course, a medical evaluation will be conducted, as well as a psychological examination to make sure that you are mentally and physically healthy enough to work as a police officer.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Police Officer?

The route you take toward becoming a police officer is what determines how much time you’ll have to invest in your training. College, depending on if you’re going for a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree, can take anywhere from a few months to four years (or longer, depending if you’re not going full time). Police academy will take six to eight months and includes 320-800 course hours. Factoring in on the length of time is the state you’re being trained in. Some states requirements are not as intense as other states.

What Is Police Academy Like?

Policemen and women in training are called recruits. To be properly trained as police officers, they must attend police academy or law enforcement training school. Police academy provides the recruit with both hands-on and classroom training.

Classroom subjects include:

  • State laws
  • Patrol procedures
  • Training in firearms
  • Self defense
  • First aid
  • Hostage negotiations
  • Criminal psychology

Hands-on training includes:

  • Physical training
  • Mock criminal scenes to investigate
  • Properly directing traffic
  • Driving vehicles
  • Correct use of firearms
  • Investigation techniques
  • Interrogation techniques
  • Ethics

Once you graduate from the police academy and become a police officer, you must gain experience hours working alongside a senior police officer as a rookie.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that police officers earned an average wage of $71,380 in 2022, with the top 10 percent averaging closer to $104,100. Most police departments have a clothing allowance  provided for purchasing uniforms. Typically there are great retirement packages offered, as well. Your salary can vary depending on location, specialization, and experience. 

Different Careers For Police Officers

There is a wide variety of career options for police officers. Some will require you to go back to school, while others are based on experience.

Police officer careers on the state level

  • Uniformed police
  • State police
  • Transit or railroad police
  • Sheriff or deputy
  • Detective and criminal investigator
  • Fish and game warden

Police officer careers on the federal level

  • Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • United States Secret Service
  • Federal Air Marshall
  • U.S Border Patrol