Becoming a police officer is a common goal amongst many Americans because it can be a long and fulfilling career. Police officers are admired members in communities. They command respect and authority. They enforce laws, maintain order, and are willing to risk their lives to protect U.S. citizens on a daily basis. Trying to get a police officer position can be a confusing and long process. Many applicants do not understand how many steps it takes to get hired so here is a summary. |
There are essentially two different career paths for prospective police officers. The first is what can best be described as prospective police officer applicants with a lifelong dream. These individuals may have, since birth, known they wanted to have a career in law enforcement. As a result, they prepared for this career by keeping clean driving and criminal records. These applicants may have volunteered with police departments, studied criminal justice in college, or have been reserve police officers for a number of years.
The second type of applicants are best described as the late bloomers. These are applicants who have just begun to think about a career in law enforcement. Their motivation could have been self-discovery, competitive pay, or the search for a more exciting career. This group of applicants may have had minor run-ins with the law, and their driving records may not be spotless. While they have some obstacles to overcome in the hiring process, these late bloomers can be just as competitive in landing a position as a police officer. They sometimes have a more diverse background, which can better prepare them for the rigors of becoming a police officer.
Whether an applicant falls into either of these groups or in between, the real deciding factor of becoming a police officer is the drive and commitment the individual possesses. The steps to become a police officer can vary between agencies and is a long process, sometimes taking several months. Here are some suggestions along the way:
If you are thinking about becoming a police officer, get your personal life in order before applying. Stay out of trouble with the law and be careful not to get any (more) speeding tickets. If you have minor criminal charges, try to expunge or seal those court records. Also, make sure that your finances and credit scores are in good standing. Fix these things now so they do not become issues later on in the process.
Depending on how soon you want to be hired, search for job openings nationally or locally. To find job postings, the easiest way is to either subscribe to job alerts from a website like SimplyHired.com or visit the agency or city governments’ websites.
Submit your application, which may also include your resume. Make sure that the application instructions are followed properly. Pay special attention to important dates.
The next step is taking the written police test. The written test is somewhat like an aptitude exam, testing your math, reading comprehension, spelling, grammar and those types of skills. It shouldn't be too difficult but it is important to study for it using test prep websites like . Usually, you need to score 80% or better on the written test to move on to the physical agility test.
During the agility test, officers are watching to make sure you can complete a few physical tasks such as running across balance beams, jumping over gaps, crawling under obstacles, and so on.
Note: The following steps can vary depending on the agency. Please ask your prospective law enforcement agency for more details.
Usually, at this point in the process, the oral board interview would be next. This can be a series of interviews. Depending on the size of the department, it may include a captain’s interview and even a police chief interview. Applicants may be shown a short video or Behavioral Personal Assessment Device before an interview and be asked questions regarding the content on the video.
All prospective officers need to take a psychological test with a psychologist or in a written form. Applicants should not stress about this portion. There is little to do to prepare, just answer truthfully.
The background investigation will generally take the longest time. You will be asked to fill out a background packet and put names of all your closest friends and family. An investigator will be assigned to investigate you through the people that best know you. (You may have to wait until all potential applicants have submitted their background packets to move on.)
The medical review or physical is intended to ensure that the candidate is ready for the rigors of law enforcement and the police academy. Police departments want to ensure that their new police officer will join the force without pre-existing injuries. They will look at your vision, hearing, weight and height standards.
Polygraph tests are required by many police departments. There are only a few states where polygraph tests are not required. These tests will assess if you are deceptive when certain questions are asked. There is no sense in trying to “beat the polygraph”. The examiners are very skilled at determining when individuals are lying.
If an applicant makes it through all of these steps in the process to become a police officer, he or she will then be presented with a conditional offer. This offer is conditional on the candidate passing and completing the police academy for the department to which they are applying. Most police academies will last between three to four months. Upon graduation, the new officers will join their departments for a probation period of several months to a few years. This is when new officers learn the standard operating procedures for their department. After the probation period is over, they will start their careers as patrol officers, either working alone or with a partner.
The process of becoming a police officer varies between police departments. It requires hard work and dedication. Once hired as a police officer, the opportunities within law enforcement start to open up.
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