Learn About Police Officer Careers
- Find programs that may help you get started in a police officer career
- How much does a police officer make?
1) Earn an Associate's or Bachelor's Degree first (a criminal justice degree is a common degree for police officers). Most state agencies require a college degree. An associate's degree has become a hiring standard in many police departments.
2) Read more about police officer requirements below.
3) Contact your local police department to get their requirements for police officers, and application materials. (Links to some of the most well-known police departments—and information on police officers within those departments—can be found on the left side of this page near the bottom).
Police Officer Career Description
In most local and city police departments, uniformed police officers patrol a given geographic area and respond to calls for help. Many times this requires the directing of traffic, aiding a victim of an accident or crime, and—especially if you become a police detective—investigating crimes to bring wrongdoers to justice. No matter where you become a police officer though, you'll need good verbal and written skills, since you'll spend a lot of time writing reports and maintaining records of incidents you encounter. In local, state and federal police departments and agencies, a police officer career description may include such tasks as the following:
- maintaining law and order
- collecting evidence
- building relationships with local communities to help fight crime
- conducting investigations
Some police officers specialize in a particular area of law enforcement, such as chemical and microscopic analysis, firearms instruction, or fingerprint identification. Others work with special units, such as horseback, bicycle or motorcycle, the canine corps, special weapons and tactics (SWAT), or emergency response teams.
Police Officer Education
The majority of police departments require applicants to be a U.S. citizen, 20 years old, and have a high-school diploma or equivalent. Many departments now require an associate's degree or bachelor's degree for police officers. This is particularly true at the state and federal levels, where you'll be required to earn a 4-year college degree.
Being able to speak a foreign language is a definite plus, especially Spanish, if you work with the Hispanic community. Police officer applicants also undergo a variety of tests including physical fitness, medical, written knowledge-based tests and psychological evaluations. Once accepted into a police department, you should attend instruction at a police academy for 12 weeks to one year, depending on the department.
Keep in mind that the higher-paying police officer jobs are in more affluent areas. It's much more competitive to become a police officer in one of these precincts. Make sure you set yourself apart from the competition by earning a college degree before applying as police officer in one of these districts. A college degree may also start you off at a higher pay rate and may give you the advantage when it comes time for promotions.
Police Officer Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2012-13 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for police and detectives is $55,010. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
There are many career paths to pursue once you become a police officer including sergeant, lieutenant, chief and more. Most of these promotions or specialties require advanced education. A Criminal Justice school in your area should have more information.
Now that you know how to become a police officer—and the benefits of getting a criminal justice degree—request information from the online schools below. Ask them how a degree in criminal justice can help you succeed in a police officer career.
Online Criminal Justice Schools
- BSCJ - Law Enforcement (Online)
- MSCJ - Law (Online)
- Bachelor of Arts - Law Enforcement Administration (Online)
- Bachelor's - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement (Online)
- Bachelor of Science - Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement (Online)
- Bachelor's in Criminal Justice - Police (Online)
- Master's in Criminal Justice with Federal Law Enforcement Specialization (Online)
- M.S. in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement (Online)