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Police Officer Career - Training, Job Description & Salary

becoming a police officer

The now famous police motto, “To Protect and To Serve”, was the winning slogan from a 1955 L.A Police Department contest. Those five simple, yet impactful words were the entry made 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.

Police Officer Job Description

A police officer is a position within law enforcement. The main duty of a police officer is to protect citizens and property within their 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, patrol 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. Police officer’s responsibility may differ depending on whether they work on the local, city, or federal level.

Qualifications for Becoming a Police Officer

If you want to be an effective police officer, 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.

How to Become a Police Officer

The very basics for entry into the police academy is a high school diploma or GED, and a minimum of 18 years old. Because it’s competitive to gain entrance into the police academy, it could be beneficial to have an associate’s 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 and 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.

How To Become a Police Officer: Step-by-Step

  1. Finish high school and get a diploma or obtain a GED
  2. Get your degree whether it’s an associate’s 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 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

The Cost of Police Academy

The cost of police academy is rather modest considering it repays with a rewarding career. The average cost of police academy is about $5,000 and many times the department that hires you will reimburse a percentage of that cost. 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 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 amongst the law enforcement exams.

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

  • The written exam which 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 work history.
  • There will be an extensive background check using the personal history statement as their 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?

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

What is Police Academy Like?

Police in training are called recruits. To be properly trained as police officers, you must attend police academy, or law enforcement training school. Each state has its own set of requirements for their law enforcement training so, depending on which state you’re training in will determine how it looks. Police academy provides the recruit with both hands-on and classroom training.

Classroom subjects includes:

  • States 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 the vehicles
  • Correct use of firearms
  • Investigation techniques
  • Interrogation techniques
  • Ethics

Once the recruit graduates from the police academy and becomes a police officer, they must gain experience hours working alongside a senior police officer as a rookie.

Police Officer Salary Information

The average annual salary for police and detectives was $65,170 in May 2019. The lowest 10% earned close to $37,710, and the top 10% earned over $109,500. Many police departments also offer a clothing allowance which is provided for purchasing uniforms. Typically there are great retirement packages offered, as well.

Top Paying States for Police Officers in 2019


Average Salary



New Jersey








Top Paying Industries for Police Officers in 2019


Average Salary

State Government (OES Designation)


Local Government (OES Designation)


Support for Air Transportation


Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)


General Medical and Surgical Hospitals


Employment for Police Officers

Employment of police officers and detectives is projected to grow 5% between 2019 and 2029, that's faster than the average of all occupations.

Industries With The Highest Level Of Employment


% of industry employment

Average annual salary

Local Government (OES Designation)



State Government (OES Designation)



Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools



Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)



Junior Colleges



States with the Highest Levels Of Employments For Police Officers


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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