Requirements to Become a Police Officer
Police officers are responsible for enforcing laws and maintaining peace. In addition to earning a high school diploma, most police officers complete degree programs in law enforcement or criminal justice and receive training at a police academy.
Step 1: Graduate from High School
All police departments require at least a high school diploma or equivalent education from their officers. While some hire graduates right out of high school, many require potential officers to be at least 21 years old.
Step 2: Complete College-Level Training
Completing an associate or bachelor's degree program in criminal justice, law enforcement or a related discipline can be helpful in obtaining a job as a police officer. While not required by many departments, applicants may find formal education advantageous when vying for officer positions. State and federal agencies generally require a college education and degree-holders typically advance more quickly to higher ranks. Some departments will even provide tuition assistance to officers seeking degrees in pertinent fields.
Step 3: Attend Police Academy
Large police departments send recruits to their own police academies to complete training. Smaller precincts sometimes send new hires to attend these larger academies as well. These programs typically last 3-4 months and include classroom instruction in civil rights, state and local laws, crime investigation and constitutional law. Recruits gain supervised experience with real-life situations such as patrol, accident and emergency response, firearm use, self-defense and traffic command. Police academy training prepares prospective police officers for active duty.
Step 4: Pass All Applicable Examinations
In order to gain a position on the police force, candidates are required to pass various examinations to ensure competence. In addition to passing written exams, which may be administered through a police academy, most divisions administer physical tests of strength, vision, hearing and agility as well as drug and lie detector tests. Some units conduct psychiatric or background interviews to assess a recruit's personal characteristics and overall suitability for a career in law enforcement.
Step 5: Earn a Promotion
After gaining initial experience as a police officer, candidates may be given the opportunity to pursue specialized police work or advance to such positions as detective, lieutenant or captain. To be eligible for promotions, police officers are typically required to pass a written exam and demonstrate exceptional performance on the job. These positions generally require officers to manage administrative duties and personnel as well as to direct taskforces and other projects.
Click here for a list of schools in Texas that offer criminal justice degrees.