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How to Become a Police Officer

Becoming a police officer is both a calling and a noble profession. It requires the applicant to be in excellent physical, mental and emotional condition. It also requires the individual to be of high moral and ethical standards. The goal is not just to survive the police academy, but to become a great officer who will be an asset to their community.


Intellectual Preparation

A college degree is an excellent way to prepare for becoming a police officer. Few people coming out of high school have the emotional maturity to go right into police work at eighteen. The additional two or four-year investment in college will pay dividends throughout an officer's career. While criminal justice is historically the major of choice, a degree in communications is rising in popularity. A college education allows future officers to hone their report writing and research ability. College students must meet deadlines and complete oral presentations, enhancing their verbal communication skills.

An alternate and equally revered career path is enlistment in the military. Military service can broaden a person's perspectives, hone their communication skills and acquaint them with accepting and following orders. Most police departments value the experience these candidates possess. Military training or boot-camp provides valuable expertise in drill and discipline that most police academies value.

A third alternative is to complete a year or more of self-study. The applicant can start by reading books about modern police work and contemporary issues police officers face.

Research the supreme court cases that changed police work. Read the cases of Miranda vs. Arizona, Graham vs. Connor, Tennessee vs. Garner, Terry vs. Ohio, Weeks vs. The United States, Carroll vs. The United States and Mapp vs. Ohio. Each case tells a story and explains how police work continues to evolve.

Stay up to date on current events. Read both an excellent national and local news outlet daily. Staying aware of world events and local news will aid in a person's perspective of the world and their local community.

Look for part-time opportunities as a special-officer in a local police department. Some states allow prospective officers to pay their way through abbreviated academies for part-time entry-level positions. Another option may be to start as a police telecommunications operator. Persons already working for a department may have an advantage in the selection process.

Verbal Performance Preparation

Public speaking is of paramount importance in police work. In our officer's guide to interview and communication skills, we delve further into ways law enforcement requires competency in this area. Find a forum to practice public speaking. Join an organization with regular meetings or attend public meetings or discussions where public speaking can be practiced.

Effective social interaction is also essential, and these skills should be developed and honed through face-to-face communication. Put away the video games, and hang up the phone. In-person conversations and even debates are what is necessary to develop effective verbal interaction capabilities.

Gain social skills by joining clubs and organizations or volunteering to serve the community. Join a volunteer fire department or ambulance squad. Become an emergency medical technician and volunteer at a local hospital emergency room. These demonstrate a candidate's willingness to serve the community and help develop verbal and social interaction skills. Working in emergency services will also allow the candidate to become familiar with the difficult and disturbing scenes and injuries police often encounter. Shop Fire & EMS Gear

Physical Preparation

A police candidate should be in excellent physical condition. Six months to a year should be allotted for training before starting the police academy. However, every candidate is different. If a person is already competing in a physical sport such as wrestling, boxing or martial arts, they may already be in adequate shape. The testing and hiring process for most departments will take significant time. The applicant should start physical training as soon as they complete the application.

The biggest problem most academy cadets face is cardiovascular fitness – specifically the ability to run without being winded. By the time they enter the police academy, a well-conditioned candidate should be able to run five miles at a moderate eight-to-nine minute pace.

Many academies will have a physical fitness test each recruit will have to pass before enrollment. These usually consist of the number of pushups and sit-ups that can be completed in one minute, as well as the total number of pull-ups completed. Other tests may include an agility course run and a timed mile-and-a-half run.

Training for muscular endurance is the key. Practice completing pull-ups, pushups and sit-ups. Use a stopwatch and work up to fifty pushups and sit-ups in a minute each. Also, work up to five or more pull-ups.

Lastly, it is essential to stretch daily. Pulled hamstrings and calf muscles can sideline or even wash a candidate out of the academy. Shop Training Gear


Self-evaluation requires applicants to honestly ask themselves why they want to be an officer and if this is the right choice for them. Police work is not for everyone, and it is best to decide early if the job will be a good fit. A police ride-along is an excellent way of experiencing a glimpse of what the job entails. Many applicants have delusions based on unrealistic television police dramas.

While doing this inventory of personality traits, consider if there are anger issues. A police officer must endure a lot of verbal abuse without reacting inappropriately. Remaining cool and calm under extreme stress will be a test every officer routinely must pass.

Lastly, what biases, if any, will the applicant bring to the job? Do they have the capacity to treat everyone fairly, or do they tend to pre-judge people based on preconceived stereotypes? If this is a problem, it will show up at some point (usually early in their career), often with disastrous results.

The Selection Process

Basic Requirements

Most police departments advertise open, competitive written tests to fill openings in their departments. Each applicant must register for the exam and provide proof of identity, age and residency. Departments will list the minimum applicant qualifications on the application, which vary between jurisdictions.

Applicants who have met the basic requirements will receive a date and time to appear for the test. The tests are usually general intelligence tests that do not require any special police knowledge. They do test specific skill sets critical to policing, such as problem-solving.


The exams are generally multiple-choice with separate answer sheets. Handling multiple-choice questions will require a bit of strategy. One often overlooked part of the test is the instructions. Many tests only count correct answers, and wrong answers do not affect the score. On these tests, If time is running out, do not leave any questions unanswered. Fill in a circle for each unanswered question. Approximately twenty percent of the time, these blind guesses will be the correct answer, increasing the overall score.

The tests will be graded and ranked from highest to lowest score. Many will provide a veteran's preference, moving military veterans to the top of the list. The applicants at the top of the list will be called to the department to receive a departmental employment application. These applications can be from forty-to-eighty pages in length and are extremely detailed. Each applicant will have a date and time to report back with the completed application. Meticulously complete every question on the application.

Two items of caution: first, don't try to omit any negative information on the application or fail to complete a section. That's the quickest way to get knocked off the list. Trained police detectives will always find the truth. Secondly, anytime an applicant is called to the department for any reason, they should dress professionally and act respectfully – it matters.

Background Investigation

After the application is returned, it will be assigned to a detective or special investigator. Every word written on the application will be scrutinized. The investigator will review the applicant's criminal history, driving history, employment history and even school disciplinary records. Past employers will be interviewed, as will relatives and neighbors. A review of all social media accounts and postings will be recovered and evaluated. Failure to disclose negative items (such as a DUI arrest) or lying about anything on the application is grounds for rejecting the applicant.

Medical Evaluation

Applicants that pass the initial background will usually be required to submit to a physical examination to verify they are in good health and have no underlying issues. This evaluation may require blood and urine samples and even a stress test.

Oral Review Board

Sitting for either an oral review board or chiefs interview is one of the last and most stressful steps in the process. An oral review board is usually composed of command staff officers. The applicant will be led to a nearly empty room with a single chair in the middle. Across the front will be the review panel, usually seated behind a table. Here is where public speaking experience can help. Applicants will be asked increasingly difficult questions, some as straightforward as, “Why do you want to work here?” or “Why do you want to be a police officer?”

Others will put the applicant in a police scenario to see how they answer,“You are in uniform at a restaurant and the manager says your meal is free; what, if anything, do you do?”

A correct answer would be, “Either insist on paying the bill or leave a large enough tip on the table to pay for the meal.”

A wrong answer would be “Order desert.”

To prepare for the oral board, learn as much about the community and the police department's history and structure as possible. Practice the answers to potential questions such as why you want to be a police officer. Act polite and professional at all times. “Yeah” is never a correct affirmative response. The response should be, “Yes, sir,” or “Yes ma'am.” At the end of the interview, stand and thank the review board members for their time and consideration, making sure to make eye contact with them all. For some more in-depth tips on police-related interviewing and oral communication in general, be sure to read our officer's guide to interview and communication skills.

The Psych Evaluation

After the oral review, the applicant may receive a conditional offer of employment. The condition usually involves a psychiatric evaluation. This testing is expensive and usually left for last. An average assessment will last for several hours, consisting of different tests. Some will be long personality tests, while others may require the applicant to draw pictures. The final stage is usually a psychiatric interview.

Provided the evaluation goes well, the culmination of this entire process will be the start of a new career in law enforcement. Applicants who have adequately prepared will enjoy the academy training experience and look forward to a challenging yet rewarding career. To understand what your first day on the job may be like, read up on what to expect at an officer's first roll call.

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