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What Do You Need to be a Police Officer?

Majors Overview February 19, 2013

As a first responder to emergencies and other crimes, police officers arrest and pursue perpetrators, ensure civilian safety and contain situations. Investigations are conducted by officers at crime scenes that could involve determining potential suspects, obtaining evidence and talking to witnesses. Individuals need to meet educational and physical requirements along with completion of a state-approved police academy training program to become a police officer.

Stage One: Postsecondary Education

Prospective police officers are required to hold at least a high school diploma or equivalent educational qualification (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov). A majority of law enforcement agencies that employ police officers prefer applicants to have completed some post-secondary courses before they allow them to enter the police academy. Some police officer positions require individuals to earn an undergraduate degree, but it will vary depending on the department. Most aspiring police officers seek admission to police science or criminal justice degree programs. Criminal justice degree programs impart coursework that includes subject areas such as constitutional rights, law enforcement strategies, evidence gathering, and criminology. Similar coursework is in police science degree programs; however, students enrolled in these programs have more majors to select from, such as crime scene investigations and police administration. Additionally, applicants to some police science degree programs are required to concurrently enroll in the police academy.

Stage Two: Pass Physical Exams and Background Checks

Applicants to police academy are required to undergo a comprehensive background check that could in some states include a check on the individual’s credit history, a review of his or her criminal record and interviews of their family members and acquaintances. An applicant must also submit to physical examinations, including an individual’s sense of sight and hearing, and verification of their overall agility, dexterity, stamina and strength. A psychiatric evaluation is also completed in some states to test the ability of the applicant to handle stress.

Stage Three: Select an Area of Specialty

Several specialty departments are contained in a police station, including organized crime, narcotics and property crimes. Prospective police officers may be recruited for employment in any of these specialty departments; accordingly those enrolled in the police academy may have to take additional coursework. However, such specialty training is not given at every police academy and individuals would need to compare various academy programs before they zero in on their most suitable option. Apart from specialty departments, some applicants may also seek employment in particular locations. Thus, individuals could select to do law enforcement on highways and freeways by joining the highway sheriff’s or patrol’s department, or choose to work for universities, towns or cities at the local level. Federal and state police positions are available, but usually require additional experience and training. Individuals who are interested in working for the locations previously mentioned are required to complete additional training programs instead of basic police academy training program.

Stage Four: Police Academy Completion

Police academy needs to be completed by individuals who want to become a police officer. Police academy requirements vary from state to state, and prospective police officers who have received out-of-state training may need to satisfy state requirements by taking additional courses. Police academy training programs are divided into two sections by many institutions, namely, classroom instruction and physical training. Coursework in classrooms focuses on police technology, first aid, police skills and patrolling procedures. Self-defense, defensive driving, escorting criminals, firearms techniques, and strength and stamina building are the areas covered in physical training.

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