Becoming a police officer isn’t a straight forward process nor is it an easy process, from the outside it looks easy but you’ll need to go through the eye of a needle and in a way this is a necessity because of the high demands physically and mentally.
So let’s get right at it listed here are the 10 basic steps you need to do in order to maximize your chances to become a police officer.
Disclaimer: The application process may vary from state to state and from county to county, just use this as a guideline to help yourself be in the best possible position to join the police force.
Before getting started, ask yourself, are you ready for this challenging career and are you doing this for the right reasons?
You need to sit down and think long and hard and ask yourself… why do I want to join the police force? Is it because of CSI, Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, Training Day? Is it because of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood that made you want to join? Remember being a law enforcement agent isn’t all glitz and glamour, you have a huge responsibility in your hands. You are accountable for the safety and lives of the citizens you serve.
Can you handle the daily physical, emotional and mental stresses that this job brings? How will it affect my family and friends? You may want to ask a police officer’s insight on what the job is like based on their experiences. Ask them what’s it’s like being a law enforcement agent. You can ask your local police agency if they have a ride along program that you can join to get a feel of what it’s like, don’t just do it once try riding shotgun on different shifts.
You need to know what field of law enforcement you want to join in, after making up your mind, contact the agency you are interested in and ask for the requirements that’s needed to join. Some agencies require a college degree, some do not as well as varying weight and height requirements, so do diligent research before hand.
One of the best ways to get a feel on how police work is like in the real world is going on a ride along program. The program is simple you contact your local law enforcement agency and ask if they have this type of program and if you can schedule for one. Several cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento offer this.
- Police interview questions to expect during recruitment
- What’s its like? – Discover Policing
- U.S. Capitol Police
- All Police Jobs – A Revolution in Police Recruitement
- USA Cops
- 911 Hot Jobs
Get All The Requirements Needed
The last thing you want applying for a job is going in unprepared so here are the requirements that you’ll need in order to facilitate the process.
- Head over to your local motor vehicle administration and get a transcript of your driving records. Carefully look over your records and check for any erroneous information, if there are ask them to make the proper corrections. Hopefully these records you have don’t include any violations such as DUI, DWI, reckless driving and such.
- Request for a credit report from any of the credit reporting agencies (e.g. Experian, Annual Credit Report, etc.), again check your records if there are any errors as it could affect your application.
- Head over to your state/local law enforcement agency and DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) office and request for your criminal history/driving records and again check if the records are accurate. You’d be surprise how many people would go to court because of erroneous information and that’s because of identity theft so make sure you check that before hand.
- Get your transcript of records from your high school and college or any vocational course you might have taken up and have it notarized just in case the agency you are applying to requires it.
- If you’re in the military, get a copy of discharge papers and other information about your military career as this will help in your application process.
- Get a copy of your birth certificate. Since 9/11 this has become an even more important piece of information. If you’ve misplaced or lost your birth certificate, request a copy from your local registrar of births in your area.
- From Military to the Police: Are You Ready?
- Military Veterans Transitioning to Police
- Police Officer Job Requirements
Starting the Application Process
1. Visit the law enforcement agency you are interested in applying and get an application form.
Tip: Get more than one application form (preferably 2 or 3) so just in case you make a mistake you have extra copies. Don’t use liquid paper or any other correctional fluid! Use one form as a practice sheet and the other as the final copy so it is free from errors.
2. Make sure you read each question carefully before answering to avoid any mistakes.
3. After filling up the “practice” sheet, it’s time to fill up the “final” application form. Make sure to write the answers down clearly so background investigators won’t have to call you for any clarifications.
4. Call the people you’ve listed as references to give them a heads up. Do this as a courtesy even if they are your friends or relatives as some people would prefer not to be listed as a reference. Also ask them the what time they are available for the background investigator to call them for them having a better chance of contacting them.
5. Make sure you know the deadline dates! As you don’t want to walk through the door submitting your application only to be told that you are late.
Answer the questions truthfully. If the background investigator catches you telling a lie that can be a ground for disqualification.
6. Be ready to have your fingerprints taken, this is part of the background investigation process.
- Law enforcement agencies in the United States
- Official Directory of the State Patrol and Police
- The Application Process – The Police Oracle
Getting Ready for the Exams
Taking the Written Examination
Most law enforcement agencies have some sort pre-employment exam, these include question on various topics. These can be based on civil service exams while others are based on the International Association of Chiefs of Police, each state or city will have varying forms of exams.
- If the agency you’re applying to has a written exam, ask if they have study guides. If they don’t try to find out what questions they are based on. Invest in a good study guide to help you get an idea what question might be included in the test.
- Give yourself enough time to study and prepare for the exams, avoid bad habits like cramming as it can backfire on you on exam day.
- To make a good impression, dress well. Don’t go to the exam wearing torn jeans or tshirt, make sure you look sharp and tidy.
- Although most police departments provide ball pens or pencils, bring a #2 pencil or a black ball pen just in case a lot of applicants show up and pen supply runs out.
- Get a good nights sleep before the exam.
- Listen carefully to the instructions whether verbal or written. Answer all the questions, if you don’t know the answer make an educated guess rather than leaving it blank. Unanswered questions leave a negative mark on your score.
- Watch those eyes! Keep your eyes on your own paper, avoid looking at test questions of the person beside you doing so can disqualify you from further consideration so be careful.
Taking on the Physical Agility Test
Aside from being mentally sound, physical fitness plays can be the deciding factor whether or not you make it to the force. An officer’s fitness level can determine whether or not he/she is able to apprehend the criminals or not. The work of a police officer is physically very taxing, without being in shape you’ll wear out! It can mean the difference between life and death, take this very seriously.
- Call up the agency you are interested to join in and find out what are included in the physical agility tests – these may include running, push-ups, sit-ups, pull ups or a dummy drag. If you are weak in any of these tests, then work on those areas to improve your chances.
- If you have doubts about your physical fitness, consult with your physician so that you know what precautions you need to do before taking the physical test.
- Don’t eat too much before the test.
- Keep yourself hydrated during the test, do yourself a favor and bring some gatorade to replace those lost fluids. Banana’s would help as well to replace lost potassium and prevent cramps.
- If you feel somethings not right with your body, inform the instructors immediately!
- Bring a towel and some extra cloths so you’ll have a fresh set of cloths after the exam and not be all sweaty and smelly. Check with the agency if they have lockers and a shower.
- Police Fitness Test: How to Prepare
- US Law Enforcement Physical / Fitness Standards
- LAPD: The Physical Abilities Test
The Oral Board Interview
Once you’ve made it this far, take a moment and give yourself a little pat on the back. You are one step closer to realizing your dream but it’s no time to celebrate just yet, this next step may be the toughest yet.
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the day before the interview so you’ll look fresh and make a good impression with the interviewers. The last thing you want to do is yawn in front of them.
- Get a good shower then wear a nice set of cloths – suit and tie for men, for ladies you can wear a nice dress or any formal attire appropriate.
- Please don’t chew gum or anything else in the interview, it’s a big minus point for you.
- Answer the questions truthfully, fully and to the best of your ability. Avoid the uhmmms or pausing, that gives the impression that you are not confident, not sure of your answer or hiding something from the panel.
- Avoid anticipating the questions of the interviewer and let them finish their questions before you answer. One question that get’s applicants most trouble is “Why do you want to become a police officer?”.
- After the interview make sure you thank each and every interviewer on the panel for their time and opportunity that they have given you. This simple gesture goes a long way in the eyes of the interviewers in the panel. It shows that you are sincere and serious about pursuing a career in law enforcement.
- Like in step 3, it is best that you invest in a study guide to help you be prepared or the oral board interview to give you the best possible chance to pass it and move on to the next step.
- Best Practices for the Oral Board Preparation
- Answering Commong Oral Hiring Board Questions
- Police Oral Boards – Training
- Killing the Oral Board
Taking the Medical Tests
This test is done by a certified operator who has a list of questions, he/she will list down your answers to those questions. More than one test is done, the 1st one is used as a baseline, a 2nd test (maybe more) is done to check if you are telling the truth or not.
- Avoid any medication prior to taking the polygraph test, unless it is prescribed by your doctor as this can affect the results. If you are feeling under the weather or the medication doesn’t allow to, re-schedule the exam.
- As mentioned earlier, wear something comfortable and presentable, no worn out jeans, no t-shirts.
- Make sure that you listen to the questions carefully before you answer. You don’t want to have a misunderstanding in this test as it can affect the results.
- Relax and stay calm.
Depending on the agency, physical exams will vary. The physician on duty will ask you a series of questions about your medical history so please answer truthfully. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions that can affect your ability to perform in this field, you must inform the doctor. Failing to do so can be grounds for disqualification if you’re hired and that condition is detected later on.
During this phase a psychologist or psychiatrist will conduct the examination on you, purpose of this is to check if you are mentally fit and able to perform the duties of a police agent. How extensive is this exam? Well it depends on the agency you are going in to. Again, relax and answer the questions truthfully and dress well.
A detective, officer or investigator will perform a background check based on the information you have provided. They will validate whether or not the information you provided is true and accurate. They will contact your friends, relatives, co-workers, even your neighbors. Your criminal/driving records will also be checked, if any case is found such as a DUI, or a felony case you can be disqualified. So it is important that you provide all the facts in the application and do a background check on yourself prior to the application process.
- Surviving the Background Investigation
- Background Investigations Can Break You
- Common Background Disqualifiers
- What to Expect in a Police Officer Background Check
- What’s involved if you are asked to provide a Police Background Check?
The Police Academy
Getting to this part is a huge achievement, basically you are hired. The purpose of the academy (you’ve seen the movie now this is the real deal), is to train you both physically and mentally to help you prepare for the challenges ahead as a police officer. Take time to read the police academy requirements before you proceed.
The police academy has four main goals – build your character, improve your problem solving skills, train you of officer safety and teach the laws you will enforce. The curriculum will involve classroom lectures, physical exercises and training.
Duration of the academy will be roughly 4 to 6 months with no breaks (except for state and national holidays), depending on the requirements of the academy. Please note that because of the nature of this profession, regulations in the academy will be strictly enforced, yes no make up classes, so make sure you are present in all the classes and follow the dress code.
Make as many friends in the academy as possible, it’ll help you along in your career later on.
- How Police Academies Work
- Police Academy Directory
- What to Expect from the Academy – A Forum Discussion in Real Police
Getting Sworn in and Taking the Oath
Congratulations you’ve passed all the strict requirements and now you are a police officer!
- Law Enforcement Oat of Honor
- Police Officer’s Oath
- Oath Keepers
- Law Enforcement Officer Ethical Standards of Conduct
- Code of Ethics and Office Discipline
After graduating from the academy you will assigned an FTO (Field Training Officer) who will act as a mentor to you during this phase. Remember to give them their due respect and don’t second guess their judgement. They’re in this position because of their experience and skill.
Take this time to learn all the things the your FTO will teach, and if they’ll scold you for a mistake don’t take it personally that’s their job and the only way for you to improve. Your life is on the line here, so officer safety is of paramount importance. If you have any concerns or questions, just ask. FTO’s are highly experience and it would be unwise if you don’t ask questions and absorb all the knowledge they can give you.
- Find Your Law Enforcement Mentor
- The Field Training Experience
- Police Officer Training Program
- What to Expect from Your FTO
- Field Training Observations – The Blue Sheepdog
Now it’s for Real
After riding shotgun with a FTO, you’re on your own although larger agencies or departments will assign you a partner but usually you’ll go solo. Remember that you are still in a probationary period which will last around 6 to 12 months, during this period you can still be terminated by most agencies so you’ve gotta to things the right way.
- As a rookie, your superiors will keep an eye on you, closer than more senior officers.
- You’ll get the more undesirable assignments, it’s part of learning and paying your dues.
- Be courteous at all times.
- Don’t be a know it all.
- Choose the right people to associate yourself with – build a good reputation.