Becoming a Police Officer: Qualifications and Opportunities for Police Officers (page 3)
If you've set your sights on a police career, you need to know the requirements for becoming a police officer. You also need to know the typical procedure for applying for the job.
Specific requirements for being accepted to a law enforcement training academy vary from department to department. The general requirements are that the applicant:
- Is a U.S. citizen
- Is at least 21 years of age
- Has at least 20/20 vision uncorrected; (or 20/20 corrected by glasses)
- Is able to distinguish colors
- Is physically and mentally healthy
Applicants who have served in the military must have been honorably discharged. Applicants may not have been convicted of driving while intoxicated and must hold a valid drivers license for at least three years prior to application and have a good driving record. Applicants should have no criminal convictions, although some misdemeanor crimes may not bar applicants from a law enforcement position. All applicants are expected to be free from drug use, be of good moral character, and have personal integrity. No applicant should have any history of criminal or improper conduct, have a poor employment record, or have an irresponsible financial history. Generally, applicants should at least have a GED equivalency or a high school diploma; however, some departments, such as that in Dallas, Texas, are requiring 60 or more hours of completed college coursework.
Notice for Examinations
Generally, police departments will announce the dates of pre-employment examinations and require that an applicant complete an application to take the examination. Announcements are often published in the local newspaper, on the local cable network, on the Internet, and in announcement bulletins posted in the police department. Information may also be available through the city's human resources department or the applicable state's employment office. Other common sites for finding information about law enforcement agencies that are preparing to hire a new recruit class are bulletin boards in local colleges and municipal and state office buildings.
When a candidate receives an appointment to the police department, the candidate must then successfully complete recruit training, which can last from several months to more than a year, depending on the training requirements of the police department. Once the recruit has successfully completed the training academy, the recruit then usually receives field training under the supervision of seasoned officers. Upon the successful completion of the field training, the officer is considered eligible to be on their own.
Police recruits are on probation during the entire period of training and usually are on probation for a period of time after they have completed their training. The length of time that a recruit serves on probation varies from department to department. The purpose of the probationary period is discussed in the previous chapter, but it should be noted that officers will not generally be eligible for a promotion until the probationary period is successfully completed.
Opportunities for Promotion
Opportunities for promotion vary from police department to police department. The size of the department plays an important role in opportunities. Larger departments are likely to have greater opportunities for advancement and a wider variety of areas of specialization available to officers.
Applicants who are successfully employed as police recruits will immediately receive health, dental, and life insurance, long-term disability, and a pension. They also may receive holiday pay, sick days, and shift differential. Benefits vary from city to city.
The screening process differs in relation to the needs and size of the specific department being applied to. However, screening processes tend to be similar between departments of the same size. The following list provides an overview of the typical screening process.
- Individuals must apply for a police officer position by completing the required application for the police department. Generally, police applications are very detailed and require that specific information be provided.
- A written examination is required for all police departments in medium-to-large cities. The type of examination can vary from an essay examination to one that has reading comprehension, mathematics, and memory skills. Medium-to-large cities are likely to have in-depth written examinations, while smaller agencies may substitute essay exams, video exams, oral interviews, or in-depth background checks.
- A police candidate who successfully passes the written examination is then required to take a physical abilities/agility test. The physical abilities test is an obstacle course designed to simulate obstacles that an officer may encounter during a typical tour of duty.
- A police candidate who successfully passes the physical abilities/agility test is then given a date to take a pre-employment polygraph examination. Candidates are given a polygraph examination administered by a qualified polygraph examiner. The polygraph examiner will ask the candidate specific questions concerning criminal activity, drug usage, truthfulness, integrity, and employment history.
- A candidate who successfully passes the pre-employment polygraph examination must then undergo a background investigation. The background investigation can be very detailed and cover educational background, work history, and criminal and traffic records. Individuals knowledgeable about the candidate, including school teachers, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances are interviewed to assist in determining the character of the candidate.
- A candidate who successfully passes the background examination is then given an oral interview. During this process, the candidate is asked a series of questions to assess ability to deal with people, solve law enforcement-related problems, communicate effectively, demonstrate initiative, and tolerate stress.
- A candidate who successfully passes the oral examination is then scheduled for a psychological examination. A certified psychologist gives the candidate a battery of psychological tests and interviews the candidate to determine that he or she is not suffering from emotional problems and meets the psychological criteria for a career in policing.
- A candidate who successfully passes the psychological examination is then scheduled to take a medical examination. The medical examination determines if the candidate is physically fit to work as a police officer.
- A candidate who passes all the previous examinations may be asked to participate in a final oral interview with the police chief, the head of the training academy, or police command staff to determine whether the candidate should be offered a police position in the department.
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