Minimum or Basic Qualifications for Police Officer Exam
Although agencies differ in their minimum qualifications to be a police officer, all have some of the same basic requirements.Minimum (or basic) qualifications mean just that—they are the least you can present and still be considered for employment.Most of them pertain to age, level of education, lack of arrests and/or convictions for serious or certain categories of crimes, and U.S. citizenship, although in a few jurisdictions resident alien status or a pending citizenship application may be accepted at the time you apply for the written exam. Other areas of your life that will be closely examined are your driving record, your credit history, and whether you have been involved in incidents of domestic or family violence.
Until recently,U.S. citizenship was one of the only universal requirements to become a police officer. But asa way to encourage applicants new to the United States, a few departments no longer require citizenship and many are considering changing their present requirements. As of 2009, the only state that permitted permanent resident aliens who have applied for citizenship to become police officers was California. A few cities around the country have instituted similar regulations, including Lakewood, CO; El Paso, TX; Honolulu, HI; Portland, OR; and Chicago, IL. Because this is an area that is changing frequently, if you are not a citizen it would be wise to check the websites of any departments you are considering applying for. If you have a green card, have served in any branch of the U.S. military, and are awaiting expedited citizenship, you may also be eligible to apply to some police agencies.
Residency requirements are not the same as U.S. citizenship; they pertain to where you actually live. Residency requirements outlining where you have to live and how long you are required to live there may differ among agencies. Some agencies require that you be a resident of the state, county, or municipality up to a year before filing your test application; others ask only that the requirement be met at the time of appointment (generally defined as when you enter the police academy), and others give you a certain amount of time (usually no more than one year) to relocate into the required living areas.
Where you must live once you are employed also differs from agency to agency. Some municipal departments require that you live within the city limits; others specify that you must live within the county in which the city is located, and others permit you to live in a number of surrounding counties. Residency requirements are often subject to litigation, primarily because many police unions view the as infringing on the rights of employees. The history of residency requirements is complex; today many of the issues revolve around the costs of housing in some urban areas, the availability of housing and good schools in those areas, and the desires of many officers to live away from their place of employment. Although a number of courts have ruled against the maintenance of residency requirements, in 2009 about half of municipal departments that employed 100 or more officers had some sort of residency policy, although of these, only about 25% demanded that officers live only in the city of county of employment. For instance, the New York City Police Department has residency regulations that permit living in a number of counties in and near the city.
Many young officers are unconcerned with these rules when they begin their careers, but find the regulations restrictive once they marry and have a family. Whatever your plans for the future might be, your present concern as an applicant is to understand the requirements, particularly if they apply to whether or not your application will be accepted or if they become effective immediately upon appointment.
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