Minimum or Basic Qualifications for Police Officer Exam (page 2)
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.
The minimum age at which you may apply to the police department can be as confusing as where you must live. Many agencies permit you to apply at a much younger age than when you can actually be appointed. In policing, the term "appointed" is used to designate when you actually begin your career in a police department. Thus, when police officers refer to their "appointment date," they are talking about the first day they began their employment.
Exceedingly few—if any—agencies will appoint you before you turn 18; most require you to be 20 or 21 before permitting you to begin academy training. Despite this prohibition, many departments not only permit, but actually encourage, candidates to apply for and to take the written exam in advance of the age at which they can be appointed.
Some departments, in an effort to encourage a wider selection of applicants, allow you to complete an application as young as 16. Many departments believe that early testing would encourage young people who knew they had passed the test to maintain a healthy and lawful lifestyle so that they would not jeopardize their career possibilities. Also, in many parts of the country, the list of eligible candidates who have passed the written exam might be used for up to three or more years. Knowing the length of time that can pass from initial application to the actual hiring date, agencies realize that even if candidates took the test well before the age of appointment, most would be old enough to become officers once they completed the entire hiring process. Whatever the age restrictions, make sure you understand the differences between the age at which you are eligible to apply, the age at which you are eligible to take the written test, and the age at which you are eligible to be appointed as a police officer.
The Older Applicant
Not everyone decides to become a police officer at a young age. What if you are an older applicant? Maybe becoming a police officer was a dream you deferred. Maybe changes in your current profession have led you to consider a career in policing. If you are in good physical condition and meet the other requirements, your age is no longer a barrier to employment. The vast majority of non-federal law enforcement agencies today have no maximum age limit. After a number of laws and lawsuits, departments eventually altered their requirements so that if you are able to pass the physical agility and medical tests and complete the physical requirements of the police academy, you are eligible to join the department. Older recruits still attract media attention, though; many recruits in their 40s, 50s, and even a handful in their early 60s will be the subject of local newspaper stories. If you are an older-than-average applicant, you should learn as much as you can about your agency of choice to get a sense of wheth r you will be comfortable in a situation where not only your peers, but the majority of your supervisors, may be much younger than you are.
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