Becoming a Police Officer: Minimum Eligibility Requirements (page 3)

Updated on Dec 2, 2010


Educational requirements may also have to be verified prior to your being permitted to take the written exam. A few departments require that you meet the minimum requirement before the written test; most, though, knowing that it may be a considerable time from applicant testing to test results, will permit you take the test with the understanding that, as with citizenship and age, if you pass the exam, your application will be frozen until you meet the education requirements.


Some agencies require you to be a resident of the area. Some indicate preferences for those who live in the agency's jurisdiction. There is a difference between a residency requirement and a residency preference.

A residency requirement means that you must live either in the jurisdiction of the agency or in a surrounding area that will be specified as part of the position announcement. The Mount Vernon Police Department announcement in Appendix B is an example of an agency that has residency requirements for appointment. Its requirements are typical of agencies that do not mandate that you live in the town in which you will be working, but do require that you live in specified surrounding areas.

Read the job announcement carefully. In some instances you must be a legal resident of the area at the time you take the test; in other instances you will be expected to move into the designated area prior to accepting the position. Although not universal, a sheriff department will often give preference to county residents unless there are an insufficient number of applicants from within the county. Federal agencies have no residency requirements, although if you are hoping to stay in your home area, you will most likely be disappointed. Generally, upon completion of training new special agents are not returned to the area from which they were recruited.

There are a variety of ways in which a residency preference may operate. Some agencies provide extra points on the entry exam to applicants who have passed the test and live in the designated area. Almost always, you must score a passing grade without the preference. Rarely will the preference be used to bring your score high enough to be considered for employment. The three or five points that may be added to your test score may not seem like much. However, for a test in a large urban area that may attract thousands of applicants those few points may make a very large difference in your position on the civil service list; they might even result in your being scheduled for processing a year or more earlier than you would have been without the preference. Some agencies provide what is in effect a signing bonus for those who meet the residency preference, providing them with a small stipend in addition to the basic salary. Some departments hire from a large regional civil service list, but, rather than taking candidates in order of their scores, are permitted to go through the list to first select residents of their communities.

Just the Facts

Check the rules carefully for the agencies to which you are applying. You do not want to invest time and possibly application fees only to learn that you will not be allowed to take the exam. Most police agencies are as eager for you to follow the instructions as you should be. They do not want to waste your time and money or their own by having to cull from the applicant process those who are ineligible. The Denver, CO, Police Department, for instance, posts on its website a 26-page booklet that can be read online or printed out; it provides a detailed discussion of all entry requirements and the types of skills or abilities that can bring you extra points on the application or extra salary if you are hired.

Specifically, be sure whether the rules on the job announcement must be met at the time you apply for the test, at the time your selection processing begins, or at the time you are appointed to the position. In large agencies, the time differences may be measured in years, making this an important factor in your decision.

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