How to Become a Cop

Cop Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $49,540
Avg. Pay / hour $23.82
Education 1-2 Years
Job Outlook 5%

When you become a cop you can look forward to a job that will offer you a lot of variety, as well as the opportunity to give something back to your community.

To succeed in this role, you’ll need to have excellent interpersonal skills, good attention to detail, and an interest in criminal justice.

Education Requirements to Become a Cop

To become a cop you will need your high school diploma, as a minimum.

While it’s possible to get a job with this alone, most cops have some kind of post high school education.

The best pathway is to take a four year bachelor degree with a focus on criminal justice.

This will give you a good knowledge base in areas of the law, and prepare you for your career.

It’s also possible to attend community college, and complete a similar qualification there.

The best way to become a cop is to complete this some kind of degree program.

Without it, you may find yourself limited to entry level jobs, and find career progression difficult.

You’ll need to be twenty years old in most states to become a cop and US citizenship is essential.

You’ll also need to take a written examination which will test your aptitude, then if approved, further medical and physical tests.

Most states will also require you to undergo psychological screening as well.

Cop Job Description

There is no typical day of work for a cop, and no all encompassing job description.

This is part of what attracts many people to this kind of work.

It’s likely that you’ll find within your role, that no day is ever the same.

Here are some of the tasks you might find yourself completing as an entry level cop, police office, or state trooper.

  • Answering phones
  • Answering enquiries in station
  • Traffic Patrol
  • Street Patrol
  • Responding to reports of violence
  • Responding to reports of break-ins
  • Analyzing dangerous situations
  • Problem solving
  • Making arrests
  • Questioning suspects
  • Filing reports
  • Using computer systems
  • Communicating with colleagues
  • Communicating with members of the community

Working as a cop you will be assisting the course of criminal justice, help the victims of crime, while at the same time prevent further crimes from taking place.

When you work within law enforcement, there are also many different criminal justice careers you can move into as your career progresses.

Here are some examples of areas you may move into.

Cop Salary and Career Path

Once you have a start working as a cop, you can look forward to good job security and stable employment.

You can also feel assured that you’ll be able to find work in any state, so if you need to relocate at any stage in life, finding a new job won’t be too difficult.

Most cops stay working in law enforcement, and are employed by local, state, or federal branches.

Some move on to roles for security firms, or may take up other roles in criminal justice, for instance as a crime scene investigator, detective, or similar role.

There is lots of room to progress once you have become a cop, most people attain promotion within two years of commencing their career.

This also means that you can enjoy an increased salary package as you rise through the ranks.

There is also the possibility to work within different departments over the course of your career.

If one role becomes too straining, or just a little boring, you can always look to do something different within the same industry.

Most employers within law enforcement will encourage you to undergo further training, and may even provide study leave or scholarships for those who are interested.

A starting salary for a cop is between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.

Those with a few years experience could expect to earn $50,000 or more.

Employment is secure, and job prospects strong.

If you are looking for a career that doesn’t require you to sit at a desk all day and you like serving your community, then you might consider becoming a cop.

You’ll have plenty of variety, secure employment, and a good salary.

It may take some study to get that first position, but once you are working in law enforcement, there are plenty of avenues for growth and professional development.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$82,060
New Hampshire$63,670
New Jersey$91,690
New Mexico$55,420
New York$80,590
North Carolina$51,860
North Dakota$64,470
Rhode Island$68,580
South Carolina$49,140
South Dakota$52,580
West Virginia$47,160
Puerto Rico$40,490

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $102,920.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $102,920
Washington - $92,390
New Jersey - $91,690
Alaska - $87,510
Illinois - $82,800
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, OCC Code 33-3051, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cop?

A cop, or police officer is a law enforcement employer who has the responsibility of patrolling, responding to emergencies, and issuing citations.

Cops can be employed at local, state or federal levels.

They have the role of preventing and investigating crimes, protecting the public and assist in arrests.

Cops need good interpersonal and communication skills, physical fitness, and the ability to handle pressure and work in stressful situations.

You must be a U.S. citizen and at least 18-21 years old to apply for becoming a police officer; the exact age requirements vary by state.

How much does a cop make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for police officers and detectives was $63,380 in May of 2018.

The salary depends on a number of factors, including the level of experience and the department where the officer works.

The lowest 10% earned less than $36,550 while the highest 10% earned more than $106,000.

Paid overtime is common and some departments also provide cops with an allowance for uniforms and extensive benefits.

Cops also have the option of retiring at a younger age.

How much does it cost to become a cop?

The education requirements for future cops depend on the region and the department where they are seeking employment.

Cops need at least a high school diploma or GED.

After passing a serious background check and meeting rigorous physical and personal requirements, they must complete a few months of police academy training.

Tuition costs for police training vary by state, but total costs are usually less than $5,000 and many departments reimburse a percentage of the tuition after employment.

What is the demand for cops?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 5 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Because the demand for police officers depends on the level of government spending, the number of jobs available vary by year and region.

Candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree or have military or law enforcement experience should have the best job prospects.

Speaking more than one language is another skill that can give you better chances of finding a job in the field.

How long does it take to become a cop?

The answer to this question depends on the region and the department where you want to begin your career.

To be eligible for this position you must be at least 18-21 years of age and you must be a U.S. citizen.

While a high school diploma or GED could be enough in some cases, many departments also require a 2-year associate degree or some college coursework.

The process of becoming a police officer depends on the law enforcement agency to which you are applying but usually includes an interview, completing a physical exam, passing a drug test, and passing a background check.

After being accepted you will complete around 6 months of police academy training.

After graduation, you will continue on-the-job training and will be placed on probation for several months.

During the probation period, you will be mentored by a senior officer.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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