How to Become a Police Officer

Police Officer Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $49,540
Avg. Pay / hour $23.82
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 5%

If you are looking for a career that is fast-paced and has a lot of variety, you might like to become a police officer.

You’ll get to experience a wide range of situations, interact with your local community, and also make a positive contribution to society by enforcing local and state laws.

If you’re interested in criminal justice, have a good attention to detail, and are skilled at dealing with all different kinds of people, then it’s likely you’ll find success as a police officer.

Education Requirements to Become a Police Officer

If you would like to become a police officer, you will need to complete your high school diploma, or equivalent.

You can get an entry role in law enforcement with just high school under your belt, however more and more people in law enforcement are earning higher degrees to get the best job opportunities.

A four-year bachelors degree with a major in criminal justice is one of the best options you can take.

Other degrees in law or forensics will also be held in high regard.

You could also choose to attend community college, where you could choose from a wide range of programs that cater to people looking to become police officers.

In most states you will also need to be at least 20 years old, and in good physical shape to work in law enforcement.

Most departments have medical, fitness, and psychological tests that you must pass.

Police Officer Job Description

Working as a police officer, you will face new and interesting challenges every day.

While some police officers may work behind a desk, others may spend all their time in the field.

Others could be completing lab research, while some might be providing support to members of the community.

The variety offered by this job attracts many people to the role.

Here are some of the typical duties of a police officer:

  • Answering phone calls
  • Patrolling traffic
  • Patrolling the streets
  • Responding to emergency situations
  • Responding to violent or hostile situations
  • Reporting criminal behavior
  • Questioning suspects
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Making arrests
  • Reading suspects their rights
  • Communicating with colleagues
  • Interacting with members of the community

When you become a police officer, you can look forward to a high level of job satisfaction.

Your role can help justice take its course, and also prevent crime from happening in the future.

This is a very positive contribution to make to your community.

Police Officer Salary and Career Path

When you become a police officer, you can be assured of a good salary and strong job security.

You’ll be able to get work in any part of the country.

Most police officers start their career at the local level and then climb the ranks to work in specialized positions.

Working as a police officer, there are many branches you might specialize in later in your career:

  • SWAT Team
  • Drug Squad
  • Detective
  • Special Victims Unit
  • Corrections Officer
  • Prosecutions Officer
  • Cyber Crime
  • Homeland Security

Others may leave law enforcement to work in similar areas.

They may work for a security firm, become a private investigator, or even teach law enforcement to aspiring police officers.

There are many opportunities for advancement within law enforcement.

Many police officers gain a promotion within the first two years of work.

With this comes the opportunity for a higher salary and benefits.

It’s also a career that you will never get bored in.

With so many areas of specialization, you’re bound to find something that suits you.

If you do tire of a particular role over time, there are many others that you can move on to.

Employers within law enforcement encourage police officers to undergo further training and improve their skills.

There is also study leave and scholarships available.

Working as a cop, you can expect a starting salary of between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.

In a specialized role you could earn around $50,000 a year.

You can be assured of good job prospects and secure employment throughout your career.

If you want to experience things that most people will never have the opportunity to, contribute to your community, and continually be challenged and rewarded by your work, then you might consider becoming a police officer.

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 Police Officer?

Police officers protect lives and property, respond to emergency and non-emergency calls, and patrol assigned areas.

During a patrol, officers look for signs of criminal activity and can also arrest suspects.

They also have to write reports and fill out paperwork.

The exact duties depend on the employer and the unit to which they are assigned.

Police officers need a variety of skills, including good judgment, empathy, physical strength, perceptiveness, physical stamina and communication skills.

Officers wear uniforms that make them recognizable by the public.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers have a higher risk of being injured during work hours than most occupations.

Some police officers only work on a specific type of crime and may work in special units, such as motorcycle, horseback or canine corps.

They usually have to gain some work experience before being assigned to a special unit.

How much does a Police Officer make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was $61,380 in May of 2018.

Police officers usually work full-time, with paid overtime.

Due to the nature of the work, officers usually work in shifts.

Many officers receive an allowance for uniforms, extended benefits and the option of retiring earlier than the typical retirement age.

Police officers who have a college degree or speak more than one language can receive additional pay.

How much does it cost to become a Police Officer?

Education requirements depend on the employer and the unit.

Police officers must have at least a high school diploma and some police departments also require a college degree.

Undergraduate programs in law enforcement and criminal justice are available at many community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities.

The cost of getting your degree varies depending on the institution you choose.

Earning a bachelor’s degree can cost you somewhere between $11,000-$32,000 per year.

Two-year associate programs in criminal justice/law enforcement are also available at many colleges and usually range between $21,000-$42,000 per year.

Most police officers also have to graduate from their agency’s training academy and also receive on-the-job training.

During their training period, future police officers learn about state, local and constitutional laws, civil rights and ethics.

The training academy also provides students with supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, and first aid.

Police academy tuition usually costs less than $5,000 and some departments reimburse tuition partially upon employment.

What is the demand for Police Officers?

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, employment for police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 5 percent during the next 10 years.

However, the demand for employment varies from year to year and from place to place because it is dependent on local and state budgets.

Having a bachelor’s degree and speaking more than one language can give you an advantage over the other candidates.

How long does it take to become a Police Officer?

The answer to this question depends on the police department where you seek employment.

A high school diploma followed by the training academy and on-the-job training can be enough in some cases but some police departments also require a college degree.

Getting your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement takes approximately 4 years.

The police academy training duration varies depending on the police academy you choose.

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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