A police officer's job isn't your average 9 to 5. On any given day he may be involved in a high-speed chase, intervene in domestic abuse, rescue a child from being kidnapped or have a routine traffic stop go terribly wrong. Anyone with this much responsibility on his shoulders must be trustworthy and strong enough to handle the job. That's why the application process for becoming an officer is so much more lengthy and involved than for many other jobs. Exact steps may differ from department to department, as may age and educational requirements.
Meet the Qualifications
Every department has basic qualifications applicants must meet to be considered for an officer's job. These include being a U.S. citizen at least 21 years old, having a high school diploma or its equivalent and being physically and mentally fit. Small departments may accept applicants who are younger. The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, allows applicants to take the written test if they are 21.5 years old at the time. With ever-increasing competition among applicants, many departments are more interested in candidates who also have some college education. Bear in mind that a candidate with a history of criminal, drug or alcohol offenses may be disqualified.
Fill Out the Application
Applications ask for basic personal information, including your name, address, birth date, social security number and phone number. It may ask for your marital status and, if you have one, ask for basic information about your spouse. Include personal and/or professional references as asked, as well as your employment history. You'll likely be asked all states where you've held a driver's license and a list of any arrests, drug or alcohol issues and past gang affiliation. Be honest at all times. Lying on your application can be grounds for immediate dismissal. If you've been in the military, include a copy of your separation form, called a DD214.
Take the Exams
You may have to take a written or video exam, or both. Written exams measure your reading comprehension, problem-solving skills, writing ability and memory. This won't test your knowledge of law or police work, as it's strictly a general-knowledge test. A video test involves watching a video and verbally answering prompts. Having to speak your answers allows interviewers to assess your interpersonal skills. Your responses will reveal your ability to make sound judgments.
Prove Your Strength
At any moment an officer may go from riding around in his car for hours to jumping out and chasing a criminal on foot. Physical fitness is a must for this job. Your department may gauge your physical strength with a fitness test or by setting up some sort of job simulation test. It may do both. Samples of job simulation tests include hauling a 130-pound dummy out of a car and dragging it 50 feet, climbing stairs, running and pushing through a door with great resistance. Fitness tests vary depending on the department.
Your police department also wants to know if you're emotionally, morally and medically strong enough to handle the job. You'll have to submit to drug tests, a background check and a psychological test. Your background check may include a credit check, as financial security is tied to responsibility. Psychological tests may include a visit with a psychologist and a written evaluation. This isn't to find out if you're crazy; it's to examine your history, thinking, learning style, strengths and weaknesses. You may have to submit to a lie detector test, also called a polygraph or computer voice stress analyzer. If you're offered the job, you probably will visit a doctor for a basic medical screening.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police and Detectives: Summary
- Join Los Angeles Police Department: Qualifications
- DiscoverPolicing.org: Police Officer Application and Hiring Process
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Police Patrol Officers
- DiscoverPolicing.org: Q & A: More Information About Psychological Testing
- Fayetteville Police Department: Application Forms
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images