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Basic Requirements

Policewoman smilingEach state has a Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) or similar entity that establishes minimum selection standards for law enforcement officers.  Individual agencies must meet or exceed these minimum standards.  While requirements may vary from state to state and agency to agency, typical basic requirements include the following:

  • Citizenship Requirement
    Agencies require applicants to be U.S. citizens, or in some cases, permanent resident aliens who have applied for citizenship.  Some agencies require officers to reside within their jurisdictions while others do not.

  • Minimum / Maximum Age Requirement
    While most agencies require you to be 21 by academy graduation date, some take cadets as young as 18.  The maximum age can vary widely.  Do not assume that just because you are over 30, your chances of becoming a police officer are over.  Some agencies have no maximum age.

  • Education Requirement
    Most agencies expect officers to have a high school diploma or GED at a minimum.  Some agencies require a bachelor’s degree or a minimum number of college credit hours.  Others offer additional pay based on educational attainment.  Regardless, education beyond high school will only help you in your law enforcement career.  Having a four-year degree or an advanced degree is an asset in your career progression, particularly when seeking a promotion or specialized assignment.

    While criminal justice studies are the traditional route for those aspiring to a career in law enforcement, many other fields provide you with a good foundation.  Sociology, psychology, and social work are a few other fields that are particularly well suited for police work.

  • Valid Drivers License
    Since most officers start out on patrol, a valid drivers license is a requirement for any law enforcement position.  Your driving history will also be reviewed during the background check.

  • Minimum Fitness Requirement
    The type and rigor of these requirements vary by agency.  With enough training and preparation, you can meet the challenge.

Disqualifiers

While specific disqualifiers vary from department to department, any of the items listed below may disqualify you from police service.  Agencies use their discretion when reviewing past infractions.  Some come with a sliding time limit that may adjust based on the severity of the crime.  For example, marijuana use once in college 10 years ago might not be disqualifying, but marijuana use 10 days ago probably would.  Please keep in mind that departments have different requirements.  If you are found to be unsuitable for one department, there may be other departments which find you suitable.  Following are some typical disqualifiers:

  • Felony conviction (adult or juvenile)
  • A misdemeanor conviction involving domestic abuse or a sexual component
  • Illegal drug use
  • Poor driving record (including reckless driving conviction)
  • DWI/DUI conviction
  • Poor credit history or other financial problems

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