Becoming a Police Officer
Have you considered a career in law enforcement?
Let us tell you about the advantages.
- It is challenging! When you go to work, you never know what you will
be doing that day. It could be taking reports of crimes, counseling
a runaway girl, arresting a wanted person, helping an elderly or lost
person, or any one of a thousand other things. There is certainly no
routine in this job.
- It is rewarding! If you like to help people, this could be the job
for you. Every day, you are called to assist people in a time of crisis.
They turn to you for the help and advice they need. You can make a tremendous
impact on their lives. You can help a young child avoid becoming a victim,
or an offender. You can help people make their neighborhood a safer
place. Every day, you will go home knowing that you have made a difference
in someone's life.
- It is secure! Law enforcement jobs provide a great deal of security
after you pass probation. In addition to job security, the pay is good,
the benefits are usually very good, and there is an excellent pension
and a career ladder.
- It is prestigious! Most people trust and respect the police. As an
officer, you will earn respect as a person who enforces the law while
protecting the freedoms guaranteed by the United State Constitution.
Many agencies post their specific requirements for employment on their
web site. Otherwise, you can call the department and ask to talk to
a recruiter about the eligibility requirements. You may even find a
recruiter from the police department at a job fair hosted by your local
community college or other organization. Some of the more general guidelines
or common requirements are discussed below.
- Education - agencies differ as to the amount of education required.
Some agencies will hire people with only a high school diploma or
GED. Some agencies require either an associates or a bachelor's degree.
Check with agencies where you would like to work and find out about
their requirements. No matter what is required, we encourage you to
get your college degree before you enter law enforcement. A college
degree gives you a broader understanding of the issues we face in
this country. It also gives you the self-confidence that you can talk
to anyone of any education level. It will assist you in getting hired,
and, later on, in getting promoted.
- Physical Ability - most agencies have some type of physical abilities
requirement. You can find out what the exact requirements are. Some
agencies even give you an opportunity to practice before you take
the test. Do not be afraid of these tests. With some effort on your
part to prepare, you will probably pass them. Some of them require
a certain technique. If you are having problems passing the test,
ask the recruiter for assistance. If there is no assistance available,
talk to a gym coach at the high school or college and ask for help
in learning the technique.
- Background - agencies usually have a list of disqualifiers. Things
such as a felony conviction, heavy drug use or extremely poor credit
can disqualify applicants. Check and find out what the disqualifiers
If you want to apply, you can contact the recruiting office or personnel
division at the agency. They will send you a packet of information about
the agency and about the testing process. However, it is better to go
to the agency and meet with a recruiter so that you can get all of your
After you apply, you will be notified of a date and time to report
for the written examination. These are usually not difficult.
They test your skills of reading, writing, memory and logical thinking.
The next step in the process is usually the physical abilities test.
Again, you don't need to be afraid of this test. Find out as much as
you can ahead of time regarding what will be required, and prepare by
training or practicing the special techniques.
The oral interview usually comes next. You will go before a
board of 3-5 people who will have your application. They will ask you
a standard set of questions. You do not have to have law enforcement
knowledge to answer these questions. Some of the typical questions are:
· Why do you want to become a police officer?
· What have you done to prepare for this job?
· If you were in a situation where you had to shoot someone,
could you do it?
There will also be questions that give you a set of facts and ask how
you would respond. For example, "Imagine that you are a police
officer on patrol. You pull a motorist over for speeding. When you ask
for his driver's license, he hands you his license and a $100 bill.
What would you do?" Once you give an answer, they may ask follow-up
questions. Our best advice is to try and remain calm and be yourself.
Answer the questions truthfully. They are looking for skills such as
being able to think under stress, oral communication, reasoning, and
After passing the oral interview, you will be scheduled for a medical
and a psychological examination. These are routine exams to test
your general level of physical and mental health.
You will also be required to pass an extensive background investigation.
You will be asked to provide a great deal of information about your
family, acquaintances, jobs, schooling, and other issues. Family, friends
and acquaintances may even be contacted directly to confirm the information
you provide, so be sure to be truthful.
After you have successfully completed the process and are approved
as a candidate, you will be placed on an eligibility list. This means
that you are ready to be hired. When openings occur, people are hired
from the list. You can ask the recruiter for an estimated date of hire.
Once you are hired, you will be sent to a training academy. In some
states, this is a live-in academy that could even be in a different
city. During your academy training, you will learn all about the laws,
police procedures, self-defense, firearms, and a variety of other issues.
Some classes may be about first aid, responding to domestic violence,
rape investigations, traffic control and many others. You will learn
everything you need to know to function as a law enforcement officer.
The academy may be anywhere from several weeks to several months in
length. After the academy, you will be assigned to an officer coach
who will work with you to help you practice the things you learned in
All newly hired officers are on probation for anywhere from 9-18 months.
This means that you can be terminated during that period without a right
to appeal. But, do not let this scare you. By the time you have finished
the academy, the agency has invested a great deal of money in hiring
and training you. They want to help you become a good officer. If you
work at it, you will succeed!
Choosing an Agency
There are several types of agencies for you to chose from:
- Local police - Most cities have their own police department. They
are sworn to enforce the laws within the city limits. This type of
agency gives you a wide variety of duties to perform.
- Sheriff's Department - Deputy sheriffs are sworn to enforce the
laws within a county. Some deputy sheriffs are assigned to jail duties.
Some sheriff's departments patrol large rural areas and some provide
full police services to small towns that do not have their own police
- State Police - State troopers are sworn to provide police services
throughout the state. State troopers are responsible for traffic enforcement
on all state highways. State police agencies often provide forensic
laboratory services for all agencies in the state. They also provide
computerized database information and criminal history information.
State troopers usually work alone and cover a large geographic area.
They also provide assistance to city and county agencies.
- Federal law enforcement - Federal agents are sworn to provide law
enforcement services nationwide. Agencies have specialties such as
the Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Central Intelligence
Agency, Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Once you are hired as a federal agent by one agency, you can apply
for transfer to other federal agencies.
- Campus law enforcement - many universities have their own police
departments that are responsible for providing police services on
campus property. These agencies usually work very closely with other
law enforcement agencies.
- Special police - organizations such as major hospitals, transportation
agencies and housing agencies may have their own law enforcement departments.
They provide police services on the agency's property.
In addition to choosing the type of agency, you also need to consider
the size of the agency.
- Small agencies - with under 100 officers. Small agencies usually
do not have very many women. This can be a disadvantage if you are
the only woman or one of the first women to work there. They may not
be used to having women in the workplace and you may face additional
challenges. However, the advantage of working in a small agency is
that you learn to do everything! And, small agencies often have more
opportunity to work in close partnership with the community.
- Medium agencies - with 100-500 officers. This is a nice size of
organization to join. It gives more opportunity to advance and can
provide opportunities to work in specialty units.
- Large agencies - with 500 or more officers. Larger agencies, of
course, provide more opportunities for advancement and more specialty
units to choose from. There is also likely to be a higher percentage
of women already on the department, providing more mentors. The disadvantage
of larger agencies, however, is that they tend to be more impersonal
and they sometimes have less desirable relationships with the community.
Of course, this is not true for all large agencies, but it is one
factor to consider.
You should apply your research skills to choosing an agency. Look on
the internet and carefully review their websites. Do they feature women?
Visit the agency. Most agencies will allow you to ride-along with officers
to get a feel for the types of work they do. Find women in the agency
and talk to them about how they are treated and if they recommend that
you join them.
Women who enter policing today are still pioneers! The average percentage
of women in medium to large agencies is only 13%. We need more women!
Review the rest of our website to learn about the advantages women bring
to policing. We hope you decide to become a law enforcement officer. And
if you do, be sure and join the National Center for Women & Policing!
We are here to help you succeed.
Jobs for Women in Law Enforcement >>