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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 are.

Application Process

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 questions answered.

Testing Process

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 ethics.

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.

Academy Training

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 the academy.

Probationary Period

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 department.

  • 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 >>


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