How do I become a police officer?   no comments

Posted at 11:55 pm in Criminal Justice,Law Enforcement,Quora

Answer by Tim Dees:

There are several answers to your question, mostly governed by where you are and what law enforcement agency you want to work for.

Large police agencies–1,000 officers or more–nearly always have their own training academies. If you want to work for one of these, you will have to go through the department’s hiring process, complete the academy and a field training program successfully, and then finish a probationary work period before being considered a permanent employee. The advantages of this system are (1) you will likely be on the payroll from your first day of the academy, and (2) the academy training will all be according to your agency’s methods and policies.

Medium-size agencies–100 to 1000 officers–sometimes have their own academies, but more commonly use a regional or a state-run academy. Regional academies are frequently associated with a community college or technical school. The students attending them will be going to any number of agencies to work, so the curriculum will be more generic. There will invariably be differences in policy and practice between what is taught in the academy and what you will do at work.

Smaller agencies–less than 100 officers–almost never have their own training academies. About 80% of the over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States have fewer than 25 officers.

Some medium-size agencies hire their recruits, then send them to the academy at full pay. Some states (Oregon and Washington are examples) require this. In other states, students can enroll in the academy course and complete it at their own expense. Once you have completed the academy, you can then market yourself to local law enforcement agencies as a trained recruit, ready to enter field training. You generally have a set period of time–commonly two years–to get hired before your academy certification expires. If it expires, you’ll have to complete another academy session before you can be hired.

A few states have a glut of academy-trained recruits who will never work in law enforcement because there are far more academy graduates than there are jobs. It’s a good idea to investigate the police labor market before you make a commitment to an academy course.

The academy courses typically run from 12 to 26 weeks.There is quite a lot of variation here. Some academies are residential, where you live at the academy site, and may or may not get to go home on weekends. There are often room inspections, and life is not unlike military basic training. Other academies, especially those attached to community colleges, are often non-residential, so when class is dismissed for the day, you go home.

Pre-employment testing usually includes a written test with a writing component, one or more oral interviews, a physical fitness/agility test, and the background investigation. The order of these varies. You must generally pass one phase to be eligible to go on to the next. The process is highly selective. Some agencies hire only 1-2% of applicants, but that often says as much about the applicant pool as about the agency.

In nearly all cases, applicants have to have a high school diploma or GED. Some require up to four years of college. A few will accept a completed term of military service with an honorable discharge in lieu of the college credits. Each agency decides what their minimum requirements will be. When college is required, there is seldom a required area of study. Most aspiring cops major in criminal justice, but there is an argument that psychology, a foreign language, and English literature is a better choice. I have known cops with degrees in any of these fields and more. Mine was in molecular biology.

Most agencies place a high value on communication skills: writing, speaking, interpretive reading. Regardless of your academic credentials, you should be able to read and write at the level of a college graduate to be a police officer. Inadequate writing skills are one of the more common reasons that new hires fail to complete their probationary periods.

The hiring process includes an in-depth background investigation. In a pre-hiring background investigation, everything counts. Some people have the idea that an episode of bad judgment, an arrest, a ticket, being fired from a job, etc. will disappear after a period of time and will not count against them. More recent episodes count more than old ones, but nothing is dismissed entirely. Even if an arrest or conviction is expunged or sealed, you are required to divulge it for the purpose of a background investigation. Deliberately concealing information, even if it’s discovered after years of credible service, is grounds for termination for making a false application. Good background investigators have a way of digging up stuff you thought everyone had forgotten about.

Common reasons for failing a background investigation include:

  • arrests and/or convictions for domestic violence, sex offenses, any felony, or any pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of respect for the law. A felony or domestic violence conviction makes you permanently ineligible to be a law enforcement officer, as these people cannot lawfully possess firearms.
  • excessive moving violations/traffic offenses or DUI. In some states, you cannot be hired as a police officer within X years of a DUI conviction.
  • an itinerant work history, or a record of being terminated from employment for cause.
  • a bad credit history, or a record of not being able to manage your income and expenses effectively.
  • use or abuse of illegal drugs. This is an area where more recent behavior counts more than past behavior. Few agencies will refuse you because you smoked a joint in high school, but if you used marijuana regularly for several years, combined it with other drugs, or injected illegal drugs, it’s likely you will be declined.

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Written by Tim Dees on June 26th, 2014