A recent discussion involving the hiring of Police Cadets prompted a curious question. One perspective was that the requirements for police officers should be changed to include requiring a college degree. Some disagree stating that a college degree is not necessary. Other say that the police academy is not long enough to properly train officers. Could changing the minimum requirements of a police officer help address some of the concerns of citizens?
Each 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 often 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 Driver’s License Since most officers start out on patrol, a valid driver’s 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.
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. Below are some typical disqualifiers:
Felony conviction (adult or juvenile)
A misdemeanor conviction involving domestic abuse, a sexual component, or perjury
Illegal drug use
Poor driving record (including reckless driving conviction)
Poor credit history or other financial problems
Dishonorable discharge from the military
Inadequate score on the written test
Poor physical fitness
Disqualifying medical conditions
Falsification on the application
Past or current gang affiliations
The presence of racial bias in the candidate
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