Getting a Job as a Police Officer

What Is Involved in Getting a Job as a Police Officer?

Funeral Held For NYPD Officer Injured While Investigating Fire in High Rise
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Here is some general information that you need to know if you are thinking about pursuing a career as a police officer.

General Law Enforcement Duties:

Uniformed police officers have general law enforcement duties, including maintaining regular patrols and responding to calls for service. They may direct traffic at the scene of an accident, investigate a burglary, or give first aid to an accident victim.

In large police departments, officers usually are assigned to a specific type of duty.

Community Policing:

Many urban police agencies are involved in community policing - a practice in which an officer builds relationships with the citizens of local neighborhoods and mobilizes the public to help fight crime.

Pay and Expectations:

The job as a police officer can be dangerous, demanding and the pay is low to mid range ($33,000 - $44,000 average starting pay). Hours are long and often involve working in the middle of the night or early morning. Because of the danger, low pay and odd hours, police officers are known as a dedicated group that sticks together.

Note: The lowest 10 percent earned by police and sheriff's patrol officers in 2004 was less than $26,910 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,880.


Getting a job as a police officer can be difficult because of the many tests an applicant goes through.

A high school education or GED is generally required. College courses completed in criminal justice and military experience is a plus. A thorough background check is performed and applicants with multiple traffic violations, drug offenses, and other criminal offenses will often be rejected.

Pre-Hiring Tests:

Most police officers take a series of tests before being accepted into the police academy.

These tests can include:

  • Civil Service testing.
  • Physical exams.
  • Lie detector tests.
  • Drug tests.
  • Personality tests.
  • Psychological tests.

Physical Qualifications:

The average age for applicants falls between the ages of 20 and 35. A series of physical tests are administered during the hiring process. This is to evaluate an applicant's strength, endurance, and dexterity. Examples of the tests include timed push ups, sit ups, a 1.5-mile run, arm and leg endurance tests, a 75-yard 'pursuit run,' and a side-step test.

Specialty Fields:

Specialty fields in the police department can include chemical and microscopic analysis, firearms training and instruction, handwriting and fingerprint identification.

Police Units:

Police officers may be assigned to special units such as:

  • Horseback Patrol
  • Bicycle Patrol
  • Motorcycle Patrol
  • Canine Corps
  • Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)
  • Emergency Response Teams
  • Police officers may also be assigned to patrol and control courtrooms, work in jail-related positions or patrol special events.

Writing and Communication Skills:

Police officers are required to write meticulous records detailing the smallest details of any arrest, confrontation, questioning or any interaction with the public.

Good writing and communication skills are important for later reference when prosecuting a case, determining insurance qualifications, or for investigative reference. The officer will also refer to the records if called to testify in court. Strong skills in this area prevent misinterpretation of the facts of a case.


Experienced police officers can move into better paying civil service positions with more responsibility by performing well in their current position and by continuing their education. Eligibility for promotion occurs after a probationary period ranging from six months to three years.

The opportunity for advancement increases with the size of the department. The larger the department, generally the more opportunity for advancement to detective or specialized police work exists.

Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain usually are determined based on scores on written exams and on-the-job performance.