How to Become a Police Officer

Cops patrolling the streets during their shift

Police officers, working alongside state and federal laws, are responsible for protecting and serving local communities. The process of becoming a police officer is intensive and lengthy. If you are passionate about becoming a police officer and serving your community, you can begin your journey by enrolling in a criminal justice degree program. Along the way, you should strive to cultivate the essential skills and characteristics needed for effective and ethical policing. Police must be good communicators and careful decision-makers.

Here’s a look at the typical process involved in acquiring a police badge.

Earn Your Criminal Justice Degree at an Accredited School

In certain jurisdictions, it may be possible to become a police officer with just a high school education and training in a police academy. However, without a bachelor’s degree, you will have limited room for career advancement and salary increases. Completing a criminal justice program will equip you with a solid academic foundation to succeed in your future role.

For example, you will learn critical and analytical thinking skills alongside criminal law and criminal behavior. You will also develop a sense of servant leadership, cultural competency and ethical decision-making, among other essential skills and characteristics of police officers.

Prepare for the Police Academy

You should begin preparing for success in the police academy at least a few months in advance of applying for admission. Research the physical fitness requirements for the academy you plan to apply to. Join a fitness center and work out regularly to build your strength and endurance.

Although you will receive firearms training in the academy, you may wish to join a gun range and take shooting lessons on your own. Additionally, you should check your state’s police licensing board for current requirements to join a police academy. You may be required to take an academic exam, which you should begin studying for ahead of your application.

Apply to a Police Academy

When you feel that you are ready to enroll in a police academy, fill out and submit your application. All police officer applicants must successfully pass a medical and psychological exam, drug screening and intensive background check. Training requires physical, mental and psychological fortitude to prepare candidates to execute the duties of a police officer.

During your time at the academy, you will follow a rigorous curriculum of local, state and federal laws that you must enforce as a police officer. Pay attention to the protocols and procedural codes that police officers must follow when carrying out the duties of law enforcement, such as the protocols defining appropriate and legal use of force. You will also acquire advanced skills, including weapons handling and driving.

Complete Your Period of Probation

If you graduate from the police academy, you may be offered a position at the local precinct as a patrol officer. New patrol officers are hired on a probationary basis. You will be assigned a probation period and paired with a training officer who will introduce you to police work.

During your probation, your knowledge, skills and professional conduct will be closely scrutinized by your supervisor, training officer and other fellow officers. You can make a good first impression by displaying a positive work ethic, following all regulations and demonstrating good judgment. If you successfully pass your period of probation, the department may extend an offer of employment.

Pursue Professional Development Opportunities

After a few years of serving as a patrol officer and maintaining a clean record, you may be eligible for a promotion. At some point, you might step into a supervisory role and oversee fellow officers. Some patrol officers eventually become detectives or seek lateral movements such as joining a K-9 unit or becoming a member of SWAT.

You can increase your opportunities by pursuing professional development opportunities. If additional training courses are offered, enroll in them. You might also consider heading back to school to earn a graduate-level criminal justice degree.

Students who aspire to pursue a career in criminal justice may find affordable and flexible options in Grand Canyon University’s online and on-campus degree programs. As well as our traditional on-campus degree programs, our Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies program and our Master of Science in Criminal Justice Studies are offered fully online. To learn more about the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, visit our website or click on the Request Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

Loading Form


Scroll back to top