how to become a police officer

What does a Police Officer (Cop) do?

A police officer (cop) is sworn to defend and protect people. They can arrest and detain individuals who are accused of breaking the law. They ensure drivers follow traffic laws, respond to emergencies, and patrol areas where crime may occur. They often document any action they took in detailed reports.

Watch a video to learn what a police officer does.

How to Become a Police Officer

Step 1: Meet the Minimum Requirements

To become a police officer, you’ll need to earn your high school diploma or GED. Next, you must meet the age requirement of your state and pass a background check and drug test. You’ll also need to start your research on the requirements to attend a police academy in your state or area. Some states require you to have as much as two years of college courses to apply.

Step 2: Apply to a Police Academy

You must apply to be accepted into a police academy and pass to become a police officer. If the application does not require college courses, having college classes in the criminal justice field can increase your chances of being accepted though. You’ll also take a written test and pass a physical agility test. Scoring well on both of these will also increase your chances of being accepted. Check out an Entry Level Police Officer Examination Sample Test (link opens in a new tab).

Step 3: Attend a Police Academy

A police academy will train you in patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response tactics. There is a lot to learn, so this takes about 6 months to complete. Upon completion however, you are promoted to Officer. Attending an academy is like having a full-time job. You will most likely attend your academy Monday through Friday for about 40 hours of training a week. You will also be paid.

Step 4: Optional: Continued Education

If you decide to advance your skills you can gain a college degree, especially if you want to become a detective, forensics expert, wildlife protection officer, or a federal government worker. Officers earn their bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or law enforcement. Courses you’ll take include state and local laws, constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics.

Job Description of a Police Officer

A police officer is usually assigned to a specific patrol area where they would be responsible to enforce the law, look for suspicious activity and may even search and/or arrest suspected criminals. They respond to emergencies, enforce traffic laws and would investigate complaints. Police officers often work with a partner and wear uniforms in order to be properly identified by the public.

In the police force, strong communication skills are needed as well as listening skills and are used on a daily basis in order to interact with the public, co-workers, supervisors and other teams such as in an emergency situation. They should be physically fit as the job often requires running, apprehending suspects and responding to emergencies of all kinds.

A police officer also works on specific crimes, for instance, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams, narcotics or even canine corps. However, one would usually have served for some length of time on patrol before advancing to these specific crime units. A police officer may also be assigned a designated area to watch for speeding violators in traffic. Some other areas of serving would be as a crime investigator, solving murders or other crimes. The police force is both a physically and mentally demanding career with a high-stress level and is considered very dangerous.

Police Officer Job Posting

Let’s look at a job description posted by the Department of the Air Force. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following responsibilities:

  • Enforce and maintain law and order and protect life within the jurisdiction of a military installation; perform law enforcement work in the preservation of the peace; prevent, detect and investigate crimes; arrest and apprehension of violators; provide assistance to citizens in emergency situations and protect civil rights.
  • Attend formal, on-the-job and in-service training.
  • Perform additional duties as assigned by supervisors.
  • Perform and enforce the full range of police officer duties, carry a firearm, pursue and apprehend or direct apprehension of the person(s) fleeing a crime scene or attempting to resist arrest.
  • Mirandize suspects, preserve evidence and testify in court as it pertains to enforcing laws and regulations.
  • Conduct preliminary and final short-term investigations of a broad range of alleged and actual crimes.
  • Investigate crimes and suspected criminal activities, interview witnesses, secure crime scenes, compile and preserve evidence.
  • Respond to calls for emergency assistance to include murder, traffic accidents, domestic disputes, suicides, burglary, robbery, sex offenses, unruly or truant child, missing persons, suspicious persons, gang fights, or neighborhood disputes, catastrophic events, enemy attacks and natural disasters.
  • Act as the on-scene commander for significant and catastrophic events when required.
  • Perform mobile patrol duties.
  • Enforce weapons systems security standards, traffic rules and regulations, including those related to speed, reckless and drunken driving.
  • Stop traffic violators, notify them of the offense committed, and issue tickets.
  • Serve as an Emergency Response Dispatcher in support of integrated base defense and police services.
  • Participate in training, exercises, and evaluations to increase proficiency and update skills and knowledge.
  • Perform fixed post duties at all access points, visitor control center, and vehicle inspection stations.

This position was posted to run 02/05/2018 until 02/01/2019 with a salary range of $41,365 to $53,773 per year on (link opens in a new tab). is an official website of the United States government and part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

The Constitutional Rights Foundation (link opens in a new tab) offers free teacher resources that provide education and discussion for your class.

Police Officer Career Video Transcript

Police patrol officers monitor community safety and respond to calls from the public. Whether on foot, on wheels, or on horseback, the job of patrol officers is to be alert for any threat to public safety, from enforcing traffic laws, to helping a lost child, or responding to an unfolding and highly dangerous situation. Police officers are licensed to carry guns, which comes with great responsibility. They must pass rigorous academic, psychological, and physical exams to prove they have what it takes to balance their responsibilities. Even in life-threatening situations, officers need to stay calm, think clearly and make good on-the-spot judgments.

While Hollywood makes police work seem constantly action-packed, most patrol officers will tell you the job is often very routine. Police work requires patience and paperwork, documenting every incident in detail. Officers are drug-free and have no felony convictions on their record, and those out in the community are expected to be physically fit. Some departments require a high school diploma, while others prefer a college degree in criminal justice, although other majors are often accepted. Speaking a second language is a plus. Police patrol officers are true public servants who are expected to conscientiously and courageously serve and protect.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives.

National Center for O*NET Development. 33-3051.01. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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