How to become a police officer

Interested in protecting, helping, and serving your community? Always had a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong? Maybe a police officer career is something you should consider. Being a police officer can be a rewarding career that offers the chance to make a positive difference every day, and there can be a lot of variety in the job.

Police Officer Duties

Some of the daily responsibilities of a police officer, according to the San Jose Police Department, include:

  • Patrolling a specific area of the city
  • Responding to radio calls
  • Investigating complaints
  • Administering first aid
  • Serving warrants and subpoenas
  • Completing incident reports
  • Testifying in court proceedings

A job as a police officer can help you achieve your career goals if looking to be a detective, SWAT team member, fish and game warden, or private investigator in the long run. Here's what you need to know about the typical education and career moves a police officer needs.

How to Become a Police Officer

The minimum requirement for becoming a police officer is a high school diploma or GED, but some officers may have a bachelor's degree or higher. Be sure to read up on the top schools for law enforcement degrees when doing your research. 

Once you've completed any required education, however, there are many other steps involved in the process. For starters, you must be at least 21 years old, be a U.S. citizen and have no felonies on your record. Additional steps to qualifying for this position can include:

  • Passing a background check, drug test, and psychological exam
  • Passing the physical abilities test
  • Passing the police office selection test
  • Passing a medical exam
  • Completing a police academy training program

Some educational or training requirements may differ from state to state. Be sure to check these before in order to get a clearer picture of what might be involved in becoming a police officer in your state. 

Police Officer Salary and Career Outlook

As with most careers, salary can be expected to vary based on experience, location, and other relevant factors. Here's an idea of the type of salary you might expect as a police officer or related law enforcement professional:

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Detectives and Criminal Investigators$85,020$43,800$138,860
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives$93,100$51,390$144,190
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers$65,400$35,750$101,620
Private Detectives and Investigators$56,810$29,310$89,200
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Additionally, job growth varies by location and demand. Here's the type of job growth you might expect police officers and related professionals to see in the coming years:

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Detectives and Criminal Investigators103,4502.5%
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives116,6604.8%
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers661,3305%
Private Detectives and Investigators30,9907.9%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Explore the visual guide below for a convenient way of understanding your career options and journey if looking to become a police officer.

Article Sources


Article Sources


  • Long Term Occupational Projections for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
  • "Police Officer Duties," San Jose Police Department,, http://www.sjpd.org/joinsjpdblue/PoliceOfficerDuties.html
  • Occupational Employment and Wages: Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
  • Police and Detectives, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
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