How to become a police officer

"To protect and to serve." If those words hold particular meaning for you, you've probably considered a career in law enforcement, and if not, you might want to. This can be a rewarding career that offers the chance to make a positive difference every day, and there is a lot of variety in the job. For instance, some of the daily responsibilities of a police officer, according to the San Jose Police Department, include:

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

Educational requirements for police officers

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. 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.

How much can police officers make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage for police officers in the U.S. was $58,720 in 2013, but the pay can vary widely based on location and experience. The five top-paying states for this position in 2013 were:

  • New Jersey: $88,220 average annual wage
  • California: $86,040 average annual wage
  • Alaska: $73,990 average annual wage
  • New York: $70,670 average annual wage
  • Washington: $70,640 average annual wage

Metropolitan areas around the country also have variation in their salaries, with eight of the 10 highest-paying areas being located in California. For example, five of these areas are:

  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City: $99,000 average annual wage
  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward: $97,300
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara: $96,430
  • Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta: $89,690
  • Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine: $89,170

Where can police officers find the most jobs?

The BLS reports that employment for police officers and detectives in the U.S. is expected to grow by 5 percent from 2012 through 2022, which is well below the 11 percent national average for all occupations. One of the most important parts of deciding on what career to pursue is figuring out where best to apply for positions, and if you have your heart set on becoming a police officer, you might have to consider relocating.

According to the BLS, the metropolitan areas with the highest numbers of police officers employed in 2013 were:

  • New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
  • Houston-Sugarland-Baytown, TX
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
  • Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX
  • Baltimore-Towson, MD
  • Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MD

In addition, certain states can expect growth above the 5 percent national rate, according to state labor department data for the decade between 2010 and 2020. These states include:

  • Utah: 19.4% projected growth
  • Oklahoma: 15.8% projected growth
  • Vermont: 13.2% projected growth
  • Montana: 12.8% projected growth
  • Virginia: 12.7% projected growth

Please check out the visual that follows to learn more about the salaries, potential career paths and law enforcement training that's required to become a police officer, and to see a complete list of sources.


Long Term Occupational Projections for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Projections Central,

"Police Officer Duties," San Jose Police Department,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Police and Detectives, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

How to become a police officer
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