If you ask a young child what career path he or she wants to take as an adult, many of them will say, “teacher,” “doctor,” or even “police officer.” All are respectable careers; all require different types of training. So, how do you advise a person considering a law enforcement career? What do you do if you yourself are interested in law enforcement? Let’s explore the steps to becoming an officer and various career options in law enforcement.

First, all individuals wishing to join the police force must meet certain criteria. First, each candidate must have either a high school diploma or a GED. He or she must be a United States citizen and have a valid driver’s license. Age requirements vary by department, but most require an individual to be at least 18 (some agencies have a minimum age requirement of 21). Also, having a felony criminal record will disqualify a potential law officer candidate. Once these qualifications have been met, each potential officer will need training.

Attending police academy is the next step in becoming a law officer. Before one can be admitted to the academy, he or she must pass a written exam. Different schools and jurisdiction levels require different types of exams, so be aware that no uniform exam exists for all academies. Upon successfully completing the police academy, candidates can apply for a position. New officers are expected to start at entry level but can work their way up by passing promotional exams, getting good performance reviews, and obtaining further educational training within the department.

While a bachelor’s degree is not necessary in order to become a law enforcement officer, higher level, and federal positions are easier to obtain when you have a degree. Often, working officers find that they need some type of degree in order to get promoted, so they attend online classes. One should also be aware that certain federal positions may require a master’s degree in addition to work experience. Potential law officers should consider their personal career goals when deciding upon the level of education they wish to pursue.

What happens while students are attending the police academy? Expect lots of fitness training. Exact requirements will vary, but some academies expect graduates to be able to run up to one and a half miles, climb a chain link fence, complete an obstacle course, and sprint 500 yards. Students will train in defensive techniques – some academies even utilize martial arts tactics as defense mechanisms – and will learn how to restrain and disarm offenders. Each academy follows its own curriculum, but four common studies include weapons training, police strategy (which includes legal knowledge and arrest procedures), community collaboration and first aid, and mental toughness. Upon graduation, one is ready to apply to work with local police departments and Sheriff’s departments. (Depending upon the location of the academy one attends, he or she is prepared for employment in either department. Various Sheriff’s departments value previous military experience. Otherwise, the qualifications for and education process to become a deputy are about the same as that of a city police officer.)

Federal agent jobs, however, require specialized education, a bachelor or master’s degree, and different academy training. The minimum age requirement for an agent is 23, and most agencies prefer at least three years of law enforcement experience to be hired. A basic special agent course entails 29 weeks of intense training in physical fitness, leadership and tactical training, and security measure instruction.

Another point to consider is compensation. Beginning city police officers will earn about $44, 160 annually. This is a national average – pay will vary according to location. Contrast this with the (national) average pay of an entry-level federal agent is $63, 788. Surprisingly, deputy sheriffs are compensated at an average of $42, 393. In light of these numbers, one can see how different levels of education can affect first-year salaries.

A career in law enforcement can be one of the most demanding careers, yet it can also be quite rewarding. Hopefully, those same children who dream of being officers will devote themselves to the necessary training and enjoy the benefits of being one of the most important elements of any community.

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