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Though it may seem that there has always been an underlying tension between the police and the people they serve, it would appear that these last 18 months have left something of a political whirlwind.  Between riots and reasons, the police have taken some hard hits on the public relations front, with outrage over police tactics – and what some see as discrimination – placing many departments on edge and close to over.

Requirements To Become A Police Officer
Let’s take a look at what your average police officer consists of, and since this is a general look, keep in mind that like all people, capacities range from individual to individual.

Education – Must have a high school diploma or GED, and although a college degree is not always needed, some agencies do require college coursework or an associate’s degree, often in criminology or criminal justice.

Key Skills – Strong communication skills, firm grasp of federal, state & local laws, empathy, perceptiveness, sound judgement & leadership skills.

Additional Requirements – Typically candidates must be 21 years of age or older, a United States citizen, posses a clean driving and criminal record, pass drug and physical exams, including a vision screening.
* It should be noted that police officers are expected to maintain a healthy body with high physical endurance and athleticism.  As one might expect, this is due to the dangerous nature of their jobs, often having to chase down criminals fleeing a crime scene.
* Proficiency in other languages besides English can also make a police officer much more productive, as they will be able to communicate and integrate themselves with the community they serve.  However, learning another language is not a requirement.

Applying To A Police Department
If they’ve met the above requirements, the next step would be to apply to police departments in their desired work location.  If they are accepted, they are placed into a pool of eligible candidates for future police officer positions.  Sometimes candidates are immediately placed into a training program, however before this, they must also pass fitness, drug and lie detector tests, along with a civil service test that ensures that job candidates possess the qualities needed to be a police officer.

  • Check out this LAPD booklet on how police officers are prepared physically beforethey enter their police academy.

Tests, Tests, Then Tests
The Entrance Examination – Most departments will administer a written test, often called a “civil service exam,” which aims to weed out the less desirable candidates immediately.  These tests are similar to your SAT testing, which looks closely at your verbal skills.  However it will also test your other reasoning skills, which may include map reading, observation and recall, and report writing, as well as maturity and integrity.

The Physical Ability Test (PAT) – Often taken the same day as the written test, these tests vary from department to department, however in general they assess a recruits health and fitness.  Running, endurance, obstacle course completion and more are among the ways a recruit is physically rated.

The Oral Board –  Arguably an interview process unlike any you will ever have.  The potential recruit is placed in a room with three officers – of different rank – where they ask questions in a manner specifically aimed to cause discomfort – and even panic – for the individual.  This is done for many reasons, but mainly it is a gauge to see how well a recruit can think on their feet.  Often background checks have been done, and questions will be asked to see how honest the responses are.  All in all, if they find you can’t deal with the stresses of a hard interview, then there is no way you’ll be able to work the streets.

The Background Investigation – Given the nature of police work, thorough background checks are made.  Departments have been known to interview former bosses, college professors, school teachers, ministers, neighbors, spouse(s) and other family members, friends, and even landlords.  Competition for police positions is high, so investigators can’t afford to miss any red flags that might otherwise cost them dearly later on.

The Polygraph Test – Surprising to some, the lie detector test – known as a polygraph – is still widely used in candidate interview processes.  If a candidate has gotten this far, they will be questioned by an expert using all the material from the previous tests, and they will not ask lightly.  Police departments want honest candidates who will become honest cops.  If a candidate is found to be lying – even about something seemingly trivial – the candidate will be taken out of the eligibility roster.

The Psychological & Physical Examinations – Based on a written and oral interview, an examiner will administer these tests and come back with their opinion on an applicants psychological coherence, and report to the department their findings.  The physical tests vary from department, but in general look for signs of health issues and drug use.

Police Academy Training
Once the paper work is filed and it appears you’re are a good candidate to become an officer, then comes the actual training. Most large cities have their own academies, while generally many smaller agencies require that a candidate have already graduated from an approved academy and passed the state licensing exam in order even to apply for a position with those agencies.   Applicants are placed through a rigorous training, which generally lasts about 12-20 weeks, and combines both classroom study and physical training.  Coursework includes law and civil rights as well as proper police protocol and responses.  The physical aspect of training involves self-defense techniques and proper firearm usage, along with a myriad of other skills including pursuit driving, decision-making and ethics in the use of deadly force.  Once you’ve graduated, you are able to become a police officer.

Field Training
Even after becoming an officer however, virtually all departments require some sort of field training, usually for a period of up to 3 to 6 months.  The department will assign a new officer to a field training officer (FTO) – usually a sergeant master or master officer – to show them the ropes, so to speak.  Once the new officer meets department requirements and gets his FTO’s approval, the officer will be a full fledged cop.

Policing is one of the most dangerous jobs an individual can have, and although the times change and societies emerge, we will always need some form of protection from the lesser elements of human nature.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers in the US earn an average of almost $58,000 per year.  Many would call that figure disrespectfully low for the job they are asked to do, but it is likely many officers didn’t join the police for money, but for a genuine interest to serve their communities.

These past months have shown that there are indeed undesirables working among the police departments of America, but it should also be reminded that there a many who have given everything – some their lives – to protect the people.

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