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How to Become a Police Officer in Illinois

Illinois is home to a respected and experienced police force made up of 31,230 police officers and sheriff’s deputies.1 The state’s law enforcement departments are made up of a multi-level police force, multiple sheriff’s departments and state highway patrols. For anyone looking to enter a new career in the Illinois law enforcement department, there are quite a few requirements. Although there are state-regulated criteria that all police candidates must meet, some individual departments throughout the state may have additional requirements for employment eligibility.

Illinois Police Officer Requirements

The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (the “Board”) oversees the state’s law enforcement process by setting the basic standards of hiring standards and eligibility. The requirements listed below are a standard set of requirements for new recruits. However, it’s quite common that local counties and individual police departments may have additional requirements for new recruits.

To become a police officer in Illinois, you must meet the following basic requirements:

  • Be a US citizen either by birth or naturalization
  • Be 21 years of age or older at the time of hire
  • Possess a valid driver’s license
  • Have a high school diploma or GED

In addition to the minimum requirements below, Chicago police officers are required to have 60 semester hours of college credit or three years of consecutive military service, or a combination. Aurora police officers with college coursework or a degree are paid more than those with a high school diploma. Aspiring police officers in Naperville are required to have a bachelor’s degree by the time they begin employment with the department.

Illinois State Trooper Requirements

The Illinois State Police oversees the state’s requirements for state troopers. To be a state trooper, you must meet the following requirements in regards to nationality and age, education, examinations, and background clearance.

Nationality and Age

In order to be eligible to enter the Illinois police force, potential candidates must:

  • Be a US citizen either by birth or naturalization
  • Be 21 years of age or older at the time of hire
  • Possess a valid driver’s license

Education

While some states require candidates to hold a US high school diploma or GED certificate at minimum, Illinois requires state police candidates to have a college degree and/or military service, or some combination of both as explained below. Candidates must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree.
  • Hold an Associate of Arts degree AND three consecutive years of continuous, full-time service as a police officer with the same police agency OR three consecutive years of active military duty, OR
  • Hold an Associate of Applied Science degree in Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice AND either three consecutive years of continuous, full-time service as a police officer with the same police agency OR three consecutive years of active military duty, OR
  • Have been honorably discharged from the armed services of the United States after serving active military duty AND has been awarded at least one of the qualifying medals OR is an active member of the Illinois National Guard or a reserve component of the United States Armed Forces AND have been awarded at least one of the qualifying medals.

Required Examinations

Aspiring Illinois state troopers must pass a number of written and physical examinations before being eligible to train at the Academy. Initially, two written tests will be administered to candidates. First a personnel report test that assesses ethical and moral character, work attitude and overall employment suitability. The second test is The National Criminal Justice Officer Selection Inventory, which includes both a cognitive and attitude assessment. Later in the process, all candidates must also participate in an oral interview. Applicants are ranked after this step of the process.

Once all exams are passed, applicants will be certified by the Director of the Illinois State Police, and scheduled for a medical examination. The medical exam is administered by the Illinois State Police. Along with a standard physical evaluation, candidates are also required to have uncorrected vision at a minimum of 20/40 and aided vision corrected must be 20/20.

Background Clearance

All candidates will be subjected to an extensive background investigation, which will include personal and employment references as well as traffic, criminal and credit history investigations. Once all of this information has been researched, a committee will evaluate the report and determine which applicants advance to the oral interview stage. Candidates may have to submit to a polygraph test at any stage of the background process. Any applicant convicted of a felony or repeated serious offenses will automatically be disqualified.

“After a dangerous situation that left me vulnerable, I learned that when you treat people with dignity and respect and never look down on them (even when they are literally laying in the gutter), they will cooperate and even help you. I was a successful police officer because I stopped trying to be what I believed I was supposed to be and started being authentic.” – Commander with the Aurora Police Department

Illinois Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

Going back to the early 1920s, Illinois’ roads and highways were patrolled by a group of law enforcement officers known as State Highway Maintenance Police. Today, the Division of Operations, as part of the state’s police force, oversees all functions of highway patrol, criminal investigation, safety education and communications. Uniformed and plainclothes troopers serve 22 districts and seven investigative zones throughout the state.2 The officers also participate in a number of community programs and driver safety initiatives within the various local neighborhoods.

Anyone looking to work as an Illinois officer in the Division of Operations must first meet the same requirements set for the state police officer.

Illinois Sheriff Deputy Requirements

There are over 100 counties in Illinois and most have an elected sheriff. The most populous county in Illinois is Cook County, which is located in Chicago. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is the third largest police department in the state. More than 500 officers and 100 civilian personnel are currently working at the Office.3

The current Cook County Sheriff is Tom Dart, a former prosecutor and state legislator. Dart has served Cook County since 2006 and perhaps is best known for his major overhaul of the Cook County Jail, the nation’s largest single-site jail. In fact, thanks to his groundbreaking work in the local jail system, Sheriff Dart was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in Time magazine’s 2009 issue.

In order to work in the sheriff’s department in Cook County, candidates must meet the requirements set by the Merit Board Certification. Typically, candidates must be 21 years old, a US citizen and free from any felony convictions. Once approved for pre-employment, candidates must complete training at The Cook County Sheriff’s Training Institute.

Police Departments in Illinois

Officially established in 1922, the Illinois State Police counts on almost 30,000 law enforcement personnel to protect and serve the department’s 21 districts. It is the fifth largest police force in the country behind California, Texas, New York and Florida.

Chicago
The biggest police force in Illinois and the second largest city police force behind NYCPD is the Chicago Police Department. Dating back to 1837, it’s one of the oldest modern police forces in the US and counts on 13,354 officers.4 Garry Francis McCarthy is the current Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

Like any city, anyone wanting to work as a Chicago cop must meet a few requirements. The educational requirements for Chicago police force state that eligible candidates must have at least 60 semester hours from an accredited university or college OR have completed three consecutive years on active duty in the US Armed Forces. Alternatively, anyone that has at least 30 semester hours from an accredited learning institute AND has served one continuous year of active duty in the Armed Forces may also be eligible.

For more information on the Chicago Police Department, take a look at our in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer.

Aurora
The Aurora Police Department is responsible for serving and protecting Illinois’ second largest city. The current Police Chief of Aurora is Chief Gregory S. Thomas, a 36-year veteran in the Aurora Police Department. Along with an extensive background in law enforcement, Chief Thomas holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master of Business Administration from Aurora University.

In order to work on the Aurora police force, candidates must be between 21 and 36 years of age and hold a US High School Diploma or a GED with a minimum composite score of no less than 2480 points. Additionally, applicants are eligible to apply for employment if they have at least 16 hours of college credit with a grade point average of 2.5 out of 4.0.

Rockford
Rockford is the third largest city in Illinois with an estimated population of 158,834. The current Chief of Police at the Rockford Police Department is Chief Chet Epperson who oversees the Department’s 290 police officers.5

To become an officer on the Rockford Police Force, applicants must be between 21 and 34 years old. There may be exceptions made for US veterans and people with prior law enforcement experience. Additionally, all candidates must hold a US High School Diploma or equivalent GED certificate.

“Real strength can only be achieved if you have the respect of the citizens you serve. Having weapons and might is a façade. Be firm but fair as you deal with the citizens you serve. They are your masters.” – Paul Huebl, former Chicago Police Officer

Police Training Academies in Illinois

Once applicants have met the basic requirements set by the state and local departments, all police recruits are required to complete training at an approved academy. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board sets the requirements and curriculum for Illinois police training. The state of Illinois offers a number of approved training academies throughout the state that offer the 400 hours basic minimum training for new officers.5

  • Chicago Police Academy – Chicago, IL
  • Cook County Sheriff’s Police Academy – River Grove, IL
  • Illinois State Police Academy – Springfield, IL
  • Police Training Institute – Champaign, IL
  • Southwestern Police Academy – Belleville, IL
  • Suburban Law Enforcement Academy – Glen Ellyn, IL

See more approved police training academies in Illinois.

Illinois Police Jobs Outlook

For those interested in the future of law enforcement careers in Illinois, there is a lot of promise. According to Projections Central, the projected growth through 2022 for cops is only .2%, but that represents 1,050 new job openings every year.6 Chicago police officers can also expect to make an average salary of around $68,500 per year, which was the fifth highest average salary for cops in the nation in 2014.1 With a cost of living at 4.4% lower than the national average, prospective police officers in Illinois can make an excellent living.7

A large part of the growth expected is due to expected growth within the state’s many sectors and population growth. However, a large part of the police department’s future expansion is due to the number of baby boomer veteran police officers who will be retiring over the next five to ten years. This situation is expected to result in a high number of replacement hirings. As with most public service jobs, employment cycles are dependent on state and city budgets.

For more information current law enforcement openings, take a look at our Police Jobs Page.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Illinois

City Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Champaign-Urbana 470 $64,790
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville 21,120 $72,660
Springfield 360 $59,480

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2012.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm#st
2. Illinois State Police: https://www.isp.state.il.us/aboutisp/deptorg_doo.cfm
3. Cook County Sheriff’s Police: http://www.cookcountysheriff.com/sheriffs_police/ccspd_main.html
4. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf
5. Rockford Police Department: http://www.rockfordil.gov/police.aspx
6. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
7. Sperling’s Best Places, Illinois: http://www.bestplaces.net/state/illinois