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How to Become a Police Officer in South Carolina

South Carolina is an excellent state in which to pursue a career in law enforcement. Many law enforcement agencies within the state are growing. Between 2004 and 2008 the South Carolina Highway Patrol increased its roster of full-time sworn personnel by 23.2%.1 In addition, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is one of the largest local natural resource law enforcement agencies in the nation.1 With over 10,000 men and women working as police and sheriff’s patrol officers in South Carolina, there are opportunities to become a police officer in South Carolina across the state.2

South Carolina Police Officer Requirements

The South Carolina Law Enforcement (SCLE) Training Council sets requirements for police officer training in the state and is responsible for ensuring compliance with state laws and regulations regarding police training. The South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 23, Chapter 23 sets the minimum requirements to become a sworn officer in the state. However, state and local agencies may set a higher bar for potential recruits. For example, state requirements stipulate that South Carolina police officers must have a high school diploma or equivalent, while the Mount Pleasant Police Department requires prospective officers to have at least an associate degree.

The basic standards set by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council are as follows:

Nationality, Age and Education

In order to become a South Carolina law enforcement officer, candidates must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Be a United States citizen and provide either birth record or naturalization papers
  • Hold a high school diploma or an equivalency certificate such as the GED

Required Examinations

To certify as a cop in South Carolina, candidates must successfully complete a number of exams both prior to and during law enforcement officer training. All law enforcement agencies in South Carolina require applicants to complete the following prior to consideration for training and employment:

  • Exams for mental and physical fitness, including basic psychological profiles and the Physical Agility Test (PAT)
  • Cognitive ability tests, including reading and writing skills tests

Background Clearance

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety and all other state and local law enforcement agencies in South Carolina look for the best-qualified officer candidates to serve and protect the public. The qualification process includes ensuring that candidates are of good character and do not have any prior criminal histories. In keeping with this, all prospective sworn law enforcement officers must complete:

  • A fingerprint criminal history check through both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)
  • A background check that includes investigations into prior felony and misdemeanor convictions, driving history, and any history of drug and alcohol abuse, among other background qualifications
  • A local credit check
  • An oral interview with the hiring agency

Prospective South Carolina officers who meet these requirements must complete law enforcement training at an academy or institution approved by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA).

South Carolina Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

The South Carolina Highway Patrol is a department within the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. Law enforcement specializations within the Highway Patrol include the Advanced Civil Emergency Response Team (ACERT), the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement team (ACE team), and the emergency management unit.

To become a South Carolina state trooper, prospective officers must:

  • Be at least 21 years old before the first day of training
  • Be a US citizen
  • Hold a high school diploma or GED
  • Hold a valid driver’s license in South Carolina or state of residence. Candidates’ overall driving records will be assessed, and cannot include suspensions within the last 5 years due to specific violations
  • Be a resident of South Carolina and hold a valid South Carolina driver’s license prior to the date of hire
  • Have 20/20 vision, or if wearing corrective lenses, no more than 20/100 corrected to 20/20
  • Have no criminal record
  • Have no tattoos below the elbow or on the neck or face

Accepted prospective officers will undergo the South Carolina Highway Patrol basic training program, an intensive 21-week paramilitary training course. Officers are commissioned following successful completion of the program and assigned to a state county patrol based on need areas determined by the department.

South Carolina Sheriff Deputy Requirements

According to SC Works, the area of highest demand for sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers is the Midlands, the eight counties in the rough geographic center of the state, where 26 average annual openings are projected through 2022.3 In all, there are 46 county sheriffs in the state who appoint deputy sheriffs to assist with tasks such as routine patrols and criminal investigations.

Sheriff’s deputies in all jurisdictions must meet minimum qualifications established by the South Carolina legislature, which include the following requirements. Candidates must:

  • Be a US citizen at least 21 years of age
  • Be a registered voter
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Have at least five years of experience as a law enforcement officer, or have an equivalent combination of education and experience

Richland County

The state capitol of South Carolina, Columbia, is located within Richland County and is therefore within the jurisdiction of the Richland County Sheriff. Chief Deputy Wash James oversees over 275 uniformed deputies within the department, including those working in specialized units in gang enforcement, community action, and drug suppression. Sheriff oversight of the county is divided into seven regions, with four squads of regional officers assigned to each.

Charleston County

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is under the oversight of Sheriff James Alton Cannon, Jr., who was first elected Sheriff in 1988. The largest sheriff’s office in South Carolina, the Charleston County Sheriff employs over 900 individuals. Field units within the department include patrol, metro major cases, investigation, and tactical support.

Police Departments in South Carolina

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2008 there were 272 law enforcement agencies in South Carolina.1 Those wishing to become South Carolina police officers, patrol officers, and other sworn officers must meet the minimum requirements established by the state legislature as well as any additional requirements adopted by the agency to which the candidate is applying. Candidates must also complete training at an approved academy. Many agencies within the state also require post-academy continuing education.

Columbia

The Columbia Police Department employs over 300 sworn officers and 97 civilian employees.4 In 2015, department officers drove over 4.19 million miles and made 5,921 arrests.4 Current Police Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook has over 25 years of experience in law enforcement.

This agency follows the state minimum qualifications for sworn officers: candidates must be 21 years of age, citizens of the United States, holders of a high school diploma or GED, and in possession of a valid driver’s license with an acceptable driving record.

Charleston

With over 450 sworn officers and 119 civilian staff, the Charleston Police Department is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state. Chief of Police Gregory Mullen is a retired Air Force veteran with a track record of community and inter-agency involvement. Given its waterfront location, the department’s vehicle fleet includes various watercraft for patrol and investigation.

Those who wish to become Charleston police officers must be US citizens, at least 21 years old, have a clean background, criminal history, and credit history, and meet the department’s physical, medical, and psychological requirements.

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is the third largest city in South Carolina, and the Mount Pleasant Police Department employs 149 sworn officers and 43 civilian support staff to serve the needs of the local public. Under the oversight of Chief Carl Ritchie, the department consists of seven patrol districts.

To become a police officer in Mount Pleasant, individuals must be US citizens 21 years of age with a valid South Carolina driver’s license. Candidate officers must not have any felony convictions or crimes of moral turpitude on their records. In addition, prospective officers for this department must hold at least an associate degree with 55 credit hours from an accredited school.

Police Training Academies in South Carolina

The SCLE approves all police training programs within the state, including those for pre-service officers. In order for a prospective South Carolina officer’s training to qualify, the director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council must approve the training program completed.

Most South Carolina officers complete training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA). Basic training at the SCCJA, located in Columbia, is 12 weeks in duration. Advanced courses and training are also offered at the facility.

Other South Carolina police officer training academies include:

  • Columbia Police Department Training and Career Development Division – Columbia, SC
  • Summerville Police Department Training Division – Summerville, SC
  • The Carolinas Institute for Community Policing – Greenville, SC
  • Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center – Charleston, SC
  • United States Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy – Charleston, SC

South Carolina Police Jobs Outlook

The job outlook for South Carolina cops is positive. Projected job growth for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in the state is 5.6% from 2012 to 2022, with an estimated 370 average annual openings.5 Cops in the state can expect to earn an average salary of $38,630 per year.2

Though the minimum requirements for police officers in South Carolina call for a high school diploma, prospective sworn officers with higher education such as an associate or bachelor’s degree in policing or criminal justice may have stronger job prospects. Officer candidates who speak a second language may also gain an advantage in the employment market. As officers hired in previous cycles retire, further openings will become available, particularly in metro areas.

To find out more about current law enforcement openings, visit our Police Jobs Page.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in South Carolina

City Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville 1,790 $42,710
Columbia 2,210 $40,840
Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway 690 $35,010

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.

References:
1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, South Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_sc.htm
3. SC Works Online Services: https://jobs.scworks.org/vosnet/Default.aspx
4. Columbia Police Department, 2015 Internal Affairs Report: https://columbiapd.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CPD_InternalAffairsReport_2015.pdf
5. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm