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How to Become a Police Officer in San Diego

San Diego is the second-largest city in California with a population of over 1.3 million and is one of the fastest growing cities in the US.1 The San Diego Police Department is the eighth-largest police department in the US.2 There are approximately 1,815 sworn officers on active duty in the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), which enjoys a lower crime rate than the average for similarly-sized cities and the average for the US overall.3,4 The process of becoming a San Diego cop is outlined in detail below.

San Diego Police Officer Requirements

Anyone aspiring to become a San Diego police officer must meet a few basic requirements as well as complete a number of tests. Candidates for an entry-level officer position for the SDPD must:

  • Be a US citizen
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Hold a high school diploma or a GED
  • Possess a valid California class C driver’s license
  • Not have a history of felony charges, drug use, multiple traffic violations, and/or a poor credit history
  • Have a an acceptable typing certificate under International Typing Contest Rules with the ability to type at a speed of at least 30 words per minute
  • Have uncorrected vision of at least 20/70 corrected to 20/20
  • Have normal color vision

The hiring process begins with submitting an online application. The SDPD will contact applicants who meet their desired qualifications to take a written test, which is based on multiple-choice questions and measures reading comprehension, reasoning, and written communication. Candidates who pass may move on to the next stage, a physical performance test. Those who pass the physical test will complete a personal history statement and medical exam as well as an extensive background check followed by a polygraph examination. Once all tests have been completed, candidates must attend an Appointing Authority Interview, which evaluates a candidate’s qualifications, communication skills, and many other job-related factors that are used to judge a person’s potential ability to work within the San Diego Police Department. Accepted candidates will be appointed as recruits to an upcoming police academy class.

For more information, see 10 Steps to Becoming a Police Officer on our homepage and once you are ready to apply for a position, application information can be found at the San Diego PD careers page.

San Diego’s current Chief of Police is David Nisleit, a San Diego native who has served with the department since 1988. Chief Nisleit holds a master’s in business management from the University of Redlands. He also graduated from the FBI National Academy

San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Training Center

The San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Training Center is located on the Miramar College campus. Police recruits attend a 25-week college level training program (police academy) where they study the academics of law enforcement through classroom lectures touching on laws, court cases, and articles dealing with various aspects of common crimes and legalities. Physical fitness is also an integral part of the police academy. Once recruits complete the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Training program, they will be appointed the rank of Police Officer I upon graduation. Afterward, candidates will be eligible for the SD Patrol Division where they train further with an assigned Field Training Officer (FTO) during a 12-week Field Training Program.

San Diego Police Department Information

The San Diego PD serves the entire metro city. Daily police service and patrol is divided up by neighborhood boundaries, which have been assigned nine division names: Central, Northern, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern, Southeastern, Eastern, Western and Mid City. Special units include Air Support, Armory/SWAT, Cold Case Homicide, Criminal Intelligence, Gangs, Metro Arson Strike Team, and the Special Response Team. New officers begin their careers in the patrol division and are eligible to apply for transfer to investigative positions after four years of service. Other specialized positions, such as SWAT, require two to three years of experience.

Despite a shortage of officers, with the SPDP operating some 200 officers short of its sworn strength, crime in San Diego hit a 49-year low in 2017.5,6 This is despite the fact that the city’s population has doubled during that timeframe.6 The city recently approved pay raises for police officers and is actively recruiting in order to reach its full, authorized complement of sworn officers.5

San Diego is a vibrant town with many diverse communities. The San Diego PD has many programs that aim to bring police service and these communities together. They are especially focused on crime prevention programs and activities for San Diego youth. For the younger crowd, Safety Sam often gives safety lessons about bicycle safety, pedestrian safety, seat belts, 911, and stranger danger to elementary schools. Another active youth program is the KIDZWATCH Academy, which is a program for 5-to-11-year-olds that teaches the importance of community involvement and volunteering. Police officers, firefighters, and park rangers teach classes during the eight-week program.

For young adults interested in the world of local law enforcement, residents may enter the San Diego Police Department Cadet Program, an entry-level, voluntary position for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. Once “cadets” attend a six-session academy, they may be able to go on ride-alongs, assist with security and traffic control, and volunteer for other support tasks.

Department Contact Information

1401 Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 531-2000
SDPD Website
SDPD Facebook
SDPD Twitter

Salary, Benefits, and Jobs Outlook

San Diego police recruits start at an annual salary of $45,406 per year.2 With annual increases, police officers earn a base salary of $72,924 after their fourth year of service.2 Further increases are available based on earning promotions, working in special assignments, and qualifying for pay incentives such as overtime, bilingual pay, and education pay.

The average annual pay for a San Diego patrol officer is $85,960.7 The outlook for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in California is good, with a projected 5% increase in employment in this field through 2026.8 For more information on available jobs with the SDPD and nearby departments, visit our police jobs board.

Cities and Police Departments Near San Diego

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4,790 police and sheriff’s patrol officers work in the San Diego metro area.7 While about half of these officers work for the San Diego PD, there are many suburbs and larger cities around San Diego that provide opportunities for police seeking rewarding careers. The below table outlines police employment and crime data for selected area cities.

CityForce Name/AbbreviationCity Population9Police Dept. Total Employees10Sworn Officers10Civilian Staff10Violent Crime Rate per 1,000 People11Property Crime Rate per 1,000 People11
CarlsbadCarlsbad Police Department (CPD)115,330159103470.181.9
Chula VistaChula Vista Police Department (CVPD)270,471305225800.261.57
EscondidoEscondido Police Department (EPD)151,969211156550.372.16
La MesaLa Mesa Police Department (LMPD)60,0219768290.332.78
San DiegoSan Diego Police Department (SDPD)1,425,9762,5221,8157070.382

Additional Resources

  • San Diego Police Museum – The San Diego Police Museum is dedicated to preserving artefacts and information from the San Diego Police Department’s 160-year history.
  • San Diego Police Officers’ Association – The San Diego Police Officers’ Association advocates for working conditions and wages for San Diego police and also provides financial and social support to members and their families.

References:
1. Sperling’s Best Places, San Diego, CA: https://www.bestplaces.net/city/california/san_diego
2. San Diego Police Department: https://www.sandiego.gov/police/
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, Full-time Law Enforcement Employees by State by City, 2016: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/table-26/table-26.xls/view
4. US News & World Report Best Places to Live, San Diego, CA: https://realestate.usnews.com/places/california/san-diego/crime
5. The San Diego Union Tribune, “San Diego Police Facing Ongoing Officer Shortage,” 14 June 2018: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/rancho-bernardo/sd-cm-pow-news-chief-police-qa-20180612-story.html
6. KPBS, “Report: Crime In San Diego Hits Historic Low,” 5 Feb. 2018: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2018/feb/05/report-crime-hits-historic-low-san-diego/
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, San Diego-Carlsbad, CA: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_41740.htm
8. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
9. US Census Bureau, QuickFacts: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045218
10. Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, Full-time Law Enforcement Employees by State by City: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/table-26/table-26.xls/view
11. Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, Offenses Known to Law Enforcement by State by City: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/table-6/table-6.xls/view