All US jurisdictions require police officers to undergo police academy training (typically 12 weeks or longer) to be certified as law enforcement officers. This training commonly takes place at state-level Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) facilities. Federal police officers follow a similar certification process, typically through Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC). Many police departments cover the cost of this training, although some states and training centers allow self-funded applicants. After you achieve basic POST certification, as long as you continue working as a police officer and meet annual recertification requirements, you typically do not need to take this training again, even if you transfer departments. The basic steps to a police officer career are:
- Complete the required education, which ranges from a HS diploma/GED to an associate degree.
- Apply to your target police department(s) during an open recruitment period and complete the competitive hiring process, which commonly includes several interviews, physical fitness testing, and a psychological evaluation.
- Pass the police academy, which includes training in physical fitness, police tactics, the law, and the use of weapons.
- Complete supervised field experience partnered with an experienced officer.
- Be promoted to full police officer and begin working your first official assignment, which in most departments will be in patrol.
After you have accrued experience, earning advanced POST certifications and seeking additional training opportunities, such as a degree in law enforcement or a related subject, are recommended to advance your law enforcement career.
Before you apply to police recruitment events, it’s helpful to understand the process that your target department follows. In some large cities, such as New York City, prospective recruits must pass a qualifying exam before applying, which you must register for months in advance. Some departments, particularly federal law enforcement agencies and state-level agencies like state patrols, prefer or require previous law enforcement experience, even for entry-level openings.
Job opportunities may also change with the size of the department. Police departments in smaller cities tend to have fewer police officers, which means that officers may have more opportunities to accrue investigative experience compared to large city police departments, where the roles and differences between investigators and patrol officers may be more defined.
A great way to gain an understanding of the expectations and hiring process is to look at available job postings from a variety of sources. In addition to visiting the websites of departments of interest, resource recommendations to help you in your search include:
- Entry level: ApplytoServe, Police1
- Federal law enforcement: USAJobs
- Higher ranks: The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Police Executive Research Forum
- Select major cities: Chicago Police Department (CPD), Houston Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), New York City Police Department (NYPD), Phoenix Police Department (PHXPD)
- Select state-level job boards: California POST, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE)
To help you find even more opportunities, our job board makes it simple to research law enforcement positions anywhere in the US. Use the What and Where fields to enter keywords for the job title you are interested in and the city and state where you want to find job openings. Examples of police job titles include:
- Crime scene investigator
- Federal agent or officer
- Law enforcement officer
- Peace officer
- Police officer
- Sheriff’s deputy
- State trooper