How to Become a Police Officer in California

    lapd-officersCalifornia is an attractive location for anyone looking to begin a career in law enforcement. Not only does the Golden State boast the highest employment level of police and sheriff patrol officers in the nation (73,000 cops in 2017), it also offers the highest statewide average annual salary in the US, with cops here averaging $100,090 per year.1

    Like all states, California has a number of requirements for anyone looking to become a police officer. The standard pathway as established by the state is listed in detail below, as well as specific requirements for California troopers, sheriff’s offices, and major cities.

    California Police Officer Requirements

    The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (CA POST) oversees the standards and requirements to become a cop in California. Although there are minimum state-wide requirements that apply to all aspiring police recruits, local police departments may impose additional standards above the minimum. For example, although a college degree may not be mandatory to become a police officer in California, many local departments may require an associate’s degree. As with many public sectors, although the minimum requirement may be a high school diploma or GED, college credit is seen as a strong advantage in terms of employability and promotion within law enforcement.

    The minimum guidelines set by CA Post state that candidates for peace officer positions must:

    • Be at least 18 years old
    • Be a US citizen, either by birth or naturalization
    • Hold a high school diploma or equivalent GED certificate
    • Pass an extensive background investigation indicating the candidate is free of felony convictions, drug use, certain misdemeanors, etc.
    • Have no physical, emotional, or mental conditions that may interfere with police work

    Required Examinations

    California police departments pride themselves on hiring the best candidates possible in order to serve the public to the best of their abilities. All candidates will be investigated and interviewed in order to evaluate past behaviors that may or may not indicate good moral character. As a result, the process of becoming a police officer in California requires a number of examinations, before and during the training period. Before applicants can be considered for employment and subsequent training, they must complete a reading and writing ability test, medical, physical, and psychological examinations, and an employment interview.

    Once aspiring officers have met all of the basic requirements, candidates must complete the entry-level training course at an accredited academy commonly referred to as the POST Regular Basic Course.

    “In hand-to-hand battle [staying in shape] may be the edge that keeps you alive. Once I became a police officer I noticed several others in my profession that in my opinion were too out of shape to be cops. At 50, I was jumping 12-foot chain-link fences while my cover officer (around my age) stayed on the other side and watched. I considered those so-called cover officers useless to me. The youngsters you will be chasing are gonna be half your age and a lot of them twice your size. Stay in shape.” – Johnny Russell, 30-year law enforcement officer for the City of San Diego and author of First Blood.

    California Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

    California has an extensive interconnected state highway system. Under the direction of the California Department of Transportation, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for patrolling over 103,000 miles of highways.2 The CHP is currently the largest state-level police agency in the nation, with over 11,000 employees.2 The base salary for CHP officers is $7,164 per month, equating to $85,968 per year.2

    In addition to state-level peace officer requirements, candidates looking to become a California state trooper must:

    • Be between 20 and 35 years old
    • Be in good health and fully capable of performing the essential duties required of a CHP officer
    • Pass a voice stress test as part of the background investigation
    • Have no visible tattoos or other visible body modifications while in uniform

    Although the minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma, candidates that hold an associate’s degree or higher from an accredited college are considered to be desirable hires by the organization. According to the CHP’s website, additional coursework or advanced skills in English, mathematics, computer skills are favorably considered for employment as are candidates who are bilingual. Accepted candidates will complete 1,100 mentally and physically intense training hours across 27 weeks of the trooper police academy.

    California Sheriff Deputy Requirements

    There are 58 sheriffs’ offices in California, one for each of the state’s counties. To become a sheriff’s deputy in California, candidates must meet certain basic requirements established by the California POST Commission and any requirements stipulated by the individual sheriff’s department.

    Although requirements to become a sheriff may vary between counties, the minimum state requirements are that candidates must:

    • Be at least 18 years of age
    • Be a US citizen
    • Hold a high school diploma or GED certificate
    • Pass the required reading and writing assessment tests
    • Have no prior felony or misdemeanor charges
    • Submit to an extensive background check
    • Possess a valid California driver’s license
    • Pass multiple medical and psychological exams

    Like all California law enforcement officers, sheriff’s deputies must pass an approved CA POST training program.

    Los Angeles County

    The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is the largest sheriff’s office in the world, with approximately 18,000 staff.3 This large organization serves a population of over 10 million in concert with other local agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department (see below).3 In addition to state requirements, prospective LASD officers must:

    • Be at least 19.5 years of age
    • Have at least 20/70 vision in each eye, or 20/30 corrected
    • Have no major hearing impairments
    • Have less than 22% body fat (male) / 33% body fat (female)

    Riverside County

    After Los Angeles, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is the second-largest sheriff’s department by staff in California (fourth-largest by population and land area), depending on a team of over 3,600 dedicated men and women to serve the county.4 Men and women interested in becoming Riverside County sheriff’s deputies must meet state requirements and also must:

    • Be at least 20 years and nine months of age
    • Have no DUI violations in the past three years
    • Not have any domestic violence convictions

    Police Departments in California

    There are approximately 73,000 police and sheriff’s patrol officers in California.1 Each candidate applying for a law enforcement position in California must meet the local requirements as stipulated by their department of choice, complete a training program at an approved academy, and participate in on-the-job training. Currently, the largest police department force in the state is Los Angeles, which is also the third-largest local law enforcement agency in the United States.5

    Los Angeles

    The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has 10,075 sworn police officers.5 Los Angeles police serve an area of 498 square miles and a population of over 10 million in Los Angeles County.5

    There are quite a few requirements for becoming a police officer in Los Angeles. Candidates must meet state minimums and must also:

    • Be at least 20 years of age at application and 21 years of age by police academy graduation
    • Be a US citizen or have an accepted application for US citizenship in progress
    • Submit a Preliminary Background Application and Job Preview Questionnairre
    • Complete an in-person Personal Qualifications Essay
    • Be able to demonstrate exceptional tact, diplomacy, integrity, and moral standards

    While the LAPD’s education requirements require candidates to be US high school graduates or hold a GED certificate, a two- or four-year college degree is favorably considered in terms of recruitment.

    Visit our Los Angeles page for more information on police requirements in that city.

    San Francisco

    The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is the 11th-largest police department in the United States and currently employs over 2,200 sworn officers.6

    In order to become a police officer in the SFDP, in addition to state minimums, candidates must:

    • Be at least 21 years old at the time of hire
    • Not have any record of offenses involving domestic violence
    • Not be restricted from employment with the City of San Francisco

    Learn more about the requirements for San Francisco police work on our San Francisco page.

    San Diego

    San Diego maintains the eighth-largest police force in the US to cover the city’s population of nearly 1.5 million.7 Currently, there are approximately 1,800 active police officers on active duty in the San Diego Police Department (SDPD).7 Aspiring police officers looking to work for the SDPD must meet state requirements and:

    • Be a US citizen or in the application process
    • Be 20 years of age at the time of application, and 21 by academy graduation
    • Obtain a city-administered typing certificate with at least 30 words per minute

    To learn more, check out our San Diego policing guide.

    Additional Police Departments in California

    If you are interested in other police departments in California aside from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, check out our police pages for the following major California cities:

    “Many young people spend a lot of their time and money pursuing a degree in criminal justice before they get hired. In a Civil Service state that degree will not help you till you score high enough for consideration. My personal recommendation would be to pursue a degree in a separate field that interests you that intersects with police work (psychology, social services, etc) before you get hired and consider a criminal justice degree after hire.” – Thomas Gerace, Police Lieutenant and FBI National Academy Graduate

    Police Training Academies in California

    All city police officers and sheriff deputies in California are required to take the POST Regular Basic Course (training academy) as the minimum entry-level training requirement. The Post Basic Course includes an intense curriculum designed to provide recruits with hands-on training, including weapons training, role-play, patrol procedures, arrest, and control techniques. All candidates must pass a variety of written, scenario-based, and physical examinations.

    There are 39 POST-accredited academies located throughout the state, including:

    • Alameda County Sheriff’s Department Academy Training Center – Dublin, CA
    • Allan Hancock College – Santa Maria, CA
    • Butte College Public Safety Training Center – Oroville, CA
    • CAL-FIRE- Ion, CA
    • California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Sacramento, CA
    • California Highway Patrol – West Sacramento, CA

    For a complete list of POST-accredited academies in California, consult the CA POST Commission website.

    California Police Jobs Outlook

    Anyone looking into a future career in California law enforcement should feel confident in their decision. The 10-year career outlook through 2026 for police and sheriff’s patrol officers reports projected growth of 5%; this reflects an estimated 4,860 annual openings due to growth and replacements.8 Cops in California earn an average salary of $100,090 per year, which is the highest in the nation.1 In fact, as of 2017, the top 10 highest-paying metros for cops were in California, with the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area averaging the most at $123,810 per year, or $59.53 per hour.1

    Additionally, the state of California, like many states, is bracing for the impending retirement of a high number of baby boomer veteran law enforcement officers. Therefore, many counties are expected to be increasing their recruitment cycles in the near future. However, as with any sector, police recruitment cycles are dependent on state and city budgets.

    For more information current law enforcement openings, take a look at our police jobs board.

    Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in California

    CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
    Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim30,410$103,730
    San Diego-Carlsbad4,860$85,960
    San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward9,740$109,810

    Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.9

    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
    2. California Highway Patrol: https://www.chp.ca.gov/home
    3. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: https://lasd.org/
    4. Riverside County Sheriff: https://www.riversidesheriff.org/
    5. Los Angeles Police Department: https://www.lapdonline.org/
    6. Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, Full-time Law Enforcement Employees: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/table-26/table-26-state-cuts/table-26-california.xls
    7. San Diego Police Department: https://www.sandiego.gov/police/
    8. Projections Central: https://www.projectionscentral.org/projections/longterm
    9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State and Occupational Employment and Wages Estimates, California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm

    Photo credit: Shay Sowden