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 one of the highest employment levels of police and sheriff patrol officers in the nation (68,220 cops in 2014), but it also offers some of the highest annual salaries in the US, averaging $87,520 per year.1

Like all states, California has a number of requirements for anyone looking to become a police officer. Age and education requirements may vary from county to county, but the standard pathway as established by the state is listed in detail below.

California Police Officer Requirements

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training 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 require additional standards for becoming a police officer in their department. 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 in criminal justice. 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 California Commission are as follows:

Nationality, Age, and Education

In order to be eligible to enter a California Police Training Academy, applicants 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

Required Examinations

The process of becoming a police officer in California requires quite a number of examinations, before and during the training period. Before applicants can be considered for employment and subsequent training, they must complete:

  • A medical, physical and psychological examination
  • A reading and writing ability test

Background Clearance

The California Police Department and all of the local 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. All candidates must submit to:

  • A fingerprint and criminal history check
  • An extensive background investigation indicating the candidate is free of felony convictions, drug use, certain misdemeanors, etc.
  • 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 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 in the state. The entire state is made up of 58 counties and 23 million licensed drivers on the road. Therefore, the CHP is currently the largest police agency in the nation, with more than 11,000 employees and 7,500 sworn officers.2

For anyone looking to become a California state trooper, candidates must:

  • Be between 20 and 35 years old
  • Be in good health meaning fully capable of performing the essential duties required of a CHP officer
  • Possess a California driver license
  • Submit to a full background investigation
  • Be free of any felony convictions, illegal drug usage, arrests and convictions, frequent or recurring traffic citations, etc.
  • Have a high school diploma, GED, or have passed the California High School Proficiency Examination

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 those candidates that are bilingual.

California Sheriff Deputy Requirements

There are 58 sheriffs in California that work in the state’s counties. Sheriff deputies around the state patrol neighborhoods, investigate crime scenes, etc. To become a sheriff deputy in the state, candidates must meet certain basic requirements as established by the California POST Commission and any requirements stipulated by the individual sheriff departments. Like all California law enforcement officers and sheriff’s deputies must pass Peace Officers’ Standards and Training program.

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 all medical and psychological exams

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the largest sheriff’s department in California, as well as the entire US. This large organization has more than 9,100 sworn deputies and over 8,000 civilian personnel. The department also depends on an additional 4,200 civilian volunteers, 900 reserve deputies and 400 explorers to carry out the county’s needs.3 Currently, John L. Scott is the Interim Sheriff of LA County.


After Los Angeles, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is the second-largest Sheriff’s Department in California, depending on a team of over 4,000 dedicated men and women to serve the country. Stanley Sniff, a 37-year-old law enforcement veteran, serves as Sheriff.

Police Departments in California

There are approximately 68,220 police and sheriff officers in California.1 Each candidate applying for law enforcement position in California must meet the local requirements as stipulated by their county 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.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Police Department (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana) has 9,884 sworn police officers and cops.4 Los Angeles police and sheriff officers serve an area of 498 square miles and a population of 10,116,705 in Los Angeles County.5 The current police chief is Chief Charlie Beck, a thirty year veteran of the LAPD.

Like most states, there are quite a few requirements for becoming a police officer in Los Angeles. Education requirements require candidates to be US high school graduates or hold a GED certificate or a California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) certificate. Additionally, a two-year or four-year college degree is favorably considered in terms of recruitment.

For more information on the Los Angeles Police Department employment requirements and current job openings, take a look at our in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer in Los Angeles.

San Francisco

The San Francisco Police Department is the 11th largest police department in the United States and currently employs nearly 2,000 active duty officers.6 The current chief of police is Greg Suhr, a 30-year veteran of the force. Incidentally, Chief Suhr is also the nation’s highest paid police chief.7

In order to become a police officer in the SFDP, candidates must be at least 21 years old at the time of hire and hold at minimum a US High School Diploma or a GED Certificate or a two- or four-year degree from an accredited university or colleges. For more information about the SFPD, check out our How to Become a Police Officer in San Francisco page.

San Diego

San Diego also has a large police force to cover the city’s population of over 1 million. Currently, there are approximately 1,800 active police officers on active duty in the SDPD.6 The current police chief is Chief Shelley Zimmerman, a 31-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department.

Aspiring police officers looking to work on the SDPD must meet a number of requirements before they are eligible for training. All candidates must hold a High School Diploma or GED Certificate. Additionally, a two- or four-year degree is favorably viewed for new recruits.

For more information on San Diego Police Officer employment requirements and current job openings take a look at our in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer in San Diego.

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 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 and physical examinations.

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

  • 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 state’s POST site.

California Police Jobs Outlook

Anyone looking into a future career in California law enforcement should feel confident in their decision. The ten-year career outlook (through 2022) for police and sheriff’s officers reports a projected growth of 6.8% with an estimated 2,570 positions opening in that time period.8 Cops in California can expect average salaries of around $87,520 per year, which is the highest in the nation.1

These employment projections for California are especially positive for new police and sheriff recruits looking to enter the state’s law enforcement career route. Additionally, the state of California, like many states, is bracing for the impending retirement of a high number of baby boomer veteran law enforcement positions. 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 Page.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in California

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana28,980$85,310
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont10,450$95,250

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

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
2. California Highway Patrol: https://chp11-99.org/
3. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: http://shq.lasdnews.net/pages/PageDetail.aspx?id=2066
4. Los Angeles Police Department: http://www.lapdonline.org/
5. US Census Bureau, Los Angeles County: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/losangelescountycalifornia/PST045217
6. Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training: https://post.ca.gov/Data/Sites/1/post_docs/hiring/le-employment-stats.pdf
7. San Francisco Gate: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/S-F-police-chief-highest-paid-U-S-cop-3815665.php
8. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Photo credit: Shay Sowden