How to Become a Police Officer in Iowa

There are approximately 5,000 law enforcement officers in Iowa protecting the state’s population of 3.1 million people.1,2 Officers in Iowa have three guiding principles, courtesy, service, and protection. Iowa’s cost of living is 12% lower than the national average, with housing costs at 35% less expensive than average.3 Known as the “American Heartland,” Iowa is bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Tied for seventh lowest, Iowa also boasts an unemployment rate of 3.8% and is acknowledged as one of the safest states to live in.4,5 For these reasons, Iowa is a good place for those considering entering the law enforcement field to begin their careers.

Iowa Police Officer Requirements

As in most states, to become a police officer in Iowa, applicants must be a US citizen with a high school diploma or GED. In addition to those basic standards, potential cops must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Iowa driver’s license
  • Present no evidence of addiction of a controlled substance, including alcohol
  • Have no felony convictions
  • Have been fingerprinted
  • Have a satisfactory background investigation
  • Have normal hearing (with hearing aids)
  • Have uncorrected vision of 20/100 (minimum) and be able to differentiate between red and blue

Required Examinations

Potential police and sheriff’s deputies must undergo a physical exam to ensure that they are in good physical condition. Other required exams include a psychological exam and a basic skills test. Recruits will also submit to a polygraph test.

“Police officers go through extreme stress day in and day out while on shift. Know your weaknesses. You will see humanity at its worst. Always be at your best. Ask for help from fellow officers and supervisors. You are not a one-man or woman crime crusader. You are part of a team.” -Suzy Ivy, Police detective and author of Bad Luck Detective

Iowa State Patrol Requirements

The Iowa State Patrol has been in existence for 80 years. Iowa State Patrol enforces traffic laws in addition to responding to events like riots or natural disasters and executing high risk warrants.

To apply, candidates must:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be at least 22 years of age upon graduating from the academy
  • Be a US citizen
  • Have no felony convictions and be of good moral character
  • Be a resident of Iowa at the time of employment
  • Be in good mental and physical condition
  • Pass a written and physical exam, psychological and polygraph evaluation, an oral interview and a background examination
  • Have normal hearing, 20/100 vision (without corrective lenses), and color vision that meets the occupational demands of law enforcement
  • Have a valid driver’s license with a good driving record (no more than five moving violations in the past three years and no revocation or suspension of license in the past three years)

Iowa Sheriff Deputy Requirements

There are currently 99 sheriffs in the state of Iowa, and each of these appoints sheriff’s deputies to assist them in their offices.6 Several sheriff’s offices in Iowa have a reserve division of volunteer sheriff deputies to assist with patrol, traffic control, and other safety matters. Requirements for becoming a sheriff’s deputy in Iowa are the same as the peace officer standards. To join the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, prospective deputies must:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Pass a background investigation and drug screen
  • Have no felony convictions and be of good moral character
  • Have a valid Iowa driver’s license
  • Have good visual acuity, night vision and peripheral vision
  • Have knowledge of CPR and first aid
  • Be proficient in the use of firearms
  • Meet physical and psychological standards as defined by the Iowa Law Enforcement Agency

Police Departments in Iowa

The state of Iowa employs about 5,000 officers, or roughly 160 cops per 100,000 residents.2 Iowa has a 10-step selection process that includes:

  1. Minimum qualifications screening
  2. Physical fitness assessment
  3. Written exam
  4. Oral board interview
  5. Polygraph evaluation
  6. Psychological evaluation
  7. Medical examination
  8. Background investigation
  9. Final offers
  10. Basic training academy

Des Moines

Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, has a population of over 200,000.7 With a commitment to community policing, the Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) employs 376 licensed cops to patrol its neighborhoods. The DMPD has specialized units such as the detective bureau, homeland security bureau, and inspectional services bureau.

The DMPD requires a background investigation, polygraph, psychological exam and physical exam from interested law enforcement recruits. Salaries for a DMPD officer range from $55,511 to $68,248 annually.8


Chief Don Schaeffer leads the Davenport Police Department (DPD), serving the city’s 102,000 residents.9 Cops of the DPD work in the patrol division, canine unit, crime prevention unit, criminal investigation division, or the services division. Bilingual recruits are strongly desired.

Potential law enforcement recruits for the DPD must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have a high school diploma or GED and at least 30 college credits from an accredited college or university*
  • Be a US citizen
  • Pass a background investigation and polygraph exam
  • Be an Iowa resident in either Scott or Eastern Muscatine Counties
  • Have 20/100 vision (without corrective lenses), and color vision that meets the occupational demands of law enforcement

*One year of active military service can substitute for the education requirement.

Police Training Academies in Iowa

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy sets minimum standards for all law enforcement in Iowa, certifies officers, and suspends or decertifies officers when necessary. Recruits attend basic training for 14 weeks. Academy topics include laws of arrest, search and seizure, defense tactics, arrest techniques, precision driving, firearms, emergency management services, criminal law, physical fitness, and motor vehicle law.

The following are basic training academies in Iowa:

  • Des Moines Police Department Academy – Des Moines, IA
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety Academy – Des Moines, IA*
  • Iowa Law Enforcement Academy – Johnston, IA

*The Department of Public Safety Academy trains state patrol troopers, some special agents and fire marshals.

Iowa Police Jobs Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are currently 4,950 cops in Iowa.2 It is projected that by 2022, that workforce will grow by 5.9%.10 On average, there are 180 law enforcement job openings per year in the state with an average salary of $53,490.10,2 The number of new police officers is closely tied to a city’s budget and priorities and can be affected by the retirement of officers and budget shortfalls.

To search law enforcement jobs in Iowa, check out our Police Jobs Board.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Iowa

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Cedar Rapids440$57,410
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island690$56,460
Des Moines1,080$60,380

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

1. US Census Bureau, Quick Facts, Iowa: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/ia/PST045217
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Iowa: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ia.htm
3. Sperling’s Best Places, Iowa: https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/iowa
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment Rates for States: https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
5. Insurance Journal: https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2009/03/25/99012.htm?print=1
6. Iowa State’s Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association (ISSDA): http://www.issda.org/
7. US Census Bureau, Quick Facts, Des Moines, Iowa: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/desmoinescityiowa/PST045217
8. City of Des Moines Human Resources: https://www.dmgov.org/Pages/default.aspx
9. US Census Bureau, Davenport, Iowa: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/davenportcityiowa/PST045217
10. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/projections/longterm