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How to Become a Police Officer in Iowa

There are approximately 5,000 law enforcement officers in Iowa, tasked with protecting the state’s population of roughly 3.1 million people.1,2 Iowa’s cost of living is 10% lower than the national average, with housing costs at 25% less expensive than average.3 For these reasons, Iowa is a good place for those considering entering the law enforcement field to begin their careers. Continue reading to learn more about the requirements for police officers in Iowa.

Iowa Police Officer Requirements

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) is the agency responsible for setting and enforcing minimum hiring and training requirements for Iowa cops. As in most states, to become a police officer in Iowa applicants must be US citizens with a high school diploma or GED. In addition to those basic standards, potential cops must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a resident of Iowa or intend to become a resident upon employment
  • Have a valid Iowa driver’s license
  • Not be addicted to any controlled substance, including alcohol
  • Have no felony convictions
  • Have been fingerprinted and pass a background investigation
  • Have normal hearing (with or without hearing aids)
  • Have uncorrected vision of 20/100 (minimum) correctable to 20/20 and be able to differentiate between red and blue

Potential police and sheriff’s deputies who meet these requirements must pass basic skills testing and undergo a physical exam to ensure that they are able to meet the demands of the job. Other required exams include a psychological exam, medical exam, and drug testing. Recruits will also submit to a polygraph test. Successful recruits will attend a police training academy.

“The number one attribute I am looking for in potential officers is their ability to communicate. Officers have to be able to talk with everyone from a company CEO to a homeless person needing assistance, and from a criminal who the officer just apprehended to a special needs child who wandered from home. They must be able to have meaningful conversations and treat everyone in an equitable manner. I don’t care if a candidate is a straight A+ student or can bench press 500 pounds, if they don’t have good interpersonal skills, they will face serious challenges in law enforcement. Potential officers need to work on this skill throughout their lives as it can’t be taught in the classroom. Put down the cell phones and have a conversation!” – Mark M. Dalsing, Chief of Police, Dubuque Police Department

Iowa State Patrol Requirements

The Iowa State Patrol (ISP) was founded over 80 years ago and today employs approximately 395 officers.4 The 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 meet state requirements and:

  • Be at least 22 years of age upon graduating from the academy
  • 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 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)

Upon graduation from the training academy, Iowa state troopers make a starting salary of $43,056.4

Iowa Sheriff Deputy Requirements

There are currently 99 sheriff’s offices in the state of Iowa, and each of these appoints sheriff’s deputies to assist them in their offices.5 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 typically follow the statewide peace officer standards, though individual departments may have stricter requirements.

Polk County

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) carries out sheriff’s duties in Polk County, which includes the city of Des Moines. The PCSO is also the primary law enforcement agency for the municipalities of Alleman, Bondurant, Elkhart, and Grimes as well as unincorporated Polk County. To join the PCSO, prospective deputies must meet state requirements and:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • 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

Police Departments in Iowa

About 5,000 officers, or roughly 160 cops per 100,000 residents, are employed in Iowa.1,2 Iowa has a mandatory 10-step selection process for prospective police 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

Continue reading to learn more about the requirements for police officers in Iowa’s top cities.

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) is the largest in Iowa, employing 376 certified cops to patrol its neighborhoods.8 An urban department, the DMPD maintains specialized units such as the Detective Bureau and Homeland Security Bureau. To become a police officer in Des Moines, candidates must meet state requirements and:

  • Be able to demonstrate emotional maturity, exercise initiative, and possess good character and integrity
  • Be able to carry responsibility in handling situations independently
  • Not have any felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions such as domestic abuse, assault, or theft
  • Have an acceptable debt and credit history
  • Not have a history of excessive alcohol use (such a history with a successful rehabilitation may be considered)
  • Not have used marijuana within the past 24 months, nor any other illegal substances within 36 months

The minimum starting salary for Des Moines police is $31.67 per hour, or $64,606 per year.8

Davenport

Chief Paul Sikorski leads the Davenport Police Department (DPD), which serves the city’s 102,000 residents with an authorized strength of 163 sworn officers.9 Cops with the DPD may work in the patrol division, canine unit, crime prevention unit, criminal investigation division, or the services division. Bilingual recruits are strongly desired. In addition to meeting state requirements, potential Davenport law enforcement recruits must:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED and at least 30 college credits from an accredited college or university*
  • Be an Iowa resident in either Scott or Eastern Muscatine County
  • 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 including police training. All recruits attend basic training for at least 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:

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

Iowa Police Jobs Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are currently 4,980 cops in Iowa.2 The average salary for Iowa police officers is $56,620 per year.2 It is projected that by 2026, that workforce will grow by 4.9%.10 On average, there should be 340 average annual law enforcement job openings in the state during this period.10 Be aware that 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 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

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Iowa

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Cedar Rapids*440$57,410
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island770$56,750
Des Moines-West Des Moines900$64,670

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2
*Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

References:
1. US Census Bureau, Quick Facts, Iowa: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/ia/PST045217
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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. Iowa State Patrol: http://www.dps.state.ia.us/ISP/
5. Iowa State’s Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association (ISSDA): http://www.issda.org/
6. Polk County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/sheriff/
7. US Census Bureau, Quick Facts, Des Moines, Iowa: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/desmoinescityiowa/PST045217
8. City of Des Moines Police Department: https://www.dsm.city/departments/police-division/index.php
9. Davenport Police Department: http://www.cityofdavenportiowa.com/cms/one.aspx?pageId=7359132
10. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/projections/longterm