How to Become a Police Officer in North Carolina
North Carolina is a scenic state with temperate weather and a low cost of living, about 4% lower than the US average.1 The state also has a relatively low unemployment rate, at 3.9%.1 North Carolina offers police officers a variety of career paths and many opportunities for advancement. While each police department will have its own standards in terms of requirements and prerequisites, there are some statewide requirements that all law enforcement officers in the state must meet. Continue reading for an overview of police requirements in North Carolina as well as select department-specific requirements.
North Carolina Police Officer Requirements
Except for deputy sheriffs, detention officers, and others employed in sheriffs’ offices (see below), law enforcement officer standards in North Carolina are overseen by the Criminal Justice Education & Training Standards Commission. The Commission sets minimum standards for certified police officers, though individual jurisdictions are free to set more strict requirements. At a minimum, police applicants in North Carolina must:
- Be at least 20 years old
- Be a United States citizen
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Be of good moral character
- Not have committed or been convicted of any felonies or disqualifying misdemeanors
- Be fingerprinted and allow disclosure of any criminal record
There are a number of exams that candidates must pass in order to be hired as a police officer. The first exam in many departments is typically a written exam that establishes the candidate’s communication and reasoning abilities. Candidates who move forward in the process will usually take a physical fitness test next, followed by a physician’s exam and drug screening. All prospective cops will undergo a psychological screening by a clinical psychologist and will typically complete a formal interview with the hiring department head or representative. To become certified LEOs, candidates will also need to successfully complete the Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) and pass the BLET exam.
North Carolina Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol employs over 1,600 troopers who cover at least 78,000 miles of roadways in North Carolina.2 In order to apply to become a North Carolina state trooper, candidates must meet statewide standards and:
- Be at least 21 years old and 39 or younger when starting Patrol Basic school
- Have no felony offenses or serious misdemeanor convictions
- Have a good driving record
- Be willing to work and live in any area of the state of North Carolina
- Have 20/20 vision in each eye, or uncorrected vision of no more than 20/100 in each eye corrected to 20/20
- Pass the Cooper Fitness Test with a score of at least 50% for age and gender
- Pass the standardized test with at least a 10th grade reading level
The starting salary for North Carolina highway patrol officers is $37,323 per year; fully sworn troopers earn between $44,000 and $64,202 per year depending on longevity and other qualifications.2
North Carolina Sheriff Deputy Requirements
North Carolina has 100 counties. The three most populous counties are Mecklenburg, Wake, and Guilford; the county seats are Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro, respectively. Requirements for sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement positions reporting to sheriffs’ offices in the state are set by the Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission.
Although individual sheriffs’ offices may set a higher bar, the Commission provides minimum state requirements for all candidates. The Commission states that prospective sheriff’s deputies must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a US citizen
- Possess or be eligible for a valid North Carolina driver’s license
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Pass a drug test
- Have no felony charges or convictions
Once hired, sheriffs’ deputies will be on probation for a period of 12 months, during which time they must complete at least 616 hours of training and instruction in a qualified Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) course.3
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) serves Mecklenburg County, which includes the city of Charlotte, and is the largest metropolitan area in the state. Prospective MCSO deputies must meet statewide requirements. After applying to the department, qualified applicants will be invited to take a reading comprehension test. Those who pass will continue through the process with a physical assessment, psychological evaluation, background investigation, formal interview, medical evaluation, and finally, basic training.
The Wake County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) serves the county surrounding the Raleigh area. As a major law enforcement agency the WCSO houses many different divisions including criminal investigations, judicial services, patrol, and special operations. Candidates interested in working for the department should periodically check the WCSO website for updates about open recruiting.
- “Consistently” keeping in mind that the best decisions aren’t always the most popular or liked decisions to make.
- “Respect” the fact that law enforcement isn’t the most glamorous career, so you must be part of the change you want to see, and it starts with love. Love for yourself and thy neighbor.
- “Humble” enough to understand there will be times where you will have to choose to ignore the noise and be the difference.”
– Officer S. Farrar-Gordon, Investigator/Recruiter, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office
Police Departments in North Carolina
In 2017 there were about 23,370 sheriff and police patrol officers in North Carolina.4 From the Atlantic Ocean on its east coast to the mountainous terrain of its western border, North Carolina has communities of all sizes from rural to metropolitan that can provide rewarding careers for aspiring police officers. Law enforcement candidates must meet state and local requirements, complete a state-approved training academy, and complete on-the-job field training.
With nearly 2,000 police officers and 500 civilian staff, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) is not only one of the largest departments in North Carolina, but also one of the largest departments in the eastern United States.5 Covering an area of 438 square miles and a population of around 900,000, their mission is to make the city of Charlotte one of the safest large cities in the US.5
To become an officer at the CMPD, candidates must meet statewide requirements and pass physical, written, medical, and drug-screening exams. Successful officers must also have normal color vision and have better than 20/30 vision. Find out more on our page about police requirements in Charlotte.
The Raleigh Police Department (RPD) employs over 700 officers and 100 civilian employees and serves a citywide population of over 460,000.6 Requirements for becoming a cop at the RPD are similar to those for the state of North Carolina. Candidates must pass a written exam, physical fitness test, medical and psychological checks, a polygraph test, and a background investigation. The starting salary for RPD recruits is $41,068 per year, which is raised to $42,300 upon completing the police academy.6 For further information, see our guide on becoming a cop in Raleigh.
Police Training Academies in North Carolina
The North Carolina Justice Academy (NCJA) sets police officer training standards for the state. Many state and local agencies utilize the Edneyville and Salemburg campus facilities, instructional services, and professional staff for training. Basic, intermediate, and advanced training for law enforcement officers is offered here, and topics such as anti-terrorism, community policing, criminal investigation, traffic crash investigation, and self-defense are covered. Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) is for entry-level individuals and covers firearms, driver training, motor vehicle law, arrest, and search and seizure.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol Academy offers its own BLET school that is 29 weeks long, located in Raleigh. Additionally, numerous community college throughout the state partner with local law enforcement agencies to provide BLET training to recruits as well as tuition-paying students. These BLET programs include:
- Coastal Carolina Community College – Jacksonville, NC
- Fayetteville Technical Community College – Fayetteville, NC
- Guilford Technical Community College – Jamestown, NC
- Wake Technical Community College – Raleigh, NC
For more information about the BLET curriculum, see the NCJA website.
North Carolina Police Jobs Outlook
The outlook for cops in North Carolina is positive. Through 2026, the state expects to see jobs growth in law enforcement positions of around 9.1%.7 Including replacements, an anticipated 1,700 average annual openings for police and sheriff’s patrol officers should become available during that time period.7 Applicants with a bachelor’s degree or experience in law enforcement will have a better chance of being hired than those with none. With an average police salary of $47,440, North Carolina offers prospective cops a good place to start their careers.4
For more information current law enforcement openings, take a look at our police jobs page.
Law Enforcement Salary in North Carolina
|City||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.4
1. Sperling’s Best Places, North Carolina: https://www.bestplaces.net/state/north-carolina
2. North Carolina State Highway Patrol: https://www.ncdps.gov/our-organization/law-enforcement/state-highway-patrol
3. Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission: https://ncdoj.gov/law-enforcement-training/sheriffs/
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, North Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
5. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department: https://charlottenc.gov/cmpd/Pages/default.aspx
6. Raleigh Police Department: https://raleighnc.gov/police
7. Projections Central: https://www.projectionscentral.org/projections/longterm