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How to Become a Police Officer in Pennsylvania

For anyone wanting to start a new career in law enforcement, Pennsylvania is a great state for aspiring police and sheriff’s deputies. In terms of both officer and civilian recruitment, the state offers a wide range of rewarding career opportunities. Currently, there are 27,570 police and sheriff officers in the state and recruitment is ongoing.1 Below, we have compiled a list of state and local requirements for anyone looking to become a Pennsylvania police officer, state trooper or sheriff deputy.

Pennsylvania Police Officer Requirements

Like most states, there are a number of requirements candidates must meet before being eligible for active duty in Pennsylvania. The Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) oversees the process to becoming a Pennsylvania cop or sheriff recruit. However, many local departments tend to stipulate their own requirements on top of the state requirements. For example, although the MPOETC requires a high school diploma or GED equivalent, some local departments may require an associate’s degree or higher. In most cases, even if a college degree isn’t mandatory for employment, most departments look favorably upon college experience.

Nationality and Age

The minimum personal requirements, set by the state, to become a Pennsylvania police officer, state that candidates must:

  • Be between the ages of 21 and 40 at the time of hire
  • Be a US citizen
  • Hold a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license

Education

Pennsylvania police officers are required to possess a High School diploma or GED certificate plus an associate degree or 60 semester credit hours from an accredited institution. However, this credit requirement may be waived (based on case by case situations) if the candidate has:

  • Four full years of law enforcement experience
  • Two full years of law enforcement experience, 30 semester hours may be waived off of the original 60 hour requirement
  • At least four years of full active military duty, honorably discharged
  • At least two years of full active military duty with an honorable discharge, 30 semester hours may be waived from the original 60 hour requirement

Background Clearance

All aspiring Pennsylvania police recruits must submit to a full background check that shows a clean criminal record. Part of the process includes an extensive interview, polygraph test and drug screening. Any applicants with a prior felony record and/or certain repeated misdemeanors will be automatically disqualified. Additionally, the background check as well as face-to-face interview must show that the candidate has a high moral character with a genuine respect for law enforcement.

Medical and Psychological Requirements

In addition to meeting the requirements listed above, aspiring Pennsylvania officers must complete a series of examinations: medical, physical and psychological. All recruits must pass the Nelson-Denny Reading Test, followed by the MMPI-2, a computer administered personality assessment. This will be followed by a psychological evaluation with a State of Pennsylvania licensed psychologist. Going forward, candidates will be required to undergo a medical examination before they are eligible to take the required physical fitness and agility tests.

“As an ‘Applicant’ keep your nose clean! Go cut your neighbor’s lawn and shovel his snow because he may get a call asking what kind of person you are! Challenges would involve any history you have such as tickets or scrapes with the law. ”- John Paolucci, Retired Police Officer and Forensics Expert at the NYPD

Pennsylvania Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

Pennsylvania state police troopers are responsible for traffic control and enforcement as well as crime scene response and investigation. Anyone looking to become a Penn state trooper must be a US citizen between 21 and 40 years of age at the time of appointment. Additionally, all state troopers must be registered residents of the state and possess a valid driver’s license. Once admitted to the recruitment program, all candidates must complete a training period of approximately 27 weeks, during which trainees will train in an intense paramilitary-style environment.

Pennsylvania Sheriff’s Deputy Requirements

There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania and each county has an elected sheriff. For anyone looking to become a Pennsylvania sheriff deputy, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education and Training Board oversees the training and certification process. Requirements may differ from county to county, but in order to be certified, all new recruits must complete a basic training program of at least 760 hours. The training is quite comprehensive and covers all facets of law enforcement in Pennsylvania including civil law and procedure, criminal justice, state and local anti-terrorism training, firearm training, patrol procedures, ethics and professional standards training, etc.

Police Departments in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has approximately 27,530 police and sheriff officers working in more than 150 local police departments throughout the state. Philadelphia is the largest police force in the state and the oldest municipal police agency in the United States.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia has the largest police department in the state with over 6,600 sworn officers and 800 civilian personnel working together to protect and serve the 140 square miles of the city.2 The Philly PD is also the fourth largest police department in the nation.

In order to become a Philadelphia police officer, candidates are required to meet a number of requirements set by the department. Candidates must be US citizens, at least 21 years old and possess a valid driver’s license. All candidates must be registered Philadelphia residents by the time they are hired for service.

As far as education requirements, Philly recruits must meet one of the four options listed below. Candidates must:

  1. Have 60 college credits with a minimum grade point average* at an accredited learning institution, OR
  2. Have a US high school diploma or equivalent AND six months of consecutive, active military service with an honorable discharge, OR
  3. Have one year of full-time employment experience as a certified law enforcement officer within the three-year period prior to applying for current position, OR
  4. Have a US high school diploma or equivalent AND have successfully completed the Philadelphia Police Explorers Cadet Program

*Minimum GPA must be 2.0 or greater.

For more information on the Philadelphia Police Department, take a look at our in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh

Going back to 1857, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is one of Pennsylvania’s most experienced police forces. Today, the force of approximately 900 sworn law enforcement officers proudly serves the community under the supervision of the acting police chief, Regina McDonald.3

To become a Pittsburgh police officer, candidates must meet a number of basic requirements. All candidates must be US citizens, at least 18 years of age and residents of Pittsburgh. As is usual for most cities, all aspiring recruits must submit to an exhaustive background examination. Any felony conviction or repeated misdemeanor convictions could be cause for disqualification.

As far as education requirements, candidates must have 30 semester hours of completed coursework at an accredited institute, technical or trade school. In case the candidate is still in the process of finishing those 30 hours, a service education waiver/deferment may be issued.

“I make every effort to manage personnel and situations calmly. I believe this is certainly a beneficial characteristic when dealing with strong minded employees and citizens with varying degrees of emotions. Maintaining a calm environment helps deescalate situations.” – Tom Reiner, Police Lieutenant in Georgia

Police Training Academies in Pennsylvania

The Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission is responsible for the certification and training of future Pennsylvania police recruits. The training process includes a comprehensive training curriculum that is based on theoretical and hands-on training as stipulated in the Act 120 program. The entire training program can take up to six months.

There are 25 MPOETC-approved basic training academies in Pennsylvania that are approved to provide aspiring recruits with the training necessary to become a Pennsylvania police or sheriff officer. These include:

  • Allegheny County Police Training Academy – Allison Park, PA
  • Gerald M. Monahan Sr. Police Academy – Allentown, PA
  • Philadelphia Police Department Recruit Training Division, Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh Police Training Academy – Pittsburgh, PA
  • PSP Academy – Hershey, PA

For a complete list of approved academies, consult the MPOETC website.

Pennsylvania Police Jobs Outlook

Compared to a lot of states in the Northeast, the law enforcement field in Pennsylvania seems to be strong. The 2014 employment number for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was 27,570.1 According to the state’s projected labor market report, this number is expected to be increased by 2.9 % (or 960 jobs per year) by the year 2022.4 The metropolitan-area of Philadelphia has the sixth highest employment level in the nation, with 11,660 police and sheriff’s patrol officers reported in 2014.5

Many of the job openings in the coming years will be due due to replacement openings, mainly due to the large number of baby boomer-era veteran officers who are expected to retire over the next 10 years.

For more information current law enforcement openings, take a look at our Police Jobs page.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Pennsylvania

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Erie320$65,110
Pittsburgh5,200$58,740
Scranton–Wilkes-Barre1,300$47,850

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

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Pennsylvania: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_pa.htm
2. Philadelphia Police Department: https://www.phillypolice.com/
3. City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police: http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/police/about
4. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/projections/longterm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm