How to Become a Police Officer in South Carolina
South Carolina is an excellent state in which to pursue a career in law enforcement. With over 11,000 men and women working as patrol officers in South Carolina, there are opportunities to find work as a police officer across the state.1 In addition, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is one of the largest local natural resource law enforcement agencies in the nation.2 Continue reading to learn more about what it takes to become a police officer in South Carolina.
South Carolina Police Officer Requirements
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety and all other state and local law enforcement agencies in South Carolina look for the best-qualified officer candidates to serve and protect the public. The South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 23, Chapter 23 sets the minimum requirements to become a sworn officer in the state. However, state and local agencies may set a higher bar for potential recruits. For example, state requirements stipulate that South Carolina police officers must have a high school diploma or equivalent, while the Mount Pleasant Police Department requires prospective officers to have at least an associate degree.
The basic standards state that candidates must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Be a United States citizen and provide either birth record or naturalization papers
- Hold a high school diploma or an equivalency certificate such as the GED
- Not have any disqualifying convictions, including for domestic violence
- Have a current driver’s license with no suspensions within the past five years
To be certified as a cop in South Carolina, candidates must successfully complete a number of exams both prior to and during law enforcement officer training. All law enforcement agencies in South Carolina require applicants to complete exams for mental and physical fitness, including basic psychological profiles and the Physical Agility Test (PAT). Candidates also must usually take cognitive ability tests, including reading and writing skills tests. The qualification process also includes ensuring that candidates are of good character and do not have any prior criminal histories by conducting a thorough background check and oral interview with the candidate.
Prospective South Carolina officers who meet these requirements must complete law enforcement training at an academy or institution approved by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council (SCLE).
South Carolina Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements
The South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) serves the public by providing patrol services, public education, and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies in investigations and other duties. Law enforcement specializations within the Highway Patrol include the Advanced Civil Emergency Response Team (ACERT), the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement team (ACE team), and the emergency management unit. To become a South Carolina state trooper, prospective officers must:
- Be at least 21 years old before the first day of training
- Be a US citizen
- Hold a high school diploma or GED
- Hold a valid driver’s license with a clean driving record
- Have 20/20 vision, or if wearing corrective lenses, no worse than 20/100 corrected to 20/20
- Have no criminal record
- Have no tattoos below the elbow or on the neck or face
Accepted prospective officers will undergo the South Carolina Highway Patrol basic training program, an intensive 21-week paramilitary training course. Officers are commissioned following successful completion of the program and assigned to a state county patrol based on need areas determined by the department. The starting salary for South Carolina state troopers is $38,273 per year.3
South Carolina Sheriff Deputy Requirements
There are 46 county sheriffs in South Carolina who appoint deputy sheriffs to assist with tasks such as routine patrols and criminal investigations. Sheriff’s deputies in all jurisdictions must meet minimum qualifications established by the South Carolina legislature, which stipulate that candidates must:
- Be a US citizen at least 21 years of age
- Be a registered voter
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Post a bond of $1,000 for performance of the duties of office
The state capital of South Carolina, Columbia, is located within Richland County and is therefore within the jurisdiction of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD). There are over 700 uniformed officers within the department, including those working in specialized units in gang enforcement, community action, and drug suppression.4 Sheriff oversight of the county is divided into seven regions, with four squads of regional officers assigned to each. To become a Richland County sheriff’s deputy, candidates must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Have a bachelor’s degree, or an associate’s degree plus two years of law enforcement or military experience, or be a currently certified law enforcement officer
- Not have any criminal history
- Not have a history of drug use
- Have a stable financial history
- Have a valid driver’s license with an acceptable driving record
- Not have any tattoos that would be seen while in uniform
The starting salary for Richland County sheriff’s deputies is $30,000 per year.4
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) is the largest sheriff’s office in South Carolina, employing over 900 individuals.5 Field units within the department include patrol, metro major cases, investigation, and tactical support. Charleston County deputy sheriffs must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Have a valid driver’s license, and a South Carolina driver’s license by the time of hire
- Have a high school diploma or GED plus an associate’s degree, or an honorable discharge from the military, or two years of certified law enforcement experience
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office offers a starting salary of $39,083 per year, with annual incentives for having a bachelor’s or master’s degree plus longevity increases and increases for meeting training benchmarks.5
Police Departments in South Carolina
Those wishing to become South Carolina police officers, patrol officers, and other sworn officers must meet the minimum requirements established by the state legislature as well as any additional requirements adopted by the agency to which the candidate is applying. Candidates must also complete training at an approved academy. Many agencies within the state also require post-academy continuing education.
The Columbia Police Department (CPD) employs over 300 sworn officers and 97 civilian employees.6 In 2015, department officers drove over 4.19 million miles and made 5,921 arrests.6 This agency follows the state minimum qualifications for sworn officers. The starting salary for CPD recruits is $33,357 per year; higher starting salaries are offered for college graduates and those who speak a foreign language fluently.6
With over 450 sworn officers, the Charleston Police Department (CPD) is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state.7 Given its waterfront location, the department’s vehicle fleet includes various watercraft for patrol and investigation. Those who wish to become Charleston police officers must meet the statewide minimum requirements. The CPD also requires that candidates must:
- Not have any convictions for offenses of moral turpitude
- Not have any convictions for any crime that would carry a sentence of six months or more
- Not have carried out any serious or repeated crimes, even if undetected
- Not have three or more negative points on their driver’s license
- Not have any serious traffic offenses within the past five years
- Not have any disqualifying involvement with illegal drugs
Mount Pleasant is the third-largest city in South Carolina, and the Mount Pleasant Police Department (MPPD) employs over 140 sworn officers to serve the needs of the local public.8 The department consists of seven patrol districts. To become a police officer in Mount Pleasant, individuals must meet state minimums and hold at least an associate’s degree with 55 credit hours from an accredited school.
Police Training Academies in South Carolina
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council (SCLE) approves police training programs within the state, including those for pre-service officers. In order for a prospective South Carolina officer’s training to qualify, the director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council must approve the training program completed.
Most South Carolina officers complete training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA) in Columbia. Other South Carolina police officer training academies include:
- Columbia Police Department Training and Career Development Division – Columbia, SC
- Summerville Police Department Training Division – Summerville, SC
- The Carolinas Institute for Community Policing – Greenville, SC
- Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center – Charleston, SC
- United States Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy – Charleston, SC
Visit the SCLE website to learn more about police officer training in South Carolina.
South Carolina Police Jobs Outlook
The job outlook for South Carolina cops is positive. Projected jobs growth for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in the state is 3.2% from 2016 to 2026, with an estimated 130 average annual openings.9 Police in South Carolina earn an average salary of $42,330 per year.1
Though the minimum requirements for police officers in South Carolina call for a high school diploma, prospective sworn officers with higher education such as an associate or bachelor’s degree in policing or criminal justice may have stronger job prospects. Officer candidates who speak a second language may also gain an advantage in the employment market. As officers hired in previous cycles retire, further openings will become available, particularly in metro areas.
To find out more about current law enforcement openings, visit our police jobs board.
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in South Carolina
|City||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway||870||$42,190|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.2
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, South Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_sc.htm
2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008: https://bjs.ojp.gov/library/publications/census-state-and-local-law-enforcement-agencies-2008
3. South Carolina Highway Patrol: https://scdps.sc.gov/schp
4. Richland County Sheriff’s Department: https://www.rcsd.net/
5. Charleston County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/sheriff/index.php
6. Columbia Police Department, 2015 Internal Affairs Report: https://columbiapd.net/
7. Charleston Police Department: https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/sheriff/index.php
8. Mount Pleasant Police Department: http://www.tompsc.com/166/Police
9. Projections Central: https://www.projectionscentral.org/projections/longterm