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How to Become a Police Officer in Tennessee

From the big city of Memphis to the Music City of Nashville and the mountain city of Knoxville and points in-between, Tennessee is a diverse and interesting place to live. An estimated 12,890 police officers and sheriff’s patrol deputies work in Tennessee.1

The Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) sets the minimum requirements for police recruits in the state. Continue reading to learn more about these minimum requirements as well as additional requirements set by major police departments in Tennessee.

Tennessee Police Officer Requirements

Prospective police officers must meet a variety of requirements in order to carry out their duties effectively. In Tennessee, the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) sets these basic requirements. Requirements set by individual departments, however, may exceed (but not fall below) state minimums. As a result, candidates for police jobs in Tennessee must at least:

  • Be a minimum age of 18
  • Have US citizenship or be a permanent legal resident with an honorable US Armed Forces discharge
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Have a clean felony record
  • Not have a dishonorable discharge from the military
  • Pass physical and mental health examinations
  • Possess good moral character
  • Have fingerprints on file with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations

Required Exams

Tennessee state law requires candidates for law enforcement positions to pass a number of exams before they become eligible for hire. These exams include a background check, a physical exam by a licensed health practitioner, and a psychological evaluation. Police departments will also typically require a written exam and a physical agility exam. Recruits must then pass a POST-approved police training academy within six months of hire as a full-time, certified officer.

Tennessee Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) is responsible for patrolling state highways, enforcing laws, serving motorists, investigating crash and crime scenes in state jurisdiction, preparing for disasters, and providing safety education. Prospective recruits must apply with the THP and meet the following requirements in addition to those set by POST:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Have binocular vision correctable to 20/20 (no worse than 20/30 in each eye)
  • Have normal color vision
  • Not have any tattoos that cannot be covered at all times
  • Not have any history of disqualifying misdemeanors or lesser charges

Trooper cadets earn a starting salary of $2,859 per month, rising to $3,163 per month after graduation from the 22-week trooper training academy.2 After 10 years of service, troopers can make a base salary of $53,928 per year.2

Tennessee Sheriff Deputy Requirements

Each Tennessee county sheriff’s office sets its own hiring process for taking on new sheriff’s deputies, though deputies must meet state minimums for sworn law enforcement. These deputies work in the management of county jails, serve civil warrants, and perform other important law enforcement duties. POST’s minimum requirements apply to future deputy sheriffs, but each county can include further requirements and additional testing in its hiring procedures.

Shelby County

With the state’s largest city, Memphis, as its county seat, Shelby County is the most populous county in Tennessee and has the largest sheriff’s office in the state.3 To become a deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), new recruits have to meet Tennessee POST minimum standards and:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be able to pass a physical fitness test
  • Be able to pass a written examination
  • Live in Shelby County as of the official employment date and thereafter
  • Be willing to work any shifts including holidays and weekends

Knox County

Situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Knox County turns to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) for correctional services, county law enforcement, and local law enforcement support. To become a deputy with the KCSO, individuals must meet state standards and be at least 21 years of age. The starting salary for KCSO patrol recruits is $32,688 per year.4

Police Departments in Tennessee

With the great diversity of regions in Tennessee, anyone hoping to work as a cop for a local police department has a lot of options. From metros to suburbs and remote rural areas, Tennessee police work in a variety of environments. To become a police officer anywhere in the state, individuals must apply with a police department, meet all of the local agency’s requirements in addition to those set by POST, be offered employment, and then pass a state training course.

Memphis

Memphis is Tennessee’s largest and most urban city. The Memphis Police Department (MPD) employs hundreds of officers and is always seeking well-qualified new recruits.5 In addition to meeting the minimum POST standards, recruits must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Complete an associate’s degree or at least 54 college credit hours or serve two years in the military (select exceptions may apply)
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Demonstrate honesty, integrity, leadership, and excellence
  • Pass written and physical fitness exams
  • Have a good driving record
  • Not have any history of drug or alcohol addiction

The starting salary for Memphis police recruits is $40,194 per year, with regular increases through the first 12 years of service.5 For more information about MPD careers, please check out our comprehensive guide How to Become a Police Officer in Memphis.

Nashville

The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) is often looking for new recruits up to the task of patrolling the city and keeping residents safe. The hiring process can take up to six months and is rigorous, as interest in MNPD police careers is high. Prospective officers must satisfy state requirements and:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have 60 credit hours of college study with a minimum GPA of 2.0 or have two years of full-time law enforcement or military experience or have a high school diploma plus five years of full-time repsonsible work experience
  • Have normal depth perception and color vision
  • Possess a valid driver’s license with a satisfactory driving record
  • Ensure that any and all arrest history must be expunged
  • Meet departmental criteria for previous involvement with drugs
  • Satisfy the department’s personal appearance standards

The Nashville police department encourages military veterans to apply. To find out more, visit our in-depth guide about the MNPD, How to Become a Police Officer in Nashville.

Knoxville

With a population of 170,000 in the city of Knoxville, the Knoxville Police Department (KPD) employs over 400 sworn officers.7 In addition to meeting the POST requirements, KPD recruits must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have a valid driver’s license

The hiring process includes an application, written test, physical fitness test, an interview, a background check, and an orientation, culminating with the training academy. After graduating from the police academy Knoxville police officers will participate in the KPD field training program. The starting salary for Knoxville cops is $39,312 per year and can rise to up to $62,895 per year in base pay plus incentives, including incentives for holding a college degree.7

Police Training Academies in Tennessee

All prospective law enforcement officers in Tennessee must complete a training course at a POST-approved law enforcement academy, typically the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy (TLETA). Approved Tennessee police academies include:

  • Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy – Nashville, TN
  • Cleveland State Community College Basic Police Academy – Cleveland, TN
  • Memphis Police Academy – Memphis, TN
  • Knoxville Police Department Training Division – Knoxville, TN
  • Metro Nashville Police Academy, Nashville – TN

Prospective police trainees must typically be formally hired by a police department to attend a police academy. However, the academy will consider college seniors studying criminal justice with a recommendation from a counselor on a case-by-case basis. For more information about Tennessee police academies, visit the TLETA website.

Tennessee Police Jobs Outlook

Individuals hoping to find work in law enforcement in Tennessee can look forward to growth in the industry. Between now and 2026 the number of positions is expected to grow by 7.5%, with an average of 960 job opportunities each year (including replacements).8 The average annual salary for sheriff’s deputies and patrol officers in Tennessee is currently $44,320.1

For more information about current law enforcement openings, take a look at our police jobs board.

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Tennessee

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Knoxville1,450$42,330
Memphis3,430$49,860
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin3,060$48,420

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.1

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Tennessee: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current//oes_tn.htm
2. Tennessee Highway Patrol: https://www.tn.gov/safety/tennessee-highway-patrol.html
3. Shelby County Sheriff’s Office: http://www.shelby-sheriff.org/
4. Knoxville County Sheriff’s Office: http://www.knoxsheriff.org/
5. Memphis Police Department Recruiting: https://www.joinmpd.com/
6. Nashville Police Department: https://www.nashville.gov/Police-Department.aspx
7. City of Knoxville Police Department: http://www.knoxvilletn.gov/government/city_departments_offices/police_department/
8. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm