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How to Become a Police Officer in Texas

Texas can be a great location for those looking to start a new career as a police officer. The state’s police force, sheriffs’ departments, and highway patrols are well-known for their professionalism as well as their dedication. Over 63,000 men and women work as police officers and sheriff’s patrol deputies in Texas.1 Although the process for becoming a police officer in Texas is similar to most US states, Texas does have some additional specific requirements. The route to becoming a Texas cop is explained in detail below.

Texas Police Officer Requirements

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) sets statewide minimum requirements to become a Texas police officer. Although the TCOLE sets the minimum standards for law enforcement recruitment, departments may set requirements above the TCOLE minimums. For example, many departments require an associate’s degree as well as a higher age minimum.

The minimum guidelines set by TCOLE to become a Texas police officer are as follows. Candidates must:

  • Be a US citizen, by birth or naturalization, at the time of application
  • Be 21 years old OR be 18 years old with an associate degree or an honorable military discharge
  • Be a high school graduate or hold a high school equivalency certificate OR show proof of an honorable discharge from the US armed forces after at least 24 months of active duty service
  • Hold a valid and current driver’s license
  • Not have any history of felony convictions nor of convictions for disqualifying misdemeanors

Required Exams

All police recruits are subjected to a complete background check (including fingerprinting). All police officer applicants must also be assessed by an approved medical professional licensed by the Texas medical board. Candidates will also complete a psychological exam to ensure that they are in a satisfactory psychological and emotional state of health. Successful recruits will undergo training at the police academy.

“Looking back I’d advise new officers to prepare for their future. Police work is hard on a mind and a body. It is very possible that an officer today may want to enter a different career field after five, ten, or more years in uniform. Therefore, protecting one’s self from injury, from financial instability, from liability, and from career damaging events is important. Get good financial planning, develop skills outside of law enforcement, and protect your reputation by being ethical all the time, following policy, and getting legal counsel to defend against accusations.” – Dr. Joel F. Shults, former police officer and award-winning police writer.

Texas Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements

Texas has approximately 225,544 miles of rural highways and the state depends on the Texas Highway Patrol (THP) to patrol those highways.2 The THP has over 2,100 commissioned officers and is divided into seven regions and 19 districts.2 In order to be eligible for a Texas state trooper position, prospective officers must satisfy state requirements and:

  • Be 21 years old upon graduation from the department’s law enforcement academy
  • Have at least 60 credit hours from a regionally accredited college or university*
  • Have uncorrected vision at the following levels: 20/40 in one eye and 20/70 in the other eye, 20/30 in one eye and 20/400 in the other eye or 20/20 in one eye and 20/400 in the other eye.

*Applicants with prior law enforcement or military experience may substitute experience for required semester hours.

Training for the Texas Highway Patrol takes place at the Department’s Law Enforcement Education Academy. The curriculum is made up of intense physical and academic classes across a span of 28 weeks. Troopers are paid a base salary of $55,481 per year while in training, $60,613 upon swearing-in, and $73,208 after a 12-month field training probation period, with regular increases thereafter.2 Note that the basic schedule for Texas state troopers assumes a 50-hour work week as the standard.

Texas Sheriff Deputy Requirements

Texas has 254 counties and each county elects a sheriff. The county sheriff is responsible for the county jail, court security, bail bonds, and civil process. Sheriff’s deputies must meet the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) minimum requirements for law enforcement officers. The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training is responsible for training and certifying sworn officers who will be working for sheriff’s offices in Texas.

Harris County

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is the largest sheriff’s office in Texas and has more than 4,000 employees.3 The HCSO is also the third-largest sheriff’s department in the nation, after Los Angeles County, California and Cook County, Illinois.3 As a major law enforcement agency the HCSO offers career opportunities in patrol, criminal investigations, homeland security, and more. The starting salary for HCSO sheriff’s deputies is $34,049 per year during training.3

Dallas County

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) offers the entry-level qualifying written exam for prospective sheriff and constable deputies periodically. To qualify to become a DCSO sheriff’s deputy, candidates must meet TCOLE standards and:

  • Have two years of experience as a DCSO detention officer, as a Texas peace officer, or as a member of the US armed forces, or hold 30 credit hours from an accredited college
  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Not have been convicted of offenses above a Class B misdemeanor at any time or of a Class B misdemeanor within the 10 years prior to application

Veterans are particularly encouraged to apply and can earn preference points in the competitive hiring process.

Police Departments in Texas

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 63,000 police officers working in Texas as of 2017, making this the state with the second-highest number of police and sheriff’s patrol officers in the US.4 The metro area of Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land has the fourth-highest employment level of police officers in the US, with over 16,600 officers in 2017.4 The Dallas-Plano-Irving metro ranked seventh, with over 10,600 officers.4

Houston

The Houston Police Department (HPD) is one of the largest police departments in the US with a staff of over 5,400 sworn police officers and more than 1,600 civilian employees.5 The HPD is always looking for well-qualified officer candidates to add to its roster. Prospective Houston cops must meet TCOLE standards and:

  • Have earned at least 48 credit hours from an accredited college or university with a 2.0 GPA OR have a minimum of 18 months of active duty in the US armed forces with an honorable discharge OR have full-time peace officer experience of at least five years licensed by TCOLE or the equivalent in another jurisdiction OR have three years of full-time employment within the last 48 months
  • Be between the ages of 20.5 and 44
  • Have an acceptable criminal and civil history

The base pay for Houston police officers is $42,000 during training and probation and $49,917 during the second year of service, with regular increases thereafter.5 For more information on the Houston Police Department, take a look at our in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer in Houston.

Dallas

There are over 3,600 police officers and 556 civilian employees in the Dallas Police Department (DPD).6 The DPD seeks police officer candidates who meet state standards and:

  • Are between the ages of 19.5 and 44; applicants who are 20 years of age or younger must have an associate’s degree
  • Have a high school diploma or GED certificate AND at least 45 semester hours from an accredited college with a minimum 2.0 GPA*
  • Have not committed a felony or Class A misdemeanor
  • Have no Class B misdemeanor convictions within the last 10 years
  • Have a sufficient physical fitness level
  • Have normal hearing and color vision with no worse than a 20/100 vision rating in either eye, correctable to 20/20
  • Have no pending traffic citations or court cases
  • Have not been convicted of three or more hazardous traffic violations in the last 24 months

*College credit requirement may be exempted if you have three years of active military service and an honorable discharge.

The Dallas Police Department offers starting base pay of $60,000 per year.6 Learn more at our page on How to Become a Police Officer in Dallas.

Austin

The Austin Police Department (APD) is made up of over 2,300 sworn law enforcement and support personnel who are responsible for various law enforcement operations within the city of Austin.7 Candidates for Austin police positions must qualify under TCOLE standards and be between the ages of 20.5 and 45. There are also a number of medical and physical requirements as well as a comprehensive background check.

Austin police earn a base salary of $40,000 while in training, $59,268 during the first year of service, and $66,509 following the one-year anniversary of graduation from the police academy.7 For more information see the in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer In Austin.

Fort Worth

There are over 1,500 sworn officers working in the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD).8 For anyone looking to become a police officer in Fort Worth, there are a number of requirements above TCOLE minimums. Candidates must:

  • Live within 30 minutes of designated report-in station (must be accomplished within six months of employment)
  • Be 21-44 years of age (cannot have reached 45 years of age by date of civil service exam)
  • Never have been convicted OR have been on court-related community supervision or probation for any offense above the grade of a Class B misdemeanor or a Class B misdemeanor within the last ten years
  • Never have been convicted of any family violence offense

Applicants must successfully pass a written test, a physical assessment test, a background check, a psychological examination, a polygraph examination, interview, and medical examination. Applicants who are residents of Fort Worth, who have a college degree, and/or who have prior law enforcement experience earn preference points in the competitive hiring process.

Visit our How to Become a Police Officer in Fort Worth guide to find out more about the process.

Additional Police Departments in Texas

If you are interested in becoming a police officer in a Texas city other than Houston, Dallas, Austin, or Fort Worth, check out our other Texas police city pages:

“It goes without saying that you should try to have a clean background or as much as possible. Some agencies will hire those with a limited drug background; if there is that in your background, put some distance between it and the application.” – Barbara Childress, Chief of Police and Chair of the Texas Police Association Foundation

Police Training Academies in Texas

All police recruits in Texas are required to complete an official training program at a TCOLE-approved academy. Applicants are assigned to an academy based on their employing agency. Training can take up to eight or nine months and consists of an intense and rigorous program that prepares future law enforcement officers for what can be a dangerous but satisfying career in public service.

Police academies in Texas are required by TCOLE to provide at least 618 hours of instruction. However, most training academies provide over 1,000 hours of academic and physical training. The Dallas Police Department training and the Austin Police Department training are considered two of the most demanding programs.

Texas has over 100 police academies that are approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. They include:

  • Capital Area Council of Governments – Austin, TX
  • Corpus Christi Police Academy – Corpus Christi, TX
  • El Paso Co. Sheriff’s Academy – El Paso, TX
  • Dallas Co. Sheriff’s Academy – Dallas, TX
  • Galveston Co. Sheriff’s Academy – Galveston, TX
  • Houston Police Academy – Houston, TX
  • Institute for Law Enforcement Administration – Plano, TX
  • Lubbock Police Academy – Lubbock, TX
  • Pasadena Police Academy- Pasadena, TX
  • Panhandle Regional LEA – Amarillo, TX

For the complete list of police academies in Texas, consult the TCOLE website.

Texas Police Jobs Outlook

For those interested in law enforcement careers in Texas, the future looks bright. Jobs for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in Texas are projected to grow by 16.4% through 2026, with a projected 5,390 annual job openings (including replacements).9 Local job openings and police recruitment cycles are reliant on state and city budgets. With police salaries averaging $62,430 per year, Texas is a great place for prospective law enforcement officers to begin a lucrative career.1

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

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Texas

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Austin-Round Rock4,670$70,190
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington15,850$69,020
El Paso1,670$66,010
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land16,630$65,070
San Antonio5,060$60,490

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.1

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Texas: https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes_tx.htm
2. Texas Highway Patrol: http://www.dps.texas.gov/HighwayPatrol/
3. Harris County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.harriscountyso.org/
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics,Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm#st
5. Houston Police Department: http://www.houstontx.gov/police/
6. Dallas Police Department: http://www.dallaspolice.net/
7. Austin Police Department: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/police
8. Fort Worth Police Department: https://police.fortworthtexas.gov/
9. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm