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How to Become a Police Officer in Texas

Anyone living in Texas who is looking to start a new career as a police officer has chosen a good location to work in law enforcement. The state’s police force, sheriffs’ departments, and highway patrols are well-known for their professionalism as well as their dedication to protect and serve. 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) is responsible for setting the mandatory requirements to become a Texas police officer (commonly referred to as Texas Peace Officers). Although the TCOLE sets the standards for law enforcement recruitment requirements, many departments on a local level have specific requirements on top of the TCOLE minimums. For example, many departments may require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, sociology or psychology from an accredited institution as well as higher age minimums or varied background restrictions.

Although individual departments may require additional requirements from aspiring police recruits, the minimum guidelines set by TCOLE to become a Texas police officer are as follows:

Nationality, Age, and Education

In order to be eligible for the Police Training Academy in Texas, all Texas law enforcement applicants must:

  • Be a US citizen, by birth or naturalization, at the time of application
  • Be 21 years old. In some cases, a recruit may be accepted at 18 years old if the applicant holds an associate degree or specific number of credited semester hours from an accredited college or university
  • Be a high school high 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 Class “C” driver’s license

Required Examinations

All police officer applicants must be assessed by an approved medical professional licensed by the Texas medical board. To be eligible for training, an applicant must be declared in writing to be:

  • Physically sound and free from any condition which may limit the ability to perform the functions associated with the type of license sought
  • Cleared of a drug dependency or illegal drug use after a physical examination and blood test
  • In a satisfactory psychological and emotional state of health in order to perform the responsibilities of a demanding law enforcement position

Background Clearance

All police recruits are subjected to a complete background check (including fingerprinting). Recruits must have background clearance that states they have never been:

  • Convicted of a class B or higher misdemeanor or its equivalent
  • Convicted of any family violence offense
  • Prohibited by state or federal law from operating a motor vehicle
  • Prohibited by state or federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition
“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) service to patrol those highways. The Texas Highway Patrol is a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS), which is responsible for the state’s traffic supervision as well as criminal law enforcement on Texas roads. The THP is currently made up of 2,119 commissioned officers, and divided into seven regions and 19 districts.1

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 theoretical classes that can last up to 28 weeks. In order to be eligible for training, the requirements to become a TX highway patrol officer are as follows. Candidates must:

  • Be 21 years old upon graduation from the Department’s Law Enforcement Education Academy
  • Have a minimum of 60 college earned hours from a regional accredited college or university*
  • Pass a pre-employment physical readiness test and a physical examination.
  • 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.

Texas Sheriff Deputy Requirements

Texas has 254 counties and each county is assigned a Sheriff. (As in many states, Texan sheriffs’ officers may also be referred to as peace officers.) The county Sheriff is responsible for enforcing the criminal laws of the state and presides over the county jail, court security, bail bonds, and civil process.

In accordance with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training is responsible for training sheriff recruits and for certification.

Like most law enforcement positions, the basic educational requirements for becoming a Texas Sheriff include holding a minimum of a High School Diploma or GED Certificate. This is the basic standard required to be eligible for sheriff training although some counties may require a college education. It’s always best to research the requirements of the individual counties and talk with the local Deputy Sheriff for professional advice.

In addition to the educational standards, sheriffs’ deputy recruits must meet a number of personal and physical requirements. All applicants must be US citizens at least 21 years of age. Applicants must hold a valid driver’s license with no prior driving violations. Additionally, any felony convictions or history of drug use will disqualify an applicant from the hiring process.

Harris County

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is the largest sheriff’s office in Texas and has more than 4,000 employees.2 The HCSO is also the third largest in the nation, after Los Angeles and Cook County in Illinois. Alternatively, due to its small population of just 82 residents, the smallest sheriff’s office in Texas is in Loving County, with one sheriff and two deputies.

Police Departments in Texas

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 55,270 police officers reported in Texas in 2014.3 Each candidate for law enforcement must complete a full training program at an approved academy and on-the-job training. Currently, the largest police department force in the state is in Houston, followed by Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth.

Houston

The Houston Police Department is the fifth largest police department in the US and currently has a staff of 5,400 sworn police officers and more than 1,600 civilian employees.4 Charles McClelland is the current Chief of Police.

Like most states, there are quite a few requirements for becoming a police officer in Houston. Education requirements require at least 48 semester hours of credit from an accredited college or university with at minimum of a 2.0 grade point average OR a minimum of two years active duty in the US armed forces with an honorable discharge OR at least five years of full-time employment as a peace officer licensed by TCOLE or an equivalent licensing entity in another state.

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 nearly 3,000 police officers and 1,000 civilian employees in the Dallas Police Department.5 The current police chief is Chief David O. Brown, a 30-year old veteran of the DPD.

The Dallas Police Department educational requirements state that applicants must have a high school diploma or GED certificate AND between 45 and 60 semester hours from an accredited college with a minimum 2.0 GPA*. They must also:

  • Be a US citizen
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Not have 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 no worse than 20/100 vision rating in either eye, correctable to 20/20
  • Have no pending traffic citations or court cases
  • Not have 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.

Learn more at our page on How to Become a Police Officer in Dallas.

Austin

The Austin Police Department is made up of 2,300 sworn law enforcement and support personnel who are responsible for various law enforcement operations within the city of Austin.6 The current police chief is Art Acevedo.

The educational requirements to become an Austin cop state that applicants must hold at minimum a high school diploma or GED certificate.6 Additional requirements state that all applicants must be a US citizen at least 21 years old at the time of academy graduation and hold a valid drivers license. There are also a number of medical and physical requirements as well as the standard background check.

For more information see the in-depth guide on How to Become a Police Officer In Austin.

Fort Worth

There are 1,595 sworn officers and 489 civilian support personnel working in the Fort Worth Police Department.7 For anyone looking to become a police officer in Fort Worth, there are a number of requirements that follow the TCOLE requirement standards. For education standards, all applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate as well as a minimum of 12 semester hours of college.

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 must also:

  • 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
  • Have a valid and current Class “C” driver’s license

Please 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 two Texas police city pages below.

“Police officers go through extreme stress day in and day out while on shift. Know your weaknesses. You will see humanity at its worst. Always be at your best. Ask for help from fellow officers and supervisors. You are not a one-man or woman crime crusader. You are part of a team.” – Suzy Ivy, Police Detective and Author of Bad Luck Detective

Police Training Academies in Texas

All police recruits in Texas are required to complete an official training program at a TCOLE-approved academy. Applicants must choose an academy based on their desired city of employment. 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.

Regardless of location, all police academies in Texas are required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education to provide at least 618 hours of instruction. However, most of the training academies provide over 1,000 hours of theoretical and physical training. In Texas, both 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 the future of law enforcement careers in Texas, there seems to be a lot of promise in terms of projected ten-year growth. According to Projections Central, law enforcement workers have a projected growth of 17% through 2022 and the total annual job openings estimation is 2,760.8 This is much higher than the national average of 5% projected growth for cops.8 With high salaries averaging $53,940 and a lower-than-average cost of living (9.7% lower than average), Texas is a great place for prospective law enforcement officers to begin a lucrative career.3,9

These projections are especially attractive when considering the large number of baby boomer veteran police officers who are expected to be retiring over the next five to ten years. As with any sector, job openings and police recruitment cycles are reliant on state and city budgets.

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

Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Texas

CityNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos3,730$60,920
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington13,910$58,420
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown13,170$53,810

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

References:
1. Texas Highway Patrol: http://www.dps.texas.gov/HighwayPatrol/
2. Harris County Sheriff’s Office: http://www.harriscountyso.org/
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm#st
4. Houston Police Department: http://www.houstontx.gov/police/
5. Dallas Police Department: http://www.dallaspolice.net/
6. Austin Police Department: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/police
7. Fort Worth Police Department: https://www.fortworthpd.com/docmgmt/2012-Annual-Report-FINAL.pdf
8. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/ProjectionSites
9. Sperling’s Best Places, Texas: http://www.bestplaces.net/state/texas