How to Become a Police Officer in Washington
Those hoping to work in law enforcement in Washington can look forward to a career with plenty of opportunities for growth. Over 9,600 patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies are employed in Washington state, earning an annual average salary of $78,600.1 Known for its varied and beautiful geography including mountains, rainforest, and rugged coastline, as well as the cosmopolitan city of Seattle, Washington is a great place to live. The minimum standards for police officers in Washington are set by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC). Hiring agencies may also set requirements that exceed the state minimums. Continue reading to learn more about becoming a police officer in Washington.
Washington Police Officer Requirements
All police recruits in Washington must meet the minimum standards set by the WSCJTC. The commission also provides education and training courses that are in line with best practices through the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA). Note, however, that local departments may set additional requirements for their recruits. To meet minimum standards a hopeful recruit must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a citizen of the US
- Hold a high school diploma or GED
- Have very limited to no recreational (legal) drug use
- Have a valid Washington state driver’s license
- Have no history of felony convictions
- Have no history of domestic violence
In addition to the minimum requirements, the WSCJTC suggests several attributes that are useful for recruits to have and which may increase their chances of receiving an offer of employment:
- Some college education or a degree
- A history of community service
- Military service
- Knowledge of other languages
- Excellent physical conditioning
- High moral and ethical standards
In Washington, state law describes the tests any prospective peace officer must pass to become certified. These include a background investigation and criminal history check, a psychological evaluation, and a polygraph test. Most hiring agencies also require a pre-screening written exam and personal history questionnaire as well as a physical fitness test. Once given a provisional offer of employment by one of the state’s law enforcement departments, new recruits must complete training at the police academy.
Washington Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) employs around 600 certified troopers to patrol the state’s highways.2 In 2018, the agency made over 2,400 DUI arrests and responded to 8,884 collision scenes.2 The WSP has achieved accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) for the last three decades and strives to be a model for other agencies. Potential Washington state troopers must:
- Be at least 19.5 years of age at the written testing date, 21 at hire
- Meet the minimum hiring requirements set by the WSCJTC
- Have no tattoos or other body art visible while in uniform
- Not have been in possession of illicit drugs in the last five years
- Be able to work weekends, nights, and holidays
- Be prepared to accept an assignment anywhere in the state
- Not have any felony or DUI convictions
- Be financially responsible
- Demonstrate good moral character
Testing dates for the written and physical ability exams required of prospective trooper cadets are regularly held in cities across the state. The WSP suggests that interested candidates contact a recruiter prior to applying or testing. The starting pay for cadets in training is $56,184 per year, which rises to $63,360 per year for certified troopers.2
Washington Sheriff’s Deputy Requirements
Each county in the state of Washington has a sheriff’s department with an elected sheriff and hired deputies. The deputies perform law enforcement duties within the county and may coordinate with other agencies like the Washington State Police. To become a deputy sheriff, recruits must meet the standards set by the WSCJTC. Each county may pose additional requirements for deputies, such as prior experience working as a commissioned police officer.
King County is the most populous county in the state and the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has a corresponding deputy presence of over 700 sworn officers and over 1,000 employees in total.3 Deputy recruits must meet the WSCJTC standards as well as those set by the King County Sheriff during the applicable recruiting period. Those interested in applying are strongly encouraged to register for and attend a deputy information session.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) serves the state’s second-largest county, which is home to the large city of Tacoma. The PCSD serves over 875,000 residents countywide.4 Pierce County is always looking for good candidates for deputies. Recruits must meet the basic WSCJTC requirements and achieve a minimum score of 70% on an entrance exam. Law enforcement deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department earn a starting salary of $61,985 per year, which can rise up to $92,682 per year.4
Police Departments in Washington
There are 272 law enforcement agencies in Washington. Applicants hoping to work in law enforcement in Washington may work for the state police, a sheriff’s office, or one of the many municipal police departments. There are plenty of opportunities across the state, though three cities employ the largest staffs of commissioned police officers: Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. To work for any police department in the state, a recruit must meet the WSCJTC minimum requirements, receive a conditional offer, and successfully complete the training academy.
Seattle is the largest city in Washington with a population of over 713,000.5 The city is served by a police force of over 1,400 full-time commissioned police officers within the Seattle Police Department (SPD).5 To become a Seattle police officer, recruits must meet the minimum WSCJTC requirements and:
- Be at least 20.5 years of age when taking the written exam and 21 at hire
- Hold a valid Washington driver’s license prior to hire
- Have a clean criminal history and traffic record
- Have a good employment history
- Have a reasonable credit history with no failures to pay taxes or child support
- Have a professional appearance
Seattle police recruits earn $28.99 per hour while in training, which rises to a salary of $81,444 per year upon swearing-in, with regular increases thereafter.5 Under the current pay schedule, after 30 months of service, Seattle police officers are paid a base salary of $94,824 per year.5
For more on the hiring process in Seattle and other important information, check out our Seattle guide.
The Spokane Police Department (SPD) has over 300 sworn officers patrolling the city and always welcomes applications from promising recruits.6 In addition to the WSCJTC requirements, applicants must:
- Have completed at least 30 credit hours of college coursework (to include at least three credits of English) with a GPA of 2.0 or higher
- Possess a valid driver’s license
- Be within normal weight for their height
- Be at least 20 years of age at the time of application and 21 at hire
The starting salary for Spokane police officers is $48,587 per year, and officers can earn up to $84,459 per year in base salary with experience.6
Tacoma is Washington’s third-largest city and has a sizable police force in the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) working to keep its residents safe. New recruits hoping to become officers must meet the WSCJTC minimum requirements to be considered and have a current Washington driver’s license as well as current First Aid and CPR certification. The starting pay for Tacoma police officers is $32.22 per hour.7
Police Training Academies in Washington
The only basic police training academy in Washington is the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, or BLEA, run by the WSCJTC in Burien. Recruits whose hiring agency is more than 40 miles away from the Criminal Justice Training Center are eligible for on-site lodging throughout the academy. The only way to enroll in the academy is first to be offered a conditional position with one of the state’s recognized law enforcement agencies, including the Washington State Police, a sheriff’s office, or a city police department. The BLEA does not accept self-sponsored applicants.
Recruits attending the BLEA learn all the basic skills needed to be a law enforcement officer across 720 hours of training. These include criminal law and procedures, cultural awareness, traffic enforcement, communication skills, firearms skills, crisis prevention, patrol procedures, and defensive tactics. Many hiring agencies require additional training, such as field training, after officers graduate from the academy.
Washington Police Jobs Outlook
Growth in police and deputy sheriff positions in the state of Washington is expected to be strong in the coming years. From now through 2026, projections anticipate a 10.5% jobs growth rate for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in Washington, with 770 average annual openings in the state.8 This growth along with the statewide average annual police salary of $78,600 (the fourth-highest in the US) demonstrates the opportunities for new cops and sheriff’s deputies in the Washington.9
For more information about current law enforcement openings, take a look at our police jobs board.
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Washington
|City||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 2018.1
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Washington: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wa.htm
2. Washington State Patrol: http://www.wsp.wa.gov/
3. King County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/sheriff.aspx
4. Pierce County Sheriff’s Department: https://www.co.pierce.wa.us/121/Sheriff
5. Seattle Police Department: http://www.seattle.gov/police/
6. Spokane Police Department: https://my.spokanecity.org/police/
7. Tacoma Police Department: https://www.cityoftacoma.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=11953
8. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm