How to Become a Police Officer in Washington
Anyone hoping to work in law enforcement in Washington has a rewarding career to look forward to with plenty of opportunities for growth. The state employs over 8,000 patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies with a generous annual average salary of $72,240.1 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 standards for being a cop or a deputy in Washington are set by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC). The commission also provides education and training courses that are in line with their requirements through the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA). To join any type of law enforcement in Washington means starting at the WSCJTC.
Washington Police Officer Requirements
To work in law enforcement in the state of Washington, new recruits need to begin with meeting the minimum standards as set by the WSCJTC. Local departments throughout the state and sheriff’s offices may set additional requirements for their recruits. In order to attend the state’s BLEA, a recruit must first be hired by a police department or sheriff’s office. To be hired a hopeful recruit must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a citizen of the US
- Hold a high school diploma or GED
- Not be a recreational drug user
- Have a valid Washington state driver’s license
- Be qualified to possess a handgun according to state and federal law
- Have no history of felony convictions
- Have no history of domestic violence
Once given a provisional offer of employment by one of the state’s law enforcement departments, new recruits must pass several tests and complete the BLEA. The tests include physical fitness, psychological and medical examinations, a background screening, and a polygraph test.
In addition to the minimal 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
- Be in excellent physical shape
- Have high moral and ethical standards
Washington Trooper or Highway Patrol Requirements
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) employs around 600 certified troopers responsible for patrolling the state’s highways and is led by Chief John R. Batiste.2 The WSP has achieved accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies for the last three decades and strives to be a model for other agencies. Potential trooper cadets must:
- Meet the minimum hiring requirements set by the WSCJTC
- Undergo a background evaluation and polygraph test
- 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 or holidays
- Be prepared to accept an assignment anywhere in the state
- Be able to work in all weather conditions
- Be financially responsible
- Demonstrate good moral character
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 follow the hiring and training procedures as set by the WSCJTC. Each county may pose additional requirements for deputies, such as experience working as a commissioned police officer.
King County is the most populous county in the state and the King County Sheriff’s Office is large with a big deputy presence (721 sworn officers).3 To work as a deputy sheriff here requires that a recruit meet the WSCJTC standards as well as those set by the King County Sheriff. These include being able to pass the King County Sheriff’s Office medical examination and background screening. Recruits must also be interviewed by a board of deputies and other officials.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department serves the state’s second largest county, which is home to the large city of Tacoma. Pierce County is always looking for good candidates for deputies. Recruits must meet the basic WSCJTC requirements and achieve a minimum score of 70 percent on an entrance exam.
Police Departments 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, but three cities employ the largest staffs of commissioned police officers. These are 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 close to 600,000 and a force of nearly 1,300 full-time commissioned police officers at the Seattle Police Department.3 Recruits in the department begin with an hourly salary, but once sworn in an officer begins with an annual salary of $69,240 and generous benefits.4
To become a Seattle police officer, recruits must meet the minimum WSCJTC requirements, be offered a position in the department, and then complete the training academy. Working for the Seattle Police Department is competitive, and beyond the minimum requirements, those hiring recruits are looking for applicants with:
- A clean criminal and traffic record
- A good employment history
- A reasonable credit history with no failures to pay taxes or child support
- A professional appearance
For even more information about the hiring process in Seattle, check out our guide How to Become a Police Officer in Seattle.
Spokane has 270 sworn officers patrolling the city and always welcomes applications from promising recruits.5 In addition to the WSCJTC requirements, applicants to the Spokane Police Department must also have completed 30 credit hours of college coursework (to include at least three credits of English) with a GPA of 2.0 or higher. Once offered a position, new recruits must complete the training academy and pass all required tests.
Tacoma is Washington’s third largest city and has a sizable police force in the Tacoma Police Department working to keep its residents safe. New recruits hoping to become officers must meet the WSCJTC minimum requirements to be considered. They must also complete a Personal History Questionnaire and a physical fitness test. Once the fitness test is passed, applicants may take a written exam to determine final eligibility.
Police Training Academies in Washington
The only police training academy in Washington is the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, or BLEA, run by the WSCJTC. 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 agency that sponsors a recruit takes on part of the cost of the training.
Recruits attending the BLEA learn all the skills needed to be a law enforcement officer in 720 hours of curriculum. These include criminal law and procedures, cultural awareness, traffic enforcement, communication skills, firearms skills, crisis prevention, patrol procedures, and defensive tactics.
Washington Police Jobs Outlook
The growth in police and deputy sheriff positions in the state of Washington is expected to be strong. From now through 2022, projections indicate that an average of 300 new jobs will open up every year.6 This represents a 3.4 % growth each year.6 For new recruits this growth, along with the state’s high average salary of over $70,000 (the fifth highest in the nation), is good news and demonstrates that there will be plenty of opportunities for new cops and sheriff’s deputies in the state.7
For more information about current law enforcement openings, take a look at our Police Jobs page.
Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer Salary in Washington
|City||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 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. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf
4. Seattle Police Department: http://www.seattle.gov/police/
5. Spokane Police Department: https://my.spokanecity.org/police/officer/
6. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 Occupational Employment and Wages, Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm