How to Be a Cop
So you want to become a cop. You want to work twice as hard for half the money, patrol the streets writing traffic tickets, and maybe (just maybe) change someone’s life for the better. Becoming a cop is not a difficult process — becoming a good cop is.
So being a cop isn’t as bad as I tried to make it sound in the intro — in fact, as with any career in the public service, being a cop is as challenging and fulfilling a job as you can find anywhere. It is a highly competitive process, especially once you’ve joined the force and are looking for promotions, but the opportunities you’ll find in law enforcement are so varied, your life can be what you make it. Want to work as sheriff of a rural community, or a beat cop in the big city? Interested in working with the DEA or as a homicide detective? Your chances at landing the job of your dreams are even higher if you set your sights on being the best cop you can be.
How Old Are You?
Depending on your age, your approach to joining the police force will be drastically different. The earlier in your life you get started on a career in law enforcement, the better. Remember that even the best jobs in a police department require only a basic high school education along with some additional training. These days, however, most applicants to the police force will have at least an Associates degree in a topic like criminal justice or something similar. If you want to advance quickly in your chosen field, I suggest you pursue a degree in something like conflict resolution (a fast growing degree program nationwide) or psychology.
A number of colleges these days are offering various programs in criminal justice aimed at people who want to become cops. If you’re still in high school or headed to college, these programs will give you a jump start to a career in law enforcement, but you should be aware that many poice departments want a little variety in your training. Criminal justice programs teach you about legal issues, computer systems, and other law enforcement specific areas. Your education will not be much different from the thousands of other graduates of similar programs.
If you are older than the standard college age, you may be at a disadvantage when it comes to your training for the police force. It may be harder for you to get into a good criminal justice program, and a full four-year degree may be unattainable at your age. If this is the case, contact your local community college for information about criminal justice training for non traditional students.
Being Physically Fit
Being a police officer challenges you physically as much as it challenges you mentally — if you are starting toward the criminal justice career path as a teenager, join any and every sports activity you can. Play on the church basketball team, play league soccer, join a sport at your school — get used to doing lots of physical work, outdoors and indoors, to keep your body in peak condition. Being physically fit will serve you very well when it comes time to apply to the police force.
Being in good shape physically and having a history of athletic performance will get you noticed over another recruit who hasn’t taken as good care of his body. Any little thing you can do to make your application stand out is good, so try to stay physically fit.
If you’re starting toward a career as a cop later in life, begin a workout and strength training regimen now. Older applicants will have to demonstrate some serious physical prowess to get noticed over younger applicants.
Keep Your Nose Clean
Police officers have to pass a background check, a drug test, and their names are compared to lists of serious traffic offenders, drug offenders, etc — basically any major offense is going to cause your application to be rejected. To plan for a future as a cop, you need to live a very clean life, avoiding the “wrong crowd” and keeping yourself out of legal trouble.
If you’ve already got some spots on your record, you may be okay depending on the infraction. Any felony arrests are going to keep you off the force for life — that’s just how it goes. In some instances, a single DUI or other infraction of that nature won’t automatically get your application rejected, but it won’t look good.
Civil Service Exam
An application to a police department will require you to take the civil service examination. You take this test directly through the police department you’re applying to — the good news is that there are study guides to help you improve your score. The civil service exam is given routinely to provide a police department with a potential pool of recruits, so you may be taking the exam well before the time is right to apply for the force properly.
Besides the basic civil service exam, you’ll undergo physical tests to determine your strength, vision, hearing, and even things like agility and dexterity. If you pass these tests and your civil service exam scores were right, you’ll be asked to take lie detector and drug tests as well as go through a bunch of interviews with members of the police department.
Once you’ve passed all these hurdles, you’ll have to attend a police academy. These aren’t much like the popular 80s movies of the same name — a real police academy is a long program (three months to one year’s worth of training) and requires dedication and hard work.
Like most other jobs, cops are expected to continue their education after joining the force. New techniques, weapons, and procedures have to be learned all the time. You need to be a dedicated student of law enforcement as well as a good cop. Continuing your training will only raise your profile in the department and get you better work opportunities.
The population of America is growing sharply, and that growth in population requires more law enforcement employees. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a police officer but worried about the requirements — relax. Stay on the good side of the law, keep your body active, and be willing to earn your education. You’ll be well on your way to a long and happy career as a cop.