A career in law enforcement could be both challenging and satisfying for someone who wants to make a difference.  Police officers are the main line of defense in communities all across the country. They are responsible for enforcing and upholding laws, protecting citizens, and maintaining overall peace within a particular community or city.

Becoming a police officer involves a rigorous selection process followed by intensive training at the police academy. Those individuals interested in a career as a police officer in California should familiarize themselves with the state’s requirements.

What does a Police Officer do?

Police officers carry out a wide range of tasks in the exercise of their role as law enforcement officials. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Apprehending criminals
  • Taking steps to prevent crime
  • First response in the event of traffic accidents or emergencies of any kind
  • Carrying out investigations
  • Patrolling highways, neighborhoods, etc.
Things to Consider when Becoming a Police Officer
How Do You Become a Police Officer in California

Things to Consider when Becoming a Police Officer

Everyone isn’t cut out for a life in law enforcement. For that reason, you should do some research and familiarize yourself with what to expect from a career as a police officer. Only then can you make an informed decision about whether or not this is the career for you.

The Good:

  • Police officers dedicate their lives to protecting and serving society.
  • You can expect to make a reasonably comfortable living.
  • Considerable benefits such as paid leaves, holiday bonuses, insurance, good pensions, health coverage, uniform allowances, etc.
  • Early retirement opportunities.

The Not so Good:

  • The job can be very stressful and mentally demanding.
  • You may be put in dangerous or uncomfortable situations in the line of duty.
  • Hours are not regular.
  • Physically demanding job requiring ongoing training.

Helpful Skills and Character Traits

When considering a career in law enforcement, keep in mind that the following inherent character traits may help becoming a good police officer. Also listed are a set of skills, which you can develop or work on further.

Character Traits Skills to acquire/develop
  • Dependability
  • Trustworthiness
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Strong work ethic
  • Communication skills
  • People skills
  • Physical strength
  • Stamina
  • Ability to cope
  • Quick thinking

State Requirements

The minimum requirements, which must be satisfied prior to becoming a police officer, pursuant to Government Code (GC) Sections 1029, 1030, and 1031, and Commission Regulations 9050-9055, are as follows:

  • Must be at least 18 years of age (some agencies may have a higher age requirement)
  • Must be a citizen of the United States
  • Must have no prior criminal record
  • Must have a valid driver’s license of the state of California

Steps to Becoming a Police Officer in California

After satisfying the minimum requirements checklist, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find police departments that are hiring

Do some research to determine which police departments are currently hiring. This is important because it is often the case that different departments have different qualifications that candidates need to satisfy.

Law enforcement departments in California also have differing basic academy requirements. For instance, some require candidates to complete their basic academy training prior to applying, while others send candidates to their own academies once they’ve been hired. There are also those academies that want you to take their basic academy training program irrespective of whether you’ve already been through training. For this reason, it is important to know your targeted law enforcement department’s academy training policies.

It’s also beneficial to have a clear idea of which branch of law enforcement you’re looking to work in. Each department has different education and training requirements. Some of the departments that exist in California include:

  • Highway Patrol
  • The Department of Justice
  • State Park Rangers
  • Corrections and Rehabilitations
  1. Satisfy education requirements and qualifications

The minimum educational requirements becoming a police officer are satisfied if the candidate has a high school diploma or a GED. Although not absolutely required, a college education may increase your employment prospects. Candidates may consider pursuing an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or a related field. This may also have the effect of making you better qualified for promotions down the road.

Most police departments also require that candidates have a certain amount of real world experience before applying for a job as a police officer. This may especially hold true for those jobs requiring  interaction with the public; communication, people, teamwork, problem-solving skills, may be well sought after.

Experience in the military is also highly valued by employers in law enforcement. The mental and physical challenges of military life are considered important in preparing individuals for careers in law enforcement.

  1. Pass the entrance exams

There are numerous aspects to the entrance exam at police departments. These are known as post-secondary placement tests and are intended to help employers determine if you possess the requisite skills they are looking for. The written parts of these qualifications that may be taken by candidates are known as the ASSET or COMPASS test.

If you pass the written test, police departments may also require a few or all of the following tests as well:

Physical Assessment

Being a police officer is a physically demanding job. As such, you have to be in very good shape in order for your application to be considered. The assessment will typically require candidates to perform sprints, pull-ups, push-ups, and successfully make it through an obstacle course. Depending on candidates’ age and gender, they will be required to perform up to a particular standard.
 

Psychological Assessment

Stress is a common feature of the job and candidates can expect to confront stressful and potentially dangerous situations over the course of duty. For this reason, a psychological assessment is carried out to gauge how well individuals can cope with stress. The test is also intended to evaluate personality traits, temperament and emotional control.
 

Polygraph Test

This test is carried out to determine how truthful potential candidates are. Trust is a very important personality trait and is essential when working as part of a group or team.

Physical Test

A physical test will determine the overall health of applicants. Tests are carried out to see whether your basic organs such as heart and lungs are in good shape. Good eye sight is also important and you need to have corrected 20/20 vision.
 

Background Check

As public servants, police officers are held up to very high moral and ethical standards. A background check is carried out to determine if you exhibit these standards in your life and to find out any misdemeanors or convictions.You can expect a fingerprint analysis to be done for your information to be cross referenced with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Any negative activity will immediately result in your application being denied.

 

Interview

 

The final test is in the form of an interview with the candidate and members of the department to see whether the candidate is the right fit for the job. A series of questions will be asked to determine your problem solving and communication skills.
  1. Complete basic academy training

If you are hired, you will be sent to a police academy, where you will need to go through an intensive training program, typically lasting for about 6 months. The rigorous training regime is composed of both physical and academic elements. While at the academy, candidates will have a probationary non-sworn status, which means they won’t have any police authority. Upon the successful completion of all academy requirements and exams, candidates will be sworn into the force.

Candidates can expect to learn the following at the academy:

  • Non-Emergency incident response
  • Emergency incident response
  • Patrol activities
  • Fundamentals of criminal investigation
  • Use of firearms
  • Self defense
  • Traffic control
  • Ethics
  • Introduction to the US criminal justice system
  1. Undertake field training program

Once you have been sworn in, you’ll have the designation of a newly assigned peace officer. You will need to shadow an experienced police officer to get on the job training and facilitate your transition into the real world. Cadets are given responsibilities and are monitored to see how they handle them.

At this stage it is common to learn:

  • Patrol procedures
  • How to use radio communications systems
  • Search and seizure techniques
  • Control of persons
  • Patrol vehicle operations
  • A range of other agency specified activities

Job Outlook and Salary

With respect to job outlook, the rate of employment growth in this field is expected to increase at a rate of 5% between 2012 and 2022, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The importance of public safety necessitates that there will always be demand for police officers.  In order to increase your chances of becoming a police officer, it is highly recommended that you pursue a college degree or undertake military experience.

Data from the BLS shows that the median annual salary for police officers in 2012 was $56,980. However, it is important to remember that California is the most populous state. Its larger population warrants a higher demand for police officers, as is corroborated by data from O*NET On Line. These figures show that California police officers earned significantly higher than the median annual salary earned by police officers nationally in 2013.

In 2013:

  • Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers earned a median salary of $87,400
  • Detectives and criminal investigators earned $97,600

Becoming a police officer in California involves a long and sometimes arduous process; however candidates can expect very promising prospects in this field. Police officers in the state also earn more on average than police officers in other states.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: If I want to become a police officer in California, what are the different departments I can work in?

Ans: If you’re interested in becoming a police officer in California, there are a number of different departments you can apply to. Some of the departments include Corrections and Rehabilitations, Highway Patrol, The Department of Justice, and the State Park Rangers. Each department has different educational and training requirements. Therefore, it is advisable that you know what branch of law enforcement you want to work in.

Q: What is the absolute minimum education requirement for becoming a police officer in California?

Ans: In order to become a police officer in California, applicants must have at least a high school diploma or a GED. Some police departments however require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to law enforcement. This increases your job prospects. For more information about the specific education requirements you need to satisfy, get in touch with the police department you wish to apply to.