What Should I Know Before Pursuing a Career as a Police Officer?

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How to Become a Police Officer in California

Three Methods:

Becoming a police officer is a rigorous selection process that takes patience, time, and training. Before you apply, make sure a profession in law enforcement is right for you by talking with police officers about their experiences on the job. Once you have determined that becoming a police officer is for you, prepare your body and mind for the physical, verbal and writing, medical, and psychological examinations.


Ensuring that You’re Qualified

  1. Make sure you have the basic qualifications.To become a police officer in California, you need to have these basic qualifications:
    • Be at least 18 years old.
    • Be a citizen either through birth or naturalization.
    • Either have a high school diploma or an equivalent GED certificate.
    • Have a valid driver’s license.
    • Have no felony convictions in the state of California or any other U.S. state.
    • Have no misdemeanor convictions, which will prevent you from carrying a firearm.
  2. Ensure you are ready to commit.Before you begin to apply, ensure that being a police officer is a career for you. If you are a youth, consider joining Youth Police Explorers in your area. If you are not a youth, contact your local police department. Tell them that you are interested in becoming a police officer, and ask if you can participate in ride-alongs. Or, volunteer at your local department through a cadet program.
    • You can also ask police officers about their career experiences. Ask an officer, "What are the perks of being a police officer?" "What are the cons?" "What type of service calls come in regularly?" "What's the typical day, graveyard, and swing shift like?" and, "What is the department's diversity?"
    • Attend local community meetings conducted by police or LE personnel.
  3. Get additional education or training.Although additional education, like a college degree or an associate’s degree, is not required, it will enhance your application. Consider getting an associate’s degree in criminal justice if you do not have a college degree.
    • An assoicate’s degree in criminal justice helps you prepare to become a police officer. It offers courses in legal issues, human behavior, computer systems, and other subjects. These degrees are also available online.
    • If you are in the midst of getting your BA or BS, look into criminology and law enforcement classes and majors. Also, an accounting degree is great for people who are interested in white collar crime. And, a computer science degree is great for people who are interested in computer forensics and cyber crime.
  4. Get physically fit.All departments require that you pass a physical agility test. Therefore, you need to be in good physical condition in order to become a police officer. As part of the test, you need to be able to run 1.5 miles. If you are not already physically fit, start training at a local school’s track. You can also join a gym and get a personal trainer. Tell the personal trainer your goals and they will help you achieve them. Also, some police academies offer practice sessions at around . The physical agility test consists of the following components:
    • 99 yard obstacle course.
    • 32 foot body drag.
    • A 6 foot chain length fence climb.
    • A 6 foot solid wall climb.
    • A 500 yard sprint.
    • A 1.5 mile run.

Contacting and Applying at Your Local Department

  1. Contact local police departments.Contact a local police department that you would like to work at. Ask them if they are accepting entry-level police officer applications. Also, ask them about their basic qualifications. For example, while the basic qualifications to become a police officer in California is to be 18 years of age, other departments require a higher age limit, like 20 years of age at the time of your examinations.
  2. Complete an application.If you are qualified and they are accepting entry-level police officers, complete an application at a prospective department. Go to the department's website to download the application, and complete it at home. If the department does not have a website, go to the department directly. Ask them about the essential information needed to fill out the application.
    • Be prepared to provide information like a certified copy of a birth certificate or naturalization, copies of high school and college degrees, transcripts, marriage certificate, copy of vehicle and medical insurance policies, copies of divorce decrees (if applicable), and other materials.
  3. Contact personal and professional references.A background check is a necessary part of the screening process. The department will contact previous employers, supervisors, coworkers, family members, college advisors, and roommates. Create a list of your references and contact them. Tell them that you are in the application process to become a police officer, and that they will be contacted for reference verification.

Passing the Examinations

  1. Prepare for the reading and writing test (PELLETB).As part of the screening process, you will be required to take a reading and writing test, also known as the POST Entry-Level Law Enforcement Test Battery (PELLETB). The test is a multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank written examination. It takes around 2 ½ hours to complete, and there are 5 sections.
    • Prepare for this test by strengthening your reading and writing skills. Strengthen these skills by obtaining study guides from your local bookstore. Look for books like study guides for the POST exam. You can also review your basic grammar and vocabulary skills by obtaining books or study guides that assess you on your skills and offer ways to strengthen these skills.
  2. Prepare for your oral interview.An oral interview is also part of the screening process. The goal of the interview is to gauge your problem solving, oral communication, and interpersonal communication skills. Obtain a general list of interview questions from the Internet, and ask a friend or a family member to quiz you. Practice this several times. You will not get the exact questions until the day of your exam. You will be given 5 minutes to review the questions before the oral exam begins.Typical questions that are asked during the oral interview are:
    • Can you tell us about yourself?
    • What are your career goals and where do you see yourself in 5 years?
    • Why do you think you are the right person for this position?
    • What kinds of experience do you have for this position?
    • What have you done that shows initiative and/or problem solving?
    • What do you know about this organization and/or position?
    • What makes you qualified for the position?
    • Tell us how your education will benefit you and help you succeed in this position?
  3. Pass psychological exams.Because being a police officer means dealing with people on a regular basis, and comes with great responsibility, you will need to pass a psychological exam. The psychological exams includes an appointment with a psychologist, as well as a pencil and paper test.
    • Prepare for this examination by getting a good night’s rest and by eating a healthy breakfast. The pencil and paper test will consist of 300 to 600 questions, so you need to be prepared for several hours of answering questions. Therefore, make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep and eat eggs, fruit, and grains for breakfast. Try to stay away from sugary breakfast products.
  4. Pass your medical exam.The majority of applicants pass the medical exam. However, applicants who do not pass are applicants who have serious physical or mental conditions that would significantly interfere with their job performance. Some examples of these ailments are PTSD, hearing or vision impairment, a recent seizure, a severe heart or lung condition, and other debilitating problems.
    • If you have any of these problems, or a similar problem, before investing the time and money to apply, contact your doctor to see if your ailment will interfere with your job performance.
  5. Take POST regular basic training course.Once you have completed and passed all the examinations above, you will be ready to enroll in the POST regular basic training. This course will be either offered at a police academy affiliated with the department, or you can look for POST-accredited academies in your area.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Will I need to go to school? And what school should I go to?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You will need to have your GED or high school diploma to be qualified. Other than that, extra schooling is not required, but it is recommended if you want to enhance your application and move up. You should go to an accredited university or community college. Look into the criminal justice, law enforcement, and criminology studies.
  • Question
    Is there an age limit for older applicants?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes. The age limit usually caps at around 60 years of age, but, things can vary depending on a specific department's rules and regulations.
  • Question
    Can you become a police officer with partial hearing loss?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Unfortunately, you cannot. You need to have good hearing in both ears. However, if you have a hearing aid that helps you hear at the regular level, then you should be fine.
  • Question
    Can I become a police officer with just a high school diploma only?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    In some places, yes and, in other places, no. Some police departments only accept people with associate's or bachelor's degrees.
  • Question
    Can I became a police officer if I have glasses?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, you can. Some departments may require that you wear contact lenses, but it depends on the individual departments.
  • Question
    Can I become a cop if I'm trans?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, you can.
  • Question
    Can I become a police officer even if I have anxiety?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, as long as you are handling your anxiety and it does not interfere with your job. Police work can be a high stress job so be sure to have your anxiety in check before attempting to become a police officer.
  • Question
    Can you have prior high blood pressure issues and taking blood pressure medicine?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends. You need to contact your doctor and tell them about your career plans. Your doctor will be able to assess if your blood pressure issues will interfere with your performance on the job.
  • Question
    Can I become a police officer if I have been suicidal before?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If this fact is on your medical record, then you would be denied. If it isn't, it's your choice whether or not to disclose this information.
  • Question
    Can I become a police officer if I have smoked marijuana in the past few years?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, as long as it has been long enough that it won't show up on a drug test, then this shouldn't stop you from becoming a police officer.
Unanswered Questions
  • Can I become a police officer in California if I have only the green card?
  • What is the oldest you can be a police officer
  • Can you be a police officer with a speech impediment with a slight speech impediment?
  • Can you become a police office if you are not citizen but legal in the state and have legal documents. For example:- Work-permit/social-security/ Green-card
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Quick Summary

To become a police officer in California, you’ll need to be 18 years or older, a U.S. citizen, earn your high school diploma or GED, and have a valid driver’s license. You’ll also need to be in good physical condition. If you meet these requirements, fill out an application at a department where you’d like to work. If you’re selected for screening, you’ll need to pass a written exam, medical and psychological evaluations, and an oral interview. If you pass these, you’ll be enrolled in POST basic training to begin training for your job as an officer.

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