How Many Years of School Does It Take to Become a Cop?

The schooling needed to become a cop varies based on where you want to work.
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A police officer is a public servant who is tasked with protecting the public and maintaining law and order. In most jurisdictions, police officers are empowered to make arrests and to use force, if necessary, to carry out their duties. Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a four-year degree depending on the police department and the job role. This means it could take anywhere from six months to almost five years to become a police officer depending on your education route.

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Job Description

A police officer, also known as a cop, enforces the law and keeps the peace. They are sworn to protect life and property and to uphold the Constitution. Police officers have a wide range of duties, from directing traffic to responding to 911 calls and investigating crimes. They also work to prevent crime by patrolling their beat.

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In addition, police officers provide assistance to citizens and play an important role in community outreach and building relationships with the people they serve. By working together, police officers, police agencies and the community can help make neighborhoods safer places to live.

Education Requirements

Most police departments require a high school diploma or GED. Some agencies may require some college coursework, and others may require a college degree. Many police departments offer training programs that can lead to an associate degree or bachelor's degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.

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Most police officers will also need to graduate from their agency's training academy as part of the hiring process. The police academy combines field training with classroom instruction on criminal law, police ethics and civil rights. Rookie police officers will also undergo first-aid training, physical training and physical ability tests. Police academy training can take anywhere from 13 weeks to six months.

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In addition to formal education requirements, police officers must also be physically fit and have strong communication skills. The application process for becoming a police officer is competitive, and some police departments may require candidates to have a certain amount of work experience, such as in the military or in another law enforcement agency. Others offer cadet programs for recent high school or college graduates who do not yet meet the entry criteria.

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Police officers must be U.S. citizens and are usually over 21 years of age when they enter basic training at the police academy. They must also have a clean criminal record with no felony convictions and must pass a background check.

The median annual salary for police officers was ​$66,020​ in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of earners made more than ​$105,540,​ while the bottom 10 percent earned less than ​$40,420.

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Industry

Most police officers work for city, county or state law enforcement agencies. Some may work for the FBI or in private security. Police officers typically work full time 40 hours a week, but they may be required to work evenings, weekends and holidays. They also often have to work overtime, which can include working long shifts or being on call.

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Police officers work in a variety of environments both indoors and outdoors and in all weather conditions. They may be required to stand for long periods of time or to chase after suspects. They may also be exposed to dangerous people and situations.

Years of Experience

The pay of a police officer varies depending on experience, education, job location and agency.

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Police officers typically start with a salary that is close to the lower end of the salary scale. With experience, they may receive pay raises or promotions to positions such as sergeant, lieutenant and captain. Promotions to higher levels are usually made according to oral interviews, scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. A typical salary progression may look like this:

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  • 1-2 years: ​$46,480
  • 3-4 years: ​$52,558
  • 6-9 years: ​$68,193
  • 10+ years: ​$76,923

In large police departments, an officer may be promoted to detective or specialty police work, such as narcotics or special weapons and tactics. The average salary for detectives and criminal investigators was ​$83,640​ in May 2021.

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Along with experience, a bachelor's degree or master's degree may be required for advancement to positions of lieutenant or higher rank. Around 7 percent of police officers hold a master's degree, according to Indeed.

Job Growth Trend

The job outlook for police officers is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment will grow by about 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, which equates to 67,100 new job openings each year throughout this period. Job growth is due in part to an increase in the number of retirements as well as a need for more patrol officers to protect and serve the growing population.

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