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Police Office Selection and Training Process

Updated on January 4, 2017

Not All The Same

The requirements to become a police officer vary depending on where you are in the country. Standards to become a police officer in New York City may be different from the standards to become a police officer in Huston Texas, “each department will aim to recruit the best person for a particular community” (Grant & Terry, 2008, P. 349). Even though standards vary around the country and world many departments look for the some of the same traits like “physically agility, the ability to cope with difficult situations, well-developed writing skills, good communication skills, sound judgment, compassion, strong powers of observation, and the ability to both exert and respect commands of authority” (Grant & Terry, 2008, P. 349). After a candidate makes it through the selection process they are sent to a police academy where they will receive their training.

Police Academy

The first stop for all new hires is the police academy where they will learn the skills to effectively perform the duties of their job once they reach the streets. While in the academy recruits will be educated in all areas of the law and will go through extensive physical training. While attending the police academy, recruits “must learn constitutional law and criminal law specific to the state in which he or she is policing” (Grant & Terry, 2008, P. 363). Not all police academies are the same, but there are basic standards of training that many follow. In every academy recruits are lectured on the law and the criminal justice system and how it works. Recruits are educated in and must be skilled in areas such as sociological, psychological, legal issues, as well as critical thinking and writing skills. Along with classroom work, recruits will be trained on how to use firearms, and “training in the systems of patrol and traffic” (Grant & Terry, 2008, P. 363). Recruits will undergo physical training where they will have to meet minimum requirements in areas such as a one to two mile run, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and some type of obstacle course. Driving techniques are another area that police get extra training in.

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On The Job Training

Not only is it important for these recruits to understand the ins and outs of the police department they are working for, but also understand the relationship it has with other agencies like state, county, and federal agencies. Once a recruit has passed all the tests and satisfied all the requirements of the police academy there is graduation from the academy, then comes the real training. No more books, no more lectures, no more simulations, this is on the job training. After the academy is where police officers step into the real world and deal with real life situations. At this point in the training new officers are paired with an FTO or field training officer. The transition from the academy to the streets is a delicate one and FTO’s are there to help new officers adjust and assist them with the transition. The FTO assigned to a new officer helps them adjust to real life situations and dealing with the community. They also help the new officers experience the socialization process. The socialization process involves “learning the values, social processes, and behaviors associated with the police institution” (Grant & Terry, 2008, P. 364). After a year or two the new officer’s probationary period will end as long as the transition period went smooth and the officer is recommended for solo patrol.

Furthering Your Career

After a new officer is off probation and has a little time on the job it might be time to look into furthering your career and advancing in the department. This has not always been the easiest thing to do in this profession. However things have turned around a little in this area over the last 15 to 20 years. Some departments have things like an educational incentive “where officers receive additional pay based on their level of education” (Walker & Katz, 2011, P. 171). In places like Cincinnati and Lincoln, Nebraska there have been programs put into place to encourage career development. In Cincinnati, “the department also developed a Succession Planning program to prepare officers for vacancies created by anticipated retirements” (Walker & Katz, 2011, P. 171), and the Lincoln, Nebraska, “Police Department developed a similar program to mentor younger officers to prepare them for future command responsibilities” (Walker & Katz, 2011, P. 171). These types of programs are popping up all over the country and improving the chances for police officers to further their careers. Even with these new programs opportunities are pretty limited because of a number of reasons such as “time-in-rank requirements”, low numbers of higher rank openings, and the financial conditions of the city or county where the department is located. There are a few options officers have to improve their employment such as being assigned to a special unit like “criminal investigation, training, and juvenile” (Walker & Katz, 2011, P. 172). Another option is lateral entry where an officer transfers from one department to another. This could open up more opportunities for advancement along with more experience. Another option for officers is outside employment, this does not really affect the job that they do, but because of the lack of opportunity many officers resort to “supplementing their incomes with outside employment” (Walker & Katz, 2011, P. 172).

The Long Road

Most jobs will make you fill out an application and then interview you to see if you are right for the job. However, to become a police officer there are many steps involved, from recruitment to the application and test process, to the academy that can last anywhere from 4 to 6 months, to on the job training and probation. There is so much to learn and master before you are even able to perform the duties of the job as we can see by all that the academies entail. You have to be physically fit, be a good communicator, have report writing skills, have a working knowledge of the law and the criminal justice system, be efficient with firearms, and you have to be able to communicate and interact with the community. There are not as many chances to further your career as a police officer, but there are options and it seems to be getting better with time. The process, from the when you fill out your application to day one of your solo patrol is long and strenuous, this process makes sure that you are right for the job and if you are, that you are as prepared as best as possible to perform the duties of the job.


Grant, H. B., & Terry, K. J. (2008). Law enforcement in the 21st century (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Walker, S., & Katz, C. M. (2011). The police in America: An introduction (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


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