Police and detective applicants usually must have at least a high school education or GED and be a graduate of their agency’s training academy. Many agencies require some college coursework or a college degree. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and urban departments.
Candidates must be U.S. citizens, must usually be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, and must meet specific physical qualifications. Applicants may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility as well as competitive written exams. Previous work or military experience is often seen as a plus. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take lie detector and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.
Applicants usually have recruit training before becoming an officer. In state and large local police departments, recruits get training in their agency's police academy. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional or state academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional law, civil rights, state laws and local ordinances, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, use of firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.
Some police departments have cadet programs for people interested in a career in law enforcement who do not yet meet age requirements for becoming an officer. These cadets do clerical work and attend classes until they reach the minimum age requirement and can apply for a position with the regular force.
Detectives normally begin their career as police officers before being promoted to detective.
State and local agencies encourage applicants to continue their education after high school by taking courses or training related to law enforcement. Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or criminal justice. Many agencies offer financial assistance to officers who pursue these or related degrees.
Fish and game wardens also must meet specific requirements; however, these vary. Candidates applying for federal jobs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service typically need a college degree and those applying to work for state departments often need a high school diploma or some college study in a related field such as biology or natural resources management. Military or police experience may be considered an advantage. Once hired, fish and game wardens attend a training academy and sometimes get additional training in the field.
Although similar to state and local requirements, the requirements for federal law enforcement agencies, such as with the FBI or Secret Service, are generally stricter. Federal agencies require a bachelor's degree, related work experience, or a combination of the two. For example, FBI special agent applicants typically must be college graduates with at least 3 years of professional work experience. There are lie detector tests as well as interviews with references. Jobs that require security clearances have additional requirements.
Federal law enforcement agents undergo extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. Furthermore, some federal positions have a maximum age for applicants. The specific educational requirements, qualifications, and training information for a particular federal agency are available on its website.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition
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