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Step 2: Decide if You're Ready

Step 2: Decide if You're Ready


Will you fit in? Are you old enough? Are you too old? Do you have a criminal record? Understand the basic requirements of joining a department here with:

• Basic eligibility requirements

• Reasons to join

• Benefits overview

• Law Enforcement vs. Civilian Comparison

Basic Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility requirement can vary from department to department. You should always talk with a recruiter from the specific agencies you want to apply with to ensure you know their requirements. However, you can use the following list as a generic guideline:

• 21 years of age

• No previous drug use

• No felony criminal history

• Be in good physical condition

• Be of sound mental condition

• Be of good moral character

• Pass a written exam

• Pass a polygraph exam

• Pass a background investigation

Get Your Degree

Did you know that many law enforcement agencies now require candidates to have a college education? In some instances, the agency may require only 60 credit hours of higher education coursework, but the trend is moving towards requiring a 4-year degree.

If you are thinking about going into federal law enforcement, agencies such as the FBI and Secret Service prefer that you have a graduate degree.

Criminal Justice degrees are the most common degree for police candidates to possess. Although a CJ degree will do the trick in most cases, some agencies actually prefer candidates with other types of degrees because it allows agencies to beef up their ranks with officers with a wide breadth of knowledge and disciplines.

So whether you’re interested in a typical Criminal Justice degree, or something a little more “unusual” for police work, like Accounting, Information Technology, or Language skills, you should seriously consider finishing school to maximize your chances of getting hired.

Use the PoliceLink School Finder to get connected with a school today.

Reasons to Join

Any cop will tell you that they don’t do it for the pay. In fact, many cops find it necessary to take on a second job or work overtime to help make ends meet. So why do they do it? They do it for the love of the job.

10 Steps to Joining the Force

This is truly a job you do because you have a calling or a sense of civic duty. There is no better feeling then being able to help someone by doing something as simple as giving directions or even as serious as saving a life. There is no other job that can give you the satisfaction of knowing that you took a murderer, rapist, or child molester off the streets. You do this job because you want to help your community by keeping it safe.

There are of course tangible benefits like education, training, advancement, vacation, retirement, etc. Keep reading for more information about benefits and to view our law enforcement vs. civilian benefits comparison chart.

Benefits Overview

Benefits vary greatly from state to state and city to city. However, all will likely have at least the basic benefits packages available to full time employees:

• Employee enrolled health plans

• Retirement after a minimum commitment (generally 20 to 25 years)

• Annual leave, scaled based on years of employment

• Sick leave with no accrual limit

• Equipment or equipment stipend

• Paid holidays

• Training

Federal law enforcement officers will be eligible for the standard federal employee benefits. Additionally, many federal LEOs will be eligible for locality pay and a 25% premium on their base pay known as Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP).

Law Enforcement vs. Civilian Comparison

Law enforcement life is like civilian life in many ways: for the most part, you work a regular job, have to keep your life, bills, housing, car and other things in order. You will work with other people, have a boss, and have to exhibit initiative if you want to get ahead.

On the other hand, the law enforcement lifestyle carries much more responsibility. There is always threat of not coming home at the end of your shift. You must be on time to work – there are no “getting stuck in traffic” excuses – or face punishment. You must consistently be well-groomed, live up to working and presentation standards, and talk to others according to specific rules. You usually do not have the option of saying “no” and just quitting when you feel like it. After all, you are charged with protecting your community. If you fail, people may be seriously hurt or killed.

Here is a table of some common aspects of life that would be important no matter what you choose to do. In general, civilian life offers more money. But there is a catch: you must first spend more to get yourself educated. You must spend more to travel, stay in hotels, find a place to live, move your things, and pay for health care. The responsibility for you is held entirely by you, whereas in law enforcement, many things may be subsidized or taken care of: for example, health care, insurance, and housing. Finally, the pride that you will have by serving your community is a tremendous feeling that can matched by few jobs elsewhere.

Previous Step: Learn About the Law Enforcement Field

Next Step: Choose the Right Path

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.