Let's begin with the universal requirements. You must be a United States citizen, must be at least 21 years of age, and possess a driver's license. You must also be in good physical condition, and should be able to pass hearing, vision, strength, and agility tests. You'll also be required to pass a slew of tough written exams, complete several interviews, and probably be required to take drug and lie detector tests. If you have a prior conviction, especially for a felony, that could spell doom for your police officer career.
If you can speak a second language, you'll have a leg up in some urban police departments and federal agencies. Military experience can also work in your favor. Satisfactory work experience may help you; however, if your work history is a bit questionable, not so much.
Next, we'll cover the educational criteria, which can vary from one police department to the next. Some departments list a high school diploma as the minimum acceptable education level, while others require at least some college or a college degree. Many community colleges and universities offer law enforcement or criminal justice degree programs. An associate's or bachelor's degree will certainly provide you with good exposure to the field.
Let's say you graduate from high school and want to become a police officer, but aren't yet 21 years old. Your local department may have a cadet program that enables you to complete classes and perform clerical work to familiarize yourself with police work. When you reach the magic number of 21, you can apply for a paid police officer position.
Okay, now the real fun begins. You've met your local police department's basic entry requirements, and now you must satisfactorily complete the infamous Police Academy before you can graduate to on-the-job training. Your large metro police department probably has its own training academy, while smaller departments send recruits to a state or regional training facility.
What will you learn at police school? You'll learn about local ordinances and state laws, citizens' and suspects' civil rights, constitutional law, and ethical behavior. You'll also receive hands-on training in self-defense, safe firearms use, first aid, traffic control and patrol work, and emergency response protocols.
However, all this education and training won't mean much unless you've got the special combination of personality traits a police officer needs. First, you'll need communication skills so you can obtain crime details and write a report someone can actually read. You must be able to view a situation from the different perspectives of those involved. Beyond viewing the situation, however, you must be perceptive enough to know when someone is hiding something. You must also ask the questions that cause them to disclose the information you need. Of course, you must follow the letter of the law when you're asking these questions.
Finally, you must be a great problem solver with superior leadership skills. Your district's citizens look to you for help and direction, and you must summon all your capabilities to provide it to them.