The requirements to be a police officer include turning 20, being a U.S. citizen, and passing written and physical tests to show that you can deal with the work. There also will be a background check and drug test in these early vetting stages. You don’t usually need more than a high school diploma for most departments, but an associate degree in criminal justice won’t hurt. Finally, you’ll undergo an interview to determine your motivation for wanting to be a policewoman and to get a sense of your personality type. Only after you pass all that do you enter the police academy.
The amount of time you spend in a police academy varies by jurisdictions. Training could last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, but most academies last between 12 and 14 weeks, according to Westwood College's website. You may go to an academy that serves one large police department or attend a regional academy that serves smaller communities. You can attend an academy on your own dime to get the training and then apply to a department for a job. Some large police departments place high school graduates in clerical positions where they can learn on the job and then go to the academy when they turn 20.
A big part of police academy training involves book work. During this stage of your training, you’ll study constitutional law and learn about local and state laws that may vary from place to place. You’ll learn about the chain of command and the bureaucracy you’re about to enter. Some of your classes teach you how to fill out accident reports and create the reams of paperwork that will become a big part of your life. Some classes focus on social issues such as domestic violence, community relations and substance abuse, as well as socioeconomic issues like homelessness and poverty and how they all affect the criminal landscape and your role in it.
The next stage of police academy training involves the physical training. You’ll spend time learning how to assemble and shoot guns. Time spent on the firing range will give you the confidence you need to carry and possibly use a weapon on the job. You’ll learn how to stand in traffic and direct its flow. The physical fitness portion of your training includes courses in self-defense and how to subdue a prisoner. You may even have to run laps to prepare you for chasing suspects who choose to run when you call.
You will be one of the first responders on a variety of scenes. As such, you need to have a basic grasp of emergency procedures so you can help victims or fellow officers before medical personnel arrive. You’ll learn basic first aid practices, such as CPR, in the academy and how to reduce the flow of blood from a wound. You’ll learn about the communication system used by your department and when and how to send out emergency calls, when to step in and take an emergency call and how to assess an emergency situation so that you can communicate effectively with the dispatcher.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."