Police Qualifications

by Nicholas Pell

The job of police officer is highly selective, requiring a lot of those who choose it as a career path. Before you set your hopes on joining your city or state's police department, make sure you know what will be expected of you.

Basic Requirements

Some police officer qualifications are very basic. For example, police officers are commonly required to be U.S. citizens over a certain age (typically 20 or 21) withe a valid driver's license, a high school diploma and a certain number of college credits. Additionally, prospective officers generally must have no felony convictions and be able to pass a battery of tests including vision, medical, aptitude, psychological and polygraph. Qualifications in this regard are by no means universal. For example, some smaller local police departments allow permanent residents to serve alongside citizens.

Physical Requirements

Physical fitness requirements vary widely from department to department. However, police departments as a rule have, a set of physical standards that all aspiring police officers must meet. These generally include tests for running, bench-pressing, push-ups, sit-ups, stair-climbing, carrying and dragging a certain amount of weight, vertical jumps, wall-climbing and balance. Most departments require that you have vision that can be corrected to 20/20. Additionally, departments will require that your uncorrected vision fall within certain tolerances that allow you to do your job without contacts or glasses.

Psychological Requirements

Police officers must undergo a rigorous psychological evaluation. Officer candidates with below-average intelligence may be dismissed immediately, though above average-intelligence is not always considered an asset. The psychological evaluation seeks to identify candidates who can make quick decisions correctly. The test also seeks police officers who are honest and able to resolve conflict without resorting to aggression or violence. Officers must also be able to work well in the highly regimented, team-oriented environment of the police force. Candidates who express a desire for power are immediately dismissed. While thrill-seekers do not make for good police officers, the police department demands that its officers act courageously, so a balance must be struck.

Personality Requirements

Beyond psychological norms, there is a certain type of person who makes a good police officer. Such individuals must care about their community. They must also be interested in working with people. Good communication skills make for good police officers.

Drug Use

Policies on drug use vary from department to department. Generally speaking, a history of hard drug use or alcohol abuse is grounds for disqualification. Marijuana use is often overlooked if the use was experimental, rare and in the distant past. Many departments subject officers to random drug testing, while others test only if there is reasonable suspicion. Some departments, including Newport News, Virginia, forbid officers from smoking tobacco even on their own time.

About the Author

Nicholas Pell began writing professionally in 1995. His features on arts, culture, personal finance and technology have appeared in publications such as "LA Weekly," Salon and Business Insider. Pell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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