How to Become a Police Officer: Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
It’s a fact; the world simply needs more good police officers, and your training as an EMT may help you fill that need. While the common ground between being a police officer and being an EMT may not be immediately clear, there are a number of similarities.
Police are typically the first to respond in emergency situations, sometimes arriving minutes (or more) ahead of an ambulance. And sometimes, given the wide range of possibilities out there, those emergencies require emergency medical experience. And more. Injuries are also common occurrences during a police officer’s shift—they may include victims of crimes, injuries obtained during an arrest, and the officers themselves can even be hurt in the line of duty. Knowing how to treat those injuries makes a police officer with EMT training an incredibly valuable team member.
One Step Ahead
Most areas of law enforcement and security require you to undergo some level of basic medical training once you’ve been hired. With your EMT certification, you’ll be ahead of the rest of your police academy class by already possessing the foundational knowledge covered in basic medical training.
According to eHow.com, “An officer who is co-trained in police and EMT procedure indeed is a valuable employee because he is prepared to assist not only the EMS but also the fire service and emergency management segments of emergency services.”
Surprisingly, only a handful of recruits enter the police academy with a background of EMT or paramedic experience. The authors of “Pre-hospital and Disaster Medicine” conducted a survey among Law Enforcement officers to determine their level of medical education.
An overwhelming number of law enforcement officers only had CPR and First Aid skills—putting them well behind the skill and knowledge level of licensed EMTs. (Source: PDM Medicine)
- 69% had First Responder Training (CPR and First –aid)
- 26% had EMT basic training
- 5 % had EMT Paramedic
EMT Training for Police Enforcement
How Does EMT Training Help?
Of course, nothing can replace full police training, but training as an EMT or paramedic can help get you there and get you off to a strong start:
- It strengthens your application and background check
- You’ll stand out when applying for police work by exceeding the medical training requirements and standards
- You’ll be able to deliver assistance before an ambulance reaches the scene
- It will improve your chances of becoming a SWAT member
- You’ll be prepared to deal with chaotic situations
- You’ll become familiar with public safety radio procedure
Can You Be Both a Paramedic and a Police Officer?
Plenty of people are interested in both law enforcement and emergency medicine, and there’s certainly no law that says you can’t do both at the same time. These dual opportunities are rare, however—as most employers will want you focused (and rested) enough to complete your primary responsibilities.
There are cases (usually in smaller towns) where a person can work as both a paramedic and a police officer. Officer Mikeal Tordsen of Minnesota is one such example—he currently works as both a paramedic and a police officer, thanks to an innovative partnership between the two departments. Because the smaller town workload of the two jobs allows for the overlap, Mikeal is able to fill both roles. But generally, the higher the population, the busier the jobs of both the town paramedics and their police force.
Why Become a Police Officer?
Both EMTs and Police Officers are considered first responders, but where an EMT or paramedic primarily responds to medical emergencies, police officers respond to an infinite range of situations—there is no such thing as a routine day.
A police officer is intended to be the first line of defense between civilians and anything that may harm them—the “thin blue line,” as it’s known. And if you’re the type of person who wishes to be a public servant and help as many people as possible, a career as a police officer is an excellent way to do so.
Police Officer Salary
On average, police officers enjoy a higher salary* than EMTs. Furthermore, police officer benefits typically include generous medical, dental, and vision coverage plus uniform allowance, holiday pay, paid vacation, sick leave, and other perks that EMTs may not.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary* earned by a police officer is about $71,000, which is about $34 per hour. Police Officers earning salaries in the top 10 percent can make as much as $103,000 or more per year.
Of course, the pay can vary according to where you serve geographically as well as where your specific duty takes you in terms of the industry you serve in. These are the top-paying industries for police officers according to the BLS:
|Industry||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|Federal Executive Branch||$30.51||$63,450|
|Colleges, Universities & Professional Schools||$28.90||$60,120|
|Elementary and Secondary Schools||$26.35||$54,810|
Police Officer Job Outlook
The job outlook for police officers is also an enticing factor, with the BLS predicting a 7% increase in overall employment between 2020 and 2030. About 67,100 openings for police and detectives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Where Do Police Officers Get Paid the Most?
Of course, location matters just as much as the industry when it comes to police officer pay. Salaries can vary greatly by city and by state. According to the BLS, these are the highest-paying states for police officers:
Highest Paying States for Police Officers
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Police Officers
According to the BLS, these are the highest-paying cities for police officers:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$60.56||$125,960|
|San Francisco, CA||$56.95||$118,450|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$50.99||$106,050|
|Santa Cruz, CA||$50.20||$104,420|
|Santa Barbara, CA||$50.16||$104,340|
|Los Angeles, CA||$49.72||$103,410|
|San Luis Obispo, CA||$49.08||$102,090|
Becoming a Police Officer
For an EMT to become a police officer, a good bit of additional police training is, of course, required—and it’s all covered during your time in the police academy. There you’ll receive a combination of classroom, hands-on, and physical training to help prepare you for a demanding job in the police force. Classes will include:
- Traffic management
- Patrol procedures
- Firearm training
- Investigative techniques
- Defensive driving
- Computer skills, and
- State laws
Police Officer Requirements
What are the requirements for police academy admissions?
In order to even apply for the police academy, you’ll need to meet the following requirements (some requirements may vary according to individual academy policy):
- High school diploma or GED (some states require additional college credits)
- Good physical condition
- Minimum age of 21 (this can vary by state)
- Valid driver’s license
- No felony or drug convictions
- Must be able to legally possess a firearm
- Must pass a physical fitness exam and drug test
Many police academies will also require you to pass an entrance exam. Tests cover basic cognitive skills, language, math, and problem-solving (if you’ve successfully completed your EMT training and certification, this should be no problem).
Police Exam & Certification
How do I become certified as a police officer?
Once you’ve completed your police academy training, the next step is to take your state’s Police Officer Certification Exam. The questions for this exam come straight from your textbooks, so be sure to pay close attention and, of course, study hard. Taking practice tests online is a great way to prepare, but nothing is better at getting the information into your head than reading and understanding the curriculum. If you apply the same dedication and focus you used to acquire your EMT certification, your police officer certification exam should be equally successful.
Police Academy Cost
How much does it cost to become a police officer?
Police academies are typically affiliated with local community colleges and training centers, and tuition is usually less than $5000. Be sure to ask because some police departments will even reimburse those tuition expenses after you’ve been hired. But as you’re putting together your schooling budget, don’t forget to include the additional costs of gas (driving to and from classes), books, school supplies, and any hours you’ll miss at work due to classes.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Police Officer?
Police academy duration varies from state to state, but most academies will average about 800 credit hours (around 21 weeks of classes). For example, here’s what a police recruit in the city of Los Angeles can expect:
- Academics: 230 hours
- Driving: 40 hours
- Firearms: 113 hours
- Human Relations: 100 hours
- Law: 105 hours
- Physical Training: 142 hours
- Tactics: 98 hours
- TOTAL: 828 hours
How Do I Become a SWAT Medic?
One position that perfectly combines law enforcement training with emergency medical training is the job of SWAT Medic, a vital part of any city’s SWAT team. Many SWAT medics do the opposite of going from EMT to the force by starting as police officers who then take additional emergency medical training. But if you’re already certified as a paramedic, you’re more than halfway there!
Becoming a SWAT medic requires additional tactical training in addition to your normal police academy and EMT training. Candidates attend TEMS training (Tactical Emergency Medical Services), where they learn specific vital skills such as suspect restraint, additional firearms training, hostage survival, team wellness, ballistic wound treatment, pediatric trauma, biological threats, tactical gear, forensic evidence, and more.
Life as a Police Officer
What Does a Police Officer Do?
The work hours for police officers are similar to those of EMTs and paramedics–both work shifts that cover the full 24-hours in a day… after all, emergencies can happen at any time.
A police officer can expect to work a full 40 hours per week, typically broken up into 8-hour days, although some precincts have begun experimenting with 10- and 12-hour shifts.
As with an EMT, there are no “black-out” days on the calendar for work—in other words, weekends and holidays still need someone on duty.
And, also like an EMT, there is no way to predict exactly what you may witness or experience during any given shift. Some days, an officer will spend most of his or her time at their desk doing paperwork. Other days, they may spend their shift outside the police building responding to calls.
Your day will also depend on what type of police career you choose to pursue, as there are many specializations. You could work with an investigative unit (CSI, for example), or with the police dogs of the K-9 unit, with community relations, with SWAT (special weapons and tactics), harbor patrol, motorcycle patrol, or you may even spend your shift on horseback. The possibilities are endless, and you can control your destiny.
Climbing the Police Officer Ranks
As a police officer, the opportunities for advancement are constant. Police departments follow a military-like ranking structure, and your hard work and perseverance (along with successfully passing a few more exams) can help you climb the ranks steadily. The order of rank, from lowest to highest, is as follows:
- Officer / Deputy / Trooper / Corporal
- Detective / Inspector / Investigator
- Deputy Chief of Police
- Assistant Chief of Police / Assistant Commissioner
- Chief of Police / Commissioner / Superintendent
Are You Ready?
A police officer’s work is not easy. But then again, neither is the work of an EMT. Both require a great deal of inner (and often outer) strength. Successful police officers and EMTs can put the needs of others ahead of their own and truly want to serve and protect their community. For this reason (and many more), the type of person who makes a good EMT or paramedic is also the type of person who can make an excellent police officer–and police departments across the country can greatly benefit from more of them.
If you’re considering emergency medical training as a first step toward a life as a police officer, be sure to check out the Unitek EMT program to see how we can prepare you to earn your EMT certification and send you on your way to an enriching career in uniform.