How to Become a Police Officer in California

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Becoming a police officer in California requires formal training and may also require experience. Age requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another. A high school diploma is the minimum educational qualification, and some organizations prefer or require a college education. Police officers in California include the members of the California Highway Patrol as well as local police. The CHP may have different requirements than a local police force. Bilingual candidates may have an advantage in some areas of California.

Skills and Characteristics

  • All police officers need specific skills to be successful at their jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that two important qualities are communication skills and empathy. Good judgment is necessary for high-stress or dangerous situations. Police often fill a leadership role in the community and must be comfortable with being highly visible to the public. A police officer should be able to anticipate what another person is likely to do and to understand people’s motivations. Physical stamina and strength are necessary both to pass the entry tests and to perform many of the daily tasks involved in being a police officer.

Basic Police Training

  • California police officers must complete training at the police academy; CHP cadets attend the CHP academy. Training typically covers topics such as criminal law, cultural diversity, investigative procedures, defensive tactics, firearms, traffic enforcement, accident investigation and first aid. Prerequisites for the programs include a high school diploma or GED and the ability to pass physical agility tests. Police academy training takes about six months, and CHP academy training takes about a year.

Applications and Background Checks

  • Most police departments post their open positions locally, although some may also use online posting services and print publications to disseminate information. The CHP has a recruiting division, and applicants can obtain information there. Once an applicant completes the application, one or more interviews are typical. Some police departments may give preference to veterans. In addition, applicants can't have a felony conviction and must be citizens or permanent resident aliens who are eligible and have applied for citizenship. CHP officers must be citizens at the time of appointment. Applicants must also pass a background check that includes a criminal record review and check on their moral character. A polygraph test may also be mandatory.

Local Preferences and Requirements

  • Each police department may have specific requirements or preferences that a candidate must meet to become a police officer. For example, in Los Angeles, permanent resident aliens must not only apply for U.S. citizenship but become citizens within three years of their application date. Los Angeles also conducts financial background checks prior to hire. The Fresno Police Department specifically targets hiring members of minority groups, as long as they meet requirements. In San Francisco, people previously restricted from employment with the city or county of San Francisco can't become police officers. In the far northern California town of Redding, a prospective police officer must have completed at least 30 semester college units and have up to one year of street experience with a municipality, sheriff’s office or the equivalent.

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