Behind the Badge: What Departments Are Looking For

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Have you dreamt of being a police officer since you were a child? If so, you aren’t alone. As of 2006, there were just over 680,000 full-time police officers in the country. That number is even higher today. Of these hundreds of thousands of men and women, all had a dream: to protect and serve the public citizens of the United States.

Unfortunately, having the desire to protect people is only the beginning. You’ve got to have that and so much more to stand behind the badge. Here’s what the average department looks for when hiring new recruits:


Police Week May 15, 2010

A criminal justice degree can go a long way in helping you climb the ranks within a police department. Officers with rank are expected to know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, and many departments will not promote those without, at a minimum, an associate’s degree. Additionally, many civil service exams offer extra points for those candidates already holding a degree, giving you a leg up on the competition.


There’s a stereotype of the cop sitting in the doughnut shop resting on his laurels. While just about everyone loves a good doughy treat, cops, in reality, must be physically fit in order to do their jobs effectively. Imagine being 100 pounds overweight trying to chase down a suspect. Because departments expect that their officers are able to do their jobs without having to stop to catch their breath, most require that a physical fitness test be passed as part of the application process and annually thereafter.


It can be difficult to listen to the same stories every shift and to arrest the same people on a rotating basis without becoming jaded. Police officers see and hear it all. The best of the best are able to remain empathetic to people and their unique situations. While you don’t necessarily have to be sympathetic, you do have to possess the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Police Woman

4.Thick Skin

Not everyone is appreciative of the police. In truth, some people downright despise them. Police officers have to have a thick skin in order to do their jobs. As an officer, you need to be able to separate the uniform from the self. People screaming in your face are screaming at a cop, not the person standing behind the badge.

5.Decision-Making Skills

While you may be partnered with another cop while on duty, there are few times that you will have a supervisor looking over your shoulder dictating how to do your job. A good police officer is able to work unsupervised, utilizing excellent decision-making skills. Who will you arrest and who will you warn? When will you give chase and when will you call it off? A hefty dose of common sense is part of what makes a great officer.

There are many more attributes that go into making a police officer. The five listed above are just a smattering of what it takes to be a cop. If you’ve dreamt of a career in law enforcement, do more research to find out if you’ve got what it takes.

John Acker is thinking of taking an online PHD in criminal justice course or maybe start with a criminal justice associate degree online as a new career choice.