For people considering a career in law enforcement, the great state of California is the land of opportunity, offering more than just sunshine and surf. From Los Angeles to San Francisco and everywhere in between, Californian police departments are facing recruiting shortfalls. It also frequently tops the list of highest-paying states for police officers, with an average salary of $105,220.
With such good prospects for employment and compensation, policing is a great option for anyone looking to make a difference and serve the community in California.
What it takes to become a police officer is a little different depending on where you are located, because there are 509 different law enforcement agencies in California. Most of them follow a set of standard guidelines outlined by the state government.
Here’s what it takes to start your career in law enforcement in the sunshine state:
What Are the Minimum Requirements to Become a Police Officer in California?
Of the 509 law enforcement agencies in California, most of them follow POST requirements from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
It’s always a good idea to double-check the requirements for the agency you have your sights on, but aiming to meet the prerequisites outlined in POST will help you on your journey to becoming a police officer in the Golden State.
For most agencies, the minimum requirements are:
- Age: As of the end of 2021, police officers must be at least 21 years of age. This requirement has recently been increased from 18, after bills were put forward aiming to increase the minimum age to 25.
- Citizenship: Applicants must be US citizens or permanent resident aliens who are eligible and have applied for citizenship. California Highway Patrol specifically requires applicants to be US citizens at the time of application.
- Education: Applicants must have graduated from an accredited US high school or equivalent. Some police departments require college units and/or a college degree.
Be aware that by June 2025, prospective police officers will be required to graduate from a modern policing degree program.
- Valid California Driver’s License: Prospective police officers must have a valid driver’s license in the state of California. While there is no specific requirement for a clean driving record, it is helpful to not have any repeat infractions or traffic violations, which will be uncovered when your background check is completed.
- Criminal Record Background Check: Anyone hoping to join a police department in California will have better luck in their application process if they have a history of following the law. Police officers cannot have any felony convictions on the record, and will also be barred from entry to the police force if they have specific misdemeanors— chiefly those that would prevent you from owning, possessing, or controlling a firearm.
What Is the Maximum Age to Become a Police Officer in California?
There is no standard upper age limit to become a police officer in California. It’s important to double check that with the agency to which you are applying, but generally speaking, if you’re able to meet the fitness and health standards for the force, you can apply.
What Are the Steps to Become a Police Officer in California?
If you meet the minimum requirements as set out by POST or the individual department to which you are applying, you can start the process of applying to become a police officer.
As with the minimum requirements, most police departments follow the state’s POST guidelines, but some have their own unique requirements. It is always best to look at the recruitment information for the specific police department you are hoping to work for, but generally speaking, the steps to becoming a Police Officer are:
Apply to Become a Police Officer
As with most jobs, the first step is to apply. You can’t get hired by an agency if your hat isn’t in the ring.
Pass Background Checks
In order to be hired, you’ll need to pass a number of background checks. This may even include taking a polygraph test. According to POST guidelines, this is to make sure that the applicant is of ‘good moral character.’ Your past behavior will be very closely scrutinized.
Pass the Medical Exam and Psychological Evaluation
A crucial step in the process is proving that you are healthy enough to do the job—both physically and mentally. Police work can be hard on the body as well as the mind, and applicants need to be in good health in order to handle the stress that comes with the job.
In the examinations, you’ll be assessed for any possible reason why you might not be able to perform the job safely and properly. These evaluations are conducted by licensed physicians and/or the psychologists employed by the policing agency’s hiring department.
Write the Personal Qualifications Essay
Depending on which agency you’re applying for, some counties require a Personal Qualifications Essay, commonly called a PQE. The test requires you to write essays in response to questions about your own personal qualifications to be a police officer. They are evaluated based on your writing skills and demonstrated effectiveness in judgment and decision-making.
It is important to use good examples that showcase your abilities and potential, provide enough detail to make your essay clear and easy to read, stay on topic, provide all the information asked for in the questions, and write well with good spelling and grammar.
In Los Angeles, applicants have to get a score of at least 70 in order to be considered for the list of qualified candidates. If you don’t get a high enough score on the first attempt, you can retake the test after six months.
Take a Literacy Test
Police officers in California are required to take a reading and writing ability test before they can advance through the recruitment process.
Take a Physical Ability Test
Policing is a very physically demanding occupation. Police officers in California, much like the rest of the nation, are required to pass a physical fitness test.
The physical fitness tests typically measure things like push-ups, sit-ups and running, like the famous six-minute mile, to ensure applicants are fit enough to keep up with the demands of policing.
The test itself will vary depending on where you’re applying. Many agencies have their own specific physical ability test outlines available online so that applicants can prepare—like this one from the San Francisco Police Department
Prior to any appointment being made, applicants must take part in an oral interview. The point of the oral interview is to assess the candidate’s oral communication skills and other factors that might impact their ability to do their job well. Clear communication is of the utmost importance when you’re interacting with the public or involved in a tense situation.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Police Officer in California?
The whole process of becoming a police officer can take anywhere from six to twelve months depending on how you perform and general scheduling issues.
Does California Have a Police Academy?
The POST-certified Regular Basic Course (basic academy) is the training standard for police officers, deputy sheriffs, school district police officers, district attorney investigators, as well as a few other classifications of peace officers for the state of California. These are the required training that an individual must past:
- The basic academy is both physically and mentally challenging. It includes a minimum of 664 hours of POST-developed training and testing in 42 separate areas of instruction called Learning Domains. Most POST-certified basic training academies exceed the 664 hour minimum by 200 or more hours with some academies presenting over 1000 hours of training and testing.
- 40 plus hours are spent alone in the range for an officer to learn, qualify, and show proficiency using issued firearms for their handgun, long rifle, and less lethal. There is a 30% failure rate, because of qualifications to pass the day and night range.
- 40 plus hours in the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course. There is a 30% failure rate for this and if you combine the Firearms Range and EVOC-that is simply 60% of the class.
- The students attending the academy are subject to various written, skill, exercise, and scenario-based tests. Students must also participate in a rigorous physical conditioning program which culminates in a Work Sample Test Battery (physical ability test) at the end of the academy. Students must pass all written and physical tests in order to graduate from the basic academy.
There are two different course format options for taking the Regular Basic Course: intensive and extended. The intensive format is a full-time academy that typically runs throughout the regular workweek, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Alternatively, the extended format is a part-time program that meets on evenings and weekends. This is a great option for applicants who are working or studying and getting ready for their career as a Police Officer.
How Long is Police Academy in California?
The Regular Basic Course has a minimum requirement of 664 hours. How long it takes to complete those hours depends on whether you’re enrolled in the intensive or extended program.
How Much Do You Get Paid in the Police Academy in California?
Your salary while in the police academy program is dependent on the city or town where you are enrolled.
Prepare for Your Career in Law Enforcement
For those considering a career in law enforcement in California, there has never been a better time. With great salaries and police shortages across the state, now is the time to put the wheels in motion.
Employment in the security industry is a great steppingstone and starting point to prove to Californian police departments that you have what it takes to meet their requirements and join the force. At PalAmerican, we offer industry-leading training for Security Officers to equip you with the necessary skills for a successful application. Through specialized courses, continuous mentorship and coaching, we ensure that our employees are ready to perform with the tools and confidence they need to be successful. Contact our Sacramento location to gain valuable training and experience in the security industry in California.
Check out our careers page for countless high-profile, dynamic and challenging work locations where you can hone your skills, gain experience, enhance your resume and prepare yourself for a career in policing.