How to become a police officer in California
Like most of the country, California is in need of police officers; here's what you need to know
By Police1 Staff
It doesn’t get much better than the Golden State. From the stunning sequoias in Yosemite to the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica, California truly has something for everyone.
And with a total of 509 law enforcement agencies in the state, there are plenty of places to choose from. Here's how to become a police officer in California.
[Looking to get into law enforcement for the first time? Download a veteran police officer's list of the 10 questions you need to ask yourself before taking the path outlined below.]
WHAT ARE THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS?
Here’s a look at the minimum requirements to become a police officer in California. Keep in mind that the majority of police departments in the state follow POST requirements. You can find the agencies that don’t here – their requirements may vary, but are likely to be similar to the below:
- You must be at least 21 years old.
- You must be a citizen of the US through either naturalization or birth.
- You must have attained either your high school diploma or GED. Some agencies may require a 4-year degree or an associate’s degree. (By June 2025, prospective officers will be required to complete a modern policing degree program; the state is currently working to develop that curriculum.)
- You must have a valid driver’s license.
- No felony convictions or misdemeanors that prohibit ownership, possession or control of a firearm.
WHAT IS THE EMPLOYMENT PROCESS?
From there, the employment process to become a police officer in California is:
- Submit an application.
- You must pass a number of background checks that may include a polygraph. "Past behavior will be closely scrutinized," reads the LAPD recruitment website, "and only candidates with the highest probability of success will be appointed as Police Officers."
- Undergo a medical exam.
- Some counties also require a Personal Qualifications Essay (PQE). In Los Angeles, a score of over 70 is required to be added to a list of qualified candidates. You may re-take this test again in 6 months if you don’t get a high enough score.
- Undergo a psych exam.
- Take a reading and writing ability test.
- Take a physical ability test. (Here’s an example to give you an idea of what to expect).
- Oral interview
It can take anywhere between six months to a year to complete the hiring process.
WHAT ABOUT BASIC TRAINING?
Completing a basic police academy prior to your hiring is dependent on the agency you apply to. Some will only hire upon completion of the academy; others hire you and then send you through the academy afterward. Check with the agency you’re applying to for further information.
If you’re from another state, keep in mind that California POST does not have reciprocity with other states. POST does offer a Basic Course Waiver (BCW) process for out-of-state cops that you can learn more about here.
HOW DO I MAKE MYSELF MORE MARKETABLE?
California is a highly desirable state to work in, so it doesn’t hurt to stick out from the bunch. Having an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice can be highly beneficial. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t hurt to take some criminology classes to boost your knowledge and expertise. Are you bilingual? Awesome! Many police agencies in the Golden State are searching for candidates who can speak in other languages in addition to English – particularly Spanish.
HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY?
According to the most recent occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and sheriff's patrol officers in California make an average salary of $107,440 per year.
And even though California is one of the most expensive states to live in, the state makes up for that (at least in part) by offering the highest pay to police officers in the country. In fact, cops in California make nearly 60% more than the national average police salary of $67,290.
This article, originally published May 2018, has been updated.
Do you think you have what it takes to be a cop? Download a veteran police officer's list of the 10 questions you need to ask yourself before starting a career in law enforcement by filling out the form below: