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Here are some of the things you should be doing if you wish to become an exceptional police officer


It takes self discipline, time and commitment to excel at any profession.


Article updated on November 6, 2017.

In addition to your exceptional testing skills, lady luck has a role in the promotional testing process. Why? Because you need to have enough time in grade – usually three or four years at your current rank – at the exact time your department will be administering a promotional examination. Miss the cutoff date by a couple of months, and it could be years before the list eventually expires and even longer before another test is given.

As luck would have it you might have seven or eight years on the job before even having the opportunity to compete for higher rank. What you do in the meantime – before the actual test announcement – will have a dramatic impact on your law enforcement career, as well as how well you do when given the opportunity to test for promotion.

Here are some of the things I believe you should be doing if you wish to become an exceptional police officer.

Academic Education

I routinely administer police examinations and it has become a rarity to see an officer receive a promotion – especially to the higher ranks of Lieutenant, Captain and above – who doesn’t have at least a bachelor degree. It’s not just about being able to say to an oral board, “I have a baccalaureate and I’m working on my masters.” It’s been my experience that officers who go to college are better test-takers than those who do not. There is no substitute for being in the “studying mode” and consistently taking a wide variety of tests.

If you haven’t taken a test since high school, you will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes time to take your promotional exam. Merely taking some practice tests in the back of a book you bought on “How to Excel in Police Promotional Examinations” won’t put you in the same ball park with competitors who have developed superior test taking skills. Most of those folks are able to quickly eliminate two of the four answer selections on a multiple choice test and focus just one the two remaining selections to choose the correct answer. They achieve this capability through practice obtained by taking lots of college exams.

In addition, since college students do a lot of formal writing – essays, research reports and term papers – they also achieve higher scores on essay questions and in-basket assessment center testing.

Most of the command-level police officers I come into contact with have either an MBA or a MPA, both of which not only advance their law enforcement career, but have viability if they chose to go into the private sector after pulling the pin.

In addition to preparing for promotion by going to college, you will also be taking a significant step for life after your police career. It’s no longer unusual to see a police officer retire with half pay or more at the age of 41 or thereabouts. What are you going to do for the rest of your life? If you retire at $50K, but your lifestyle is at $90K, where will the other $40K come from? Have you prepared to make the transition from policing to another job? Many retired, middle-aged police officers I know look inside themselves and discover nothing there but the silence of lost opportunities. Don’t let this happen to you!

If you have served for 20 years or more – made detective, sergeant or above, and have a Masters Degree in Public Administration – you have made yourself very marketable.

Begin by asking yourself, “What are my goals for the next six months? What are my goals for a year from now? What about five years from now? What will I do to achieve those goals? What do I want to accomplish personally and professionally?”

Remember, nothing good comes easy.

police Training

Why not become a graduate student within your own profession? Self learning was around long before our colleges and universities. What part of police work are you most interested in? Is it accident investigation, forensics, EOD, homicide, firearms or something else?

Choose a specialty – then read all you can about it. Attend schools and seminars and become a nationally known expert. Commit yourself totally to new learning and people will begin coming to you for advice and counsel. Make yourself valuable to the organization.

Write an article about an area in which you have become an expert, then submit it to Police1. If you are a ranking member of your department, attend the National Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy. Few credentials can match graduating from the FBI Academy, especially if you’re interested in becoming a police chief or entering the private sector in a police-related job.

Develop Your Personal Skills

Ask – and answer – the questions that lead you to examine the following skills, habits and abilities about yourself and strive to improve them.

1. What is the manner in which you speak and listen to others?

  • Is your grammar and vocabulary appropriate to the audience?
  • Do you use good taste, manners, and courtesy when speaking with others?
  • Do you approach others in a cheerful, warm tone of voice?
  • Do you respect the opinions of others even though they may conflict with your own?
  • Are you a good listener, or do you frequently interrupt others when they are talking?
  • Is it possible for you to disagree without being disagreeable?

2. How do you act physically?

  • Are you physically graceful and poised?
  • Do you walk with confidence and good carriage?
  • How do you look?
  • What part does your posture, stature, physical fitness, and grooming play in how you relate with others?

3. Are you in harmony emotionally?

  • Do you hide your emotions or display them in an appropriate way?
  • Are you emotionally balanced? Do you project a dull or negative outlook to others?
  • Do you analyze and reason through problems and opportunities properly?
  • Do you jump to conclusions or reason from facts?
  • Do you allow prejudice, tradition, and wishful thinking to influence you?
  • To what extent do you use your abilities to acquire knowledge?
  • Do you value time and use it to your best advantage?

4. What about your ethics?

  • Do you abide by the code of honor you swore to when you pinned on the badge and became a police officer?
  • Are you ethical, moral and trustworthy?
  • Are you a care-giver?
  • How willing are you to help others?
  • How much of yourself are you willing to give without receiving anything in return?

Final Thoughts

These are some of the things it takes to be exceptional. None of them are easy to do because they take self discipline, time and commitment. Make the effort. You’re worth it!

Career expert teaches how to prepare for and excel on police promotion examinations.