Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide
to a Career in Law Enforcement

A Most Honorable
Important Profession
Copyright © 2018  Barry M. Baker  

Detective Lieutenant
Barry M. Baker retired
from the Baltimore Police
Department in 2004.  
During his thirty-two year
career, Baker served as a
patrol officer, sergeant,
and lieutenant, as well as a special
operations lieutenant and detective
lieutenant.  Baker spent the first twenty
years of his career as a patrol officer,
making him uniquely qualified to speak
from a breadth and depth of experience.
There are Five Indispensable Truths
for a Successful Police Career:
The Police Hiring Process
Do you have a particular police
department in mind?
Let’s say you’re considering a police career
with the Baltimore Police Department.  You
Google, Baltimore Police Department
application process, and the first return is
Hiring Process

Civil Service Test
Preliminary Interview
Background Investigation
Polygraph Examination
Psychological Examination
Physical Examination


Minimum Qualifications

Must be a U.S. citizen
Posess a valid driver’s full license
Must be 20 years of age and 9 months upon
beginning the academy
Must have a high school diploma or GED
Must be able to pass an extensive background
Some police department websites offer more
information than others.  Large police
departments are generally in a cycle of
continual recruitment; whereas, small police
departments experience a significantly lower
rate of turnover.  The small police department
may only direct you to submit a generalized
application that covers all local government
employment.  If and when a police position
opens, your application will be on file.

Let’s break down the main components of the
hiring process:

Civil Service Test – In my opinion, the civil
service test is not that difficult.  If you have an
average IQ, and you received a reasonably
good high school education, this part of the
hiring process should be a mere formality.

However, I'm sure you've heard the phrase
"famous last words."

There is never any substitute for preparation.

Preliminary Interview – This is really
important.  You must be totally honest with the
interviewers.  You must not lie or obfuscate
when answering any questions put to you.  
Remember, you’ll still have a background
investigation to get through.

Background Investigation - Here’s a list of
background check subjects listed on the
Baltimore County Police Department’s website:
Employment history
Criminal record and arrest history
Driving record
Credit history
Military history
Personal references
Residential history
Polygraph examination
Psychological examination
Polygraph Examination – Some people really
freak out on this one.  As long as you haven’t
withheld important information during your
interview, you shouldn’t have any problems
with the polygraph examination.  You might like
read about my experience with the
polygraph.  Believe me; it’s all about the
polygraph examiner.

Psychological Examination – No police
department wants to hire an individual with
serious psychological problems.  Again, as
long as you’re a reasonably well adjusted
person, you won’t have a problem.

Physical Examination – You’ll undergo a
physical examination by a physician
designated by the police department.  You
should know going in if you have a medical
history which might disqualify you from police
There are some police departments that
require a higher level of education than a high
school diploma or GED.  Also, most
Law Enforcement Agencies require a minimum
of a Bachelor’s degree for entry level hiring.  
I’ve gone into
detail here regarding education
and how it will affect your hiring and
subsequent career advancement.

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

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The national average for police academy
training is 21 weeks.  Some will be
shorter in duration with others as much
as 27 weeks.  Figure on spending 6
months in classroom and practical
training instruction.

Generally, you’ll commute daily for
training.  The exception is state police
academies which conduct their training on
a more military style model.  For example,
if you’re attending the
State Police Academy, you’ll reside on site
in a dormitory and begin your day with a
morning run at 5:30 am.  Your classroom
instruction will last until 8:00 pm.  You
will get personal time from 8 pm until
lights out at 9:30 pm.  This will be your
schedule Monday thru Friday.  

More police academies are providing
college credits for your classroom
instruction.  If you complete the
State Police Academy, you’ll have 45
college credits toward a degree.  That’s a
big deal when you consider the cost of a
four year degree.  This is something you
should consider when choosing a police

Each state has a commission for police
training standards or Police Officer
Standards and Training (POST).  You can
visit your state’s
POST website to learn
the training requirements in your state.
17 self-help articles to aid you
in the police hiring process
Police Academy
This is a very clean and concise page with all
the important information to include: