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Law enforcement is steady work that doesn't let up when the economy goes bad. Not only does it offer decent pay, with the median salary for an officer in 2004 over $45,000 and several major cities paying even more for entry level officers, police work offers flexible hours, over-time pay, vacation time and benefits. The responsibilities of an officer, however, are significant and rigid requirements help ensure only qualified individuals land the job.
Not everyone is fit to be a police officer. The requirements serve to ensure that everyone on the force has at least a minimum standard of intelligence and physical fitness needed for the job. As part of the process, an applicant's vision and hearing are tested, in addition to agility and strength, ensuring they are capable. Police work involves the use of computers and other high tech communications equipment, and a thorough knowledge of the law, so educational requirements exist as well.
Becoming a police officer does not require advanced degrees, but, at the very least, a high school diploma, or its equivalent is required by every police force. Some will also ask for an associate or bachelor's degree, usually in criminal justice. A written civil service exam is also given upon application to test basic knowledge of government and legal issues. Military service is also a good preparation for work as a police officer, and is highly regarded. After hiring, police officers are expected to attend seminars and workshops as part of their continuing education.
An important part of becoming a police officer is a background check. While a minor criminal record would probably not disqualify an applicant, a felony or other serious indiscretions almost definitely would. A history of drug abuse could also prevent someone from becoming a police officer, and drug testing is a standard requirement for the position.
The requirements for becoming a police officer attempt to evaluate how an individual would function in the field. Because officers not only have to apprehend bad guys, but collect evidence for use in a criminal trial, the written police exam tests such aptitudes as memory, judgment and reasoning, directional orientation, reading comprehension, as well as basic math, grammar, vocabulary and spelling.
Though many police programs require applicants to have a valid driver's license, other skills, such as the use of firearms are taught through special academy training once an individual is hired. To make themselves more desirable applicants, some prospective officers attend private police academy training to garner these skills in advance.
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Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.