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How to Become a Police Lieutenant

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Police lieutenants are mid-rank officers in police forces. Working under the administrative direction of a captain, they supervise the operations of a police unit within a police department. These officers set the unit's goals, maintain communication with other units and assign tasks to junior officers. Aspiring lieutenants need a post secondary credential and relevant work experience to get the job.

Earn a Degree

Although many entry-level police officer jobs require only a high school diploma, aspiring police lieutenants should obtain an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice, police science or law enforcement administration. These programs enhance graduates' knowledge of law enforcement ethics, community policing, police administration and the U.S. criminal justice system, making them more suited to the role of a lieutenant.

Master the Skills

Police lieutenants need strong analytical and problem-solving skills to evaluate law enforcement issues and find resolutions. Lieutenants in charge of a street crimes unit, for example, might search for effective ways to eradicate gun violence. To ensure a unit runs efficiently, these officers require strong skills in personnel management. They must be able to supervise junior police officers and delegate responsibility accordingly. Police lieutenants need strong planning, coordinating and communication skills to organize officer training and evaluation programs, as well as respond to public requests for information.

Improve Competence

Some educational institutions, including Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety, offer leadership courses for law enforcement officers aspiring to take up supervisory positions. For instance, prospective lieutenants can enroll in the center's Supervision of Police Personnel program, which is designed to enhance their knowledge of motivational principles and sharpen their decision-making and leadership abilities. You should also consider joining a professional association such as the National Association of Police Organizations. This demonstrates your dedication to the field and gives you a chance to learn about law enforcement trends that might prove useful in your quest to become police lieutenant.

Climb the Ladder

Police lieutenants must work their way up from entry-level police officer jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most police officers are eligible for promotion after a probationary period. The BLS says promotions to higher positions such as sergeant and lieutenant are typically based on your level of experience and on-the-job performance, as well as how you've scored on written exams. You can enhance your prospects of getting promoted by building an exceptional service record and taking the initiative to expand your expertise and skills through additional training.


Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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