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The Qualifications for Chief of Police

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Becoming the chief of police can be a good career move for law enforcement officers. Based on reports by the International City-County Management Association, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the average minimum salary of police chiefs nationwide was $90,570 in May 2008. However, becoming a police chief does not happen overnight. Qualifications for police chiefs tends to vary by location, but some basic qualifications are typically common.


The chief of police is typically expected to have an advanced level of education beyond what is required of other police officers. Both large and smaller cities tend to prefer applicants that have a bachelor's degree. Some cities like Austin, Texas, require a bachelor's degree but prefer applicants with a master's degree. Other experience or advanced certifications can be substituted for higher-level degrees in some instances. A degree in a field like criminology or even management can be helpful for aspiring police chiefs.


Experience is essential to obtain a position as a police chief. The chief of police is similar to the CEO of a corporation or even a executive officer in government. The chief is in charge of ensuring that the day-to-day activities of the police department are carried out. Larger police departments tend to prefer applicants that have several years of experience working as a mid- to upper-level management professional or as an assistant police chief. Austin, for example, requires five years of experience. Previous experience as police or security officer may be required of those applying from a management background in an area other than law enforcement.


Some states require certification of police officers through a training academy sponsored by the state. The process of certification is also an ongoing phenomenon that many police officers complete at various stages throughout their career. For instance, the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement Standards and Education offers a master certification for experienced officers that can go a long way toward qualifying applicants to work as a chief of police. Some police departments will allow certification as a substitute for some of the education requirements.

Other Basic Qualifications

Police chiefs usually need to meet a number of other basic qualifications also in order to qualify for a position. Candidates need to be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen before they can apply. A clean criminal record is also necessary to work as a high-level police officer. A polygraph examination and psychological examination may be required also, especially if the candidate is coming from a non-law enforcement position or has been out of the law enforcement field for a considerable period of time.