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How many years of school does a law enforcement officer have to go through?

I was wondering how many years of schooling does a law enforcement officer need?

law-enforcement police

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Kim’s Answer


It used to be that you didn't need any college. Nowadays, many departments require at least an Associates degree. Sometimes they will waive that if you have military experience. Sometimes they will take you if you have some college with no degree, and give you time to finish your schooling after you are hired. BUT, if you don't get it done, they will fire you. It's possible to find a department that doesn't require college, but, they will probably pay less. These tend to be the rural police/sheriff positions.

The nice thing about law enforcement is many agencies offer tuition assistance. That helps a lot. Many also offer certification pay and/or degree pay. The more training and education you have, the more you get paid.

Law Enforcement is a constantly evolving profession. You will be required to complete additional training hours every year after graduating from the academy. With the laws constantly changing, it's important to keep up!

You should look at the websites for various departments in your area to see what the requirements are. You will see that they are all different. You should also look at the website for the state licensing agency, which establishes minimum standards that all agencies in the state must follow.

Wow! I just looked at Des Moines PD, and they don't require anything beyond HS and age 21. But, the best thing to do is talk to a recruiter.

Des Moines also has reserve police officers and a citizens police academy. Programs like that will give you exposure to the world of law enforcement, and you will get to know some of the officers.

Good luck to you!

sorry I got your name wrong! Kim Igleheart

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Stephen’s Answer

Andrew! I hope Iowa is treating you well man. So here's the scoop, your question about how many years of school does a law enforcement officer have to go through is a bit more complex than it sounds. The short answer is that law enforcement officers NEVER get to stop going to school! We continue to go to schools and take classes even after we're on the job. As far as required schooling prior to being hired, it varies by department and state. Many of the smaller departments require only that you to have a high school diploma or GED, while others prefer a 2 or 4 year degree. I'm a firm believer that the amount of school you end up taking really depends on your individual situation and the department you hope to work for. I can tell you that by having that 4 year degree you may end up making more money as some departments pay additional per hour rates for having a degree. It can also help you get into a position later, after you've been an officer for a while. Say you decide you want to join the FBI or a similar agency, many of them require a degree and some won't accept service time as a replacement.

Back to my initial response though, as a law enforcement officer you will continue to go to schools and will continue to learn every day of your career. You'll never know it all and this is a good thing because the job is always changing. Being the best you can be isn't about knowing all of the answers. It's about knowing how to find the answers when you need them.

If you have any further questions feel free to ask. Don't hesitate to research the departments locally or federally that you're interested in going to work for so that you can make your plans based on their requirements or preferences. It's good to get in touch with them early. See if they have any sort of volunteer programs that you can help with as this will help you make contacts and you will also be able to show your attitude and work ethic long before you're hoping for a full time position as an officer. And keep in mind that NOW is the time that you need to be maintaining good moral character and making good choices as you'll be answering for your choices in a background check if you apply to be an officer.

Best wishes and thanks for your interest in serving your community!!!

Stephen A. Brunner-Murphy
Detective (Ret.)
Hamilton Montana Police Department

Stephen recommends the following next steps:

Review requirements at local departments
Volunteer in any programs offered by law enforcement agencies in your area
Know the difference in benefits for having a degree rather than just looking at the minimum requirements
Stay safe, and take care of yourself and others
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Hilary’s Answer

The typical amount of schooling it takes for a police officer to get a great foundation in criminal justice is a four-year degree from an accredited college. However, there are community colleges that have associates degrees for only two years of school. If you take the two-year route, make sure to return to school and get your bachelor's degree because this will help you with promotions.
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Divita’s Answer

Each department is different. For Maryland State Police you only need a high school diploma. However we are very competitive and get thousands of applications but only hire the Best which is about 120 Troopers in a year. Our academy is live in for 6 months and then your field training is 2 months.