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How to become a police officer in California

California employs the largest number of police officers in the country, which is probably not surprising given its sheer size and status as the most populous state in the nation. Hundreds of law enforcement agencies are scattered across the Golden State, so you may be wondering how to join one and become a police officer in California. 

Before diving into specifics, it’s important to note that law enforcement agencies, while they do have to abide by certain statewide minimum standards, can set their own standards in addition to the minimum. The type of agency can also make a difference in their standards and training processes, from local police departments to county sheriff’s offices to state-level agencies like the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

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In the state of California, the term “peace officer” is an all-encompassing term to generally mean all law enforcement officers. This is important to keep in mind because depending on where you are, the term peace officer can mean a different position entirely.  

“Typically, ‘police’ is in reference to municipal officers, so those who work for a city police department are typically called ‘police’ and those who work for a sheriff are ‘deputy’—but as far as the California penal code goes, it’s ‘peace officer’ for everyone,” said Meagan Poulos, the Legislative Liaison and Public Information Officer for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

How to become a police officer in California in 6 steps

Determine if you are eligible to be a police officer in California.

person at desk fills out paperwork while looking at laptop screen

To be a police officer in California, you need to meet certain minimum eligibility requirements that are common for law enforcement officers across the country, such as being at least 21 years of age, possessing a high school diploma or equivalent and passing a background check, to name a few.

Consider getting a college degree.

student writes on whiteboard in classroom with peers seated behind

Due to new legislation that was passed recently in California, the educational requirements for police officers is set to change in the coming years. The details of these new requirements has not yet been determined, but police officers may be required to have a bachelor’s degree starting in 2025. You might consider obtaining a degree in areas such as criminal justice, criminology, forensics and more. Even though it’s not currently required to have a college degree, it could made you a more competitive job candidate anyway.

Decide what kind of role you want and where you want to work.

police officer stands in front of police car talking and smiling with two youths

Your next steps will be determined by what you want to do and where you want to work. Individual law enforcement agencies may have their own requirements, training and application processes beyond the statewide minimum. Some will hire you and put you through training, while others may want you to complete training prior to being hired. Either way, you’ll want to start researching the requirements of your desired position and location.

Complete a Regular Basic Course or CHP Academy course.

cadets in uniform sit at table looking ahead of them

Whether you do it before or after you are hired, you are going to have to some sort of basic training to become a police officer. Law enforcement agencies in the POST program, for example, require their officers to complete the Regular Basic Course (RBC). The RBC is offered in multiple formats, ranging between 664 and 730 hours of instruction depending on the format.

Apply for positions, if applicable.

young police officer leans on police car while filling out paperwork

If you have not already been hired by an agency that put you through training, then it’s time to start looking for positions. New police officers start off in a probationary period where they receive on-the-job training for their particular agency and position.

Consider advancing your education.

small class of six middle aged learners and professor discuss whiteboard

If you want to eventually move up the chain of command, you may need an advanced degree at some point. Continuing your education with an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree could unlock new leadership roles that would otherwise be unavailable to you, if you don’t already have one.

Eligibility requirements for California police officers

Law enforcement agencies in California must follow certain statewide minimum standards for police officers, however, individual agencies may have their own standards beyond the minimum. This could include higher education requirements, drug testing, physical ability testing and more. No matter what, you should always check the requirements of the agency you want to work in to find out what they demand of their police officers.

Statewide requirements for police officers in California

All California peace officers must satisfy the following in order to be considered for employment:

  • Free from employment disqualifications such as felony convictions
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is eligible and has applied for citizenship (CHP officers must be U.S. citizens at time of appointment)
  • 21+ years of age
  • Must be fingerprinted
  • Deemed as having good moral character through a background investigation
  • High school graduate or equivalent
  • Free from any physical, emotional or mental condition which could affect your ability to do your job

POST program

California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) was created to establish minimum standards for law enforcement officers in the state. This organization is voluntary—participating agencies agree to abide by the standards set by POST. There are over 600 agencies in the POST program in California.

“Almost all law enforcement agencies are a part of the POST program here in California,” Poulos said.

In addition to the statewide minimum requirements, POST agencies also require the following from their officers:

  • Reading and writing test
  • Oral interview
  • Thorough background investigation
  • Medical evaluation
  • Psychological evaluation

New legislation for a modern policing degree program

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law the Peace Officers Education and Age Conditions for Employment (PEACE) Act. In addition to raising the minimum age for peace officers from 18 to 21, it calls for the creation of a modern policing degree program. This means that in a few years, California peace officers may have higher educational standards once this program is created.

“The bill requires that the California community colleges work with specific stakeholders, including POST, to come up with recommendations for the legislature on a modern policing degree program. Once those recommendations are submitted, POST has another two years to implement what those recommendations might be,” Poulos said. “Hopefully by 2025, there will be a requirement that every peace officer has to have a modern policing degree and a bachelor’s degree, and that is in addition to going through a [training] academy.”

Getting hired and getting trained

” … the best place to start is with the agency.”

Once you’ve determined that you satisfy the minimum standards for peace officers, your next step is going to be reaching out to the agencies you want to work for to determine what their hiring processes are. 

“Most people start by applying to the agency they want to work for,” Poulos said. “That really is the best route to go. Some agencies can have a stricter hiring standard than what the state requires, so I would say the best place to start is with the agency. Once you go through all of their hiring practices and get hired on, then they’ll send that individual to an academy. But with all of that said, an individual can attend an academy if they wish to without being hired. Once they complete an academy, they have three years to be hired by someone before they have to do it again.”

Most police officers employed by agencies in the POST program must complete a Regular Basic Course (RBC) as their minimum training requirement. The RBC is presented by 42 POST-certified training academies, many of which are community colleges, and has both a standard and modular learning format. Depending on the format, the RBC can consist of 664 -730 hours of instruction.

POST Basic Certificate vs. POST-certified Basic Course

Some employers in the POST program may ask that you possess a POST Basic Certificate. This should not be confused with the certificate of completion that you receive after completing a POST-certified Regular Basic Training. The POST Basic Certificate is awarded to people who have completed a Regular Basic Course and who have served as a full-time officer and completed a minimum 12 months of probation.  

California police officer salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state of California’s police and sheriff’s patrol officers have the highest annual median wage in the country. This could be due to several reasons including the high cost of living in California, especially in cities like Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Jose and San Francisco metro areas have the highest annual median wages in the state. 

Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers
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10%$64,610

25%$80,420

50%$100,330Median

75%$125,310

90%$128,300

Median Hourly Wage$48

Job growth3.1%

Total Employment70,050

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $128,070 $88,810 $162,120
Napa, CA $125,310 $84,070 $127,590
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $125,310 $79,330 $159,510
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $122,910 $83,310 $134,180
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA $106,470 $72,270 $124,840
Salinas, CA $105,730 $64,040 $128,990
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA $102,730 $75,480 $128,300
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $102,360 $77,640 $126,520
Modesto, CA $102,000 $65,020 $126,810
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA $100,330 $81,640 $127,110

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Your salary potential as a police officer in California depends on many factors such as location and experience. Furthermore, your particular role as a law enforcement officer can greatly impact your earning potential, especially as you move up the chain of command. For example, first-line supervisors of police and detectives have an annual median wage of $99,330 but in California the median wage is considerably higher. This means that getting a college degree could increase your earning potential as a police officer.

First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
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10%$100,240

25%$127,670

50%$161,720Median

75%$165,780

90%$207,280

Median Hourly Wage$78

Job growth2.8%

Total Employment7,410

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $182,620 $112,690 N/A
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $165,600 $120,650 N/A
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA $165,600 $101,450 N/A
Modesto, CA $163,020 $94,220 $174,150
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $162,700 $127,670 $207,280
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $162,700 $99,910 $175,130
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA $161,140 $81,670 $174,150
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA $161,140 $99,930 $170,220
El Centro, CA $161,100 $100,610 $172,490
Santa Rosa, CA $161,000 $108,130 $187,290

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

With professional insights from:

Meagan Poulos

Legislative Liaison and Public Information Officer for California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)