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How to become a police officer in Texas
Behind only California, Texas has the second-largest employment of police and sheriff’s patrol officers in the country according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Furthermore, the combined number of police officers in the metropolitan areas of Houston and Dallas make up about half of the police officers in the entire state.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) is the regulatory body that licenses police officers, which they refer to as peace officers. Peace officers, in the eyes of TCOLE, includes many positions such as sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and municipal police officers. In other words, all police officers are peace officers, but the opposite is not always true.
If you are thinking about starting a law enforcement career in Texas, you must satisfy TCOLE’s requirements to obtain a peace officer license.
8 steps to become a licensed peace officer in Texas
Meet minimum qualifications.
Texas has several statewide minimum qualifications for peace officers, including being 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen and having a high school diploma or equivalent education, among others. If you are thinking of becoming a police officer in Texas, you need to meet these basic requirements.
Consider earning a college degree.
Even though it’s not required by the state, some law enforcement agencies require new recruits to have some postsecondary education. Furthermore, a college degree may be necessary later in your career to advance up the chain of command. Getting a degree in a field such as criminal justice could be a wise investment for your short and long term career.
Research the application procedures of the agencies you want to work for.
Every agency has their own application procedure—some want you to apply first and then they’ll send you to a basic training program if you meet their qualifications, while others want you to have already attended a basic training program on your own. Contact the agencies you want to work for directly to familiarize yourself with their procedures and figure out the order of the following steps.
Attend a basic licensing academy.
Numerous community colleges across the state have Texas peace officer training academies. You may choose to attend one on your own, or an agency that you’ve applied for may send you themselves. Other agencies, particularly for larger metropolitan police departments, may send you to their own academy. The length of these trainings can vary, but typically last between six and nine months.
Pass the Texas state licensing examination.
At the end of your training, you must take and pass the state licensing examination for Texas peace officers. This exam tests you on the knowledge and skills learned throughout your time at the academy.
Secure a job with a law enforcement agency.
Unless you were already sponsored by an agency to attend the basic licensing academy, it’s time to start applying for jobs. You can work for municipal police departments, county sheriff’s offices, the state police and more—it all depends on your personal preference and unique career goals.
Earn the Texas proficiency certificates with continuing education.
Peace officers in Texas have the unique opportunity to earn proficiency certificates as well as skill-based certificates throughout their tenure. Proficiency certificates have four tiers: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Master. You can earn these by completing certain continuing education hours and courses, combined with years of experience as a peace officer.
Keep up your continuing education requirements.
Texas peace officers must complete a certain amount of continuing education hours to maintain their license. The amount of hours and the topics that must be covered in the training period vary depending on your position.
Minimum qualifications for Texas peace officers
The Texas administrative code clearly outlines the requirements to become a licensed peace officer in the state of Texas. Some of these requirements, such as undergoing a background investigation and being evaluated by a physician, are completed after you’ve applied to an agency. Before you can think about applying for jobs, you want to make sure you meet these basic qualifications which must be satisfied first:
- 21 years of age (with some exceptions)
- U.S. citizen
- Have a high school diploma, GED or honorable discharge from the military after at least 24 months of active-duty service
- Have a generally clean criminal record (which TCOLE has precise definitions for)
- Is not prohibited by state or federal law from operating a motor vehicle or from possessing firearms or ammunition
- Has never been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces
- Has not had a commission license denied by final order or revoked
- Is not currently on suspension, or does not have a surrender of license in effect
The state of Texas requires that peace officers have at least either a high school diploma, GED or were honorably discharged from the military after at least 24 months of active-duty service. Individual law enforcement agencies may set additional education requirements, however, or if they don’t require it, some agencies may value higher education more than others in the hiring process. As an example, while the Texas rangers doesn’t require a degree specifically, criminal investigators in Texas are required to have a bachelor’s degree.
“The bigger metropolitan agencies, it’s not required but they look at [education] a lot closer,” said Joey Sepulveda, a law enforcement veteran and a central/west Texas field rep for the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA). Investing in a college degree, therefore, could open up the number of jobs available to you and/or set you apart from your competition.
In addition, you may need a certain degree to be considered for promotion at some agencies. Sepulveda said, for example, that some of the people he trained—who are now lieutenants, captains and even chiefs—were promoted quicker because of the degree(s) they held.
If you do decide to pursue a college degree, a degree in criminal justice or a related field such as criminology or legal studies could be a boon to your career.
Getting trained and getting hired
As in many other states, there are two primary ways you can enter a policing career in Texas. The first is to attend a basic licensing academy on your own prior to applying for law enforcement positions.
“A lot of community colleges have what they call a Texas peace officer academy. It can go from a six to nine-month academy. Just like college you either have your day academy, which is from eight in the morning to three or four o’clock in the afternoon, and then some of them hold a night academy, which is from about six to ten o’clock. That one of course is a little longer because it’s shorter,” Sepulveda said. “At the end of your academy, you take what we call a TCOLE-required state test.” Once you pass the TCOLE Texas peace officer licensing test, you can apply directly to agencies that you wish to work for.
The second option is to apply to agencies first and then they send you to a police training academy, either their own or elsewhere. As always, it all depends on the individual agency. Because they are paying your way through the academy, you then have to work for that agency for a certain amount of time (typically two years) before you can look for jobs elsewhere.
“If you get hired by a major metropolitan city—for example San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Corpus Christi—they have their own academy. For you to become a police officer with that department, you have to go through their academy,” Sepulveda said. “And sometimes their academy is a bit longer than your regular TCOLE academy because you have to know their city, their SOPs [standard operating procedures] and stuff like that.”
No matter how you enter the profession, agencies will conduct the remaining state-level requirements for peace officers at some point during the hiring process:
Conducting a background investigation
Examination by a physician and psychologist
Advancing your career with TCOLE proficiency certificates
TCOLE also has numerous proficiency certificates for peace officers, jailers and telecommunicators. These certificates have four levels: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Master. These are essentially add-ons to your license to designate your level of expertise.
“Hours of training—of continuing education—and basically longevity as a peace officer. Those two are the components for you to advance in your license,” Sepulveda said.
Education level can also be used as a substitute for some of the qualifications to earn a particular tier of certificate.
There are also a lot of skill-based certificates you can earn through TCOLE, such as a Cybercrime Investigator Certification or a Mental Health Officer Certification. These could bolster your resume and make you a more desirable job candidate and potentially lead to an increased salary.
Texas police officer salary
The annual median wage of police and sheriff’s patrol officers in Texas may not be as high as other states like California or Washington, but an individual’s salary can vary greatly based on factors such as location, experience and education level.
Sepulveda said there are a few ways you could increase your earning potential as a police officer, but they all depend on the policies and procedures of your individual agency. Some agencies offer salary increases for the following:
- Having certain proficiency certificates
- Education level
- Shift differentials (certain shifts such as the graveyard shift may pay more)
- Second language skills such as proficiency in Spanish or even sign language
Median Hourly Wage$31
|Metro area||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||$77,370||$49,980||$96,370|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||$77,030||$49,420||$96,300|
|Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX||$68,890||$48,210||$85,200|
|College Station-Bryan, TX||$67,890||$46,410||$77,980|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||$64,700||$48,880||$84,420|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. 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.
The employment of police and detectives across the country is expected to grow only 3.3% through 2032, slower than the average for all occupations. However, that still translates to about 68,500 job openings each year. As the state with the second highest employment of police and sheriff’s patrol officers, a significant portion of those jobs could be in Texas.
Sepulveda also said that there is an abundance of jobs out there for the taking. “Every department that I know of is short-handed.”
If you want a job where you can make a difference in your community, now could be the perfect time to embark on a challenging and rewarding law enforcement career in Texas.
State Guides for Prospective Police Officers
Take a look at the steps you’ll need to take to become a police officer in other states:
Florida: The sunshine state has several requirements for prospective officers before certification, and education can replace training and become a direct factor in take home pay.
California: This state has the highest number of police officers in the country, no doubt in part to it’s large size and high population.
New Jersey: Police officers here have a wide variety of basic requirements, some asking that applicants cover basic training themselves.
Illinois: New police officers in Illinois can only attend a basic law enforcement training academy if they have been hired on by a sponsoring agency.