How to Become a Police Officer in Florida
A career in law enforcement is both challenging and rewarding. Sworn deputies are among the nation’s most respected officials. In Florida, the various state, county, and city departments offer job opportunities to capable individuals who have completed all training and certification requirements.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for Florida troopers is higher than the annual pay in most southern states. More than 40,000 dedicated officers patrol the streets of the Sunshine State daily, and qualified recruits are always in high demand.
Minimum requirements for employment are set by FDLE’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. Local departments may add further stipulations or guidelines. With its warm climate and diverse communities, Florida attracts many adept law enforcement workers and trainees from around the country. Here are the general requirements:
Age and Education
Most U.S. citizens, age 19 and older, with a high school diploma or GED are eligible to become law enforcement officers. The only exceptions are individuals who have been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor that involves perjury or false statement. In order to become a Florida correctional probation officer, one must earn a bachelors degree.
Basic Abilities Test
The first step toward certification is taking a Basic Abilities Test. The BAT covers reading comprehension, written expression, spatial orientation, problem sensitivity, information ordering, inductive and deductive reasoning, and memorization. Since the completion of this multiple-choice test is required before starting a Basic Recruit Training Program, it can be taken at most training schools. The results are valid for a four-year period.
Basic Recruit Training Program
The mandatory Florida Basic Recruit Training Program must be successfully completed at a Commission-certified school. In a typical program, the curriculum addresses issues such as criminal law, firearms training, communication in both daily interaction and crisis situations, arrest procedures, survival skills, traffic directing, DUI cases, and crime scene investigation. The training takes a rigorous, military-style approach that prepares recruits for the many demands of a law enforcement career. Some educational institutions offer two or four-year degrees in Criminal Justice that can further enhance an officer’s qualifications but are not required for employment.
If the program is an in-house police academy, then the recruit is often paid a salary while attending training classes. For example, the Florida Highway Patrol academy provides full room and board plus $2,514.88 to each trainee. On the other hand, a local community college may charge up to $4,000 for resident students and $12,000 for out-of-state applicants. State college programs usually require 770 hours of training. The courses can be completed in about six months if the student attends full-time. For part-time participants, the program takes about nine months from start to finish.
A passing score on Florida’s State Officer Certification Examination must be achieved in order to be employed by any law enforcement agency in the state. The test consists of both multiple-choice and “field test” questions. Although only the multiple-choice questions count toward the final score, the “field test” questions appear throughout the exam and are not identified. They are used as a reference for future exams.
Four separate categories make up the test. They are Florida Law Enforcement Academy (FLEA), Traditional Corrections, Florida Corrections, and Florida Correctional Probation. While three hours are allotted for most sections, the candidate has four hours to complete the Florida Correctional Probation section. This portion of the test requires a score of 82% or higher; the other categories call for at least 80%.
Test takers have three attempts to pass the SOCE. For a failed test, the Score Report provides vital information to the recruit concerning how to prepare for the next sitting. The $100 fee must be paid for every attempt. Each month the test is administered at 3-4 locations around the state.
Background Investigation, Fingerprints, and Physical Exam
Florida law enforcement agencies fingerprint applicants and send the prints to the FBI and FDLE for processing. They also conduct an extensive background investigation to ensure that each recruit has good moral character. Drug testing is a requirement. Meanwhile a licensed physician must conduct a physical examination to determine if the candidate’s health is conducive to a career in the field. Employers often require that applicants be within 20 pounds of their suggested weight and demonstrate the ability to withstand the physical demands of the job.
CJSTC-68 Affidavit of Applicant Form
The final step in becoming a Florida law enforcement officer is filling out and signing FDLE Affidavit of Applicant form CJSTC-68. This document must be notarized and turned in to the proper authorities. Along with all other requirements, a valid Florida driver’s license is a must.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in law enforcement are expected to increase nationwide by 4% between now and 2024. Florida, with its numerous fast-growing metropolitan regions, will likely need many new recruits within the next few years. Currently the Miami area employs the largest number of police officers and sheriff’s deputies in the state, but Central Florida is quickly becoming a competitor.
A new recruit’s salary varies according to location. In cities like Orlando, one can expect to start at an annual rate of at least $40,000 while smaller departments may offer around $35,000. Full benefits are usually included. A bright, self-motivated employee can rise through the ranks quickly and branch out into a variety of job types.
The many law enforcement career paths include investigations, public relations, chemical and microscopic analysis, canine corps, special weapons and tactics, training and firearms instruction, handwriting and fingerprint identification, and emergency response. Some officers work in court or jail-related positions; others move on to federal agencies such as Homeland Security and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In spite of the frequent challenges and potential danger, a career in law enforcement can be a source of fulfillment for ambitious, talented members of society.