How to Become a Police Officer in Washington State
Many people want to enter the exciting field of police work.
Although police work is a dangerous line of work, police perform a valuable service to our communities.
Law enforcement is rewarding, exciting and full variety.
Police officers have the opportunity to make a difference in lives and neighborhoods.
Washington Police Officer Requirements
While each city and county department is responsible for setting its own requirements, a few standards are shared throughout the state.
Among the requirements specified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC):2
- Be a United States citizen
- Must be at least 21-year- old
- Have a high school diploma or G.E.D. The state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission requires a high school diploma or G.E.D. Those seeking employment as police officers should check with the individual law enforcement agencies to see what their education requirements are. Some may require having an associates or bachelor degree.
- Have a valid Washington driver’s license
- Be proficient at reading and writing the English language
- Must be allowed to possess a handgun under federal and state laws
- Must pass applicable testing, including physical agility testing and background investigation
Beyond the above requirements, one must have excellent communication skills to be a successful law enforcement officer. Police officers must be able to effectively communicate verbally and in writing. They need to communicate with a variety of people that include hostile people, young children, mentally ill and disabled individuals. Ideal candidates must be authoritative to apprehend the “bad guys,” while also being compassionate to assist crime victims.
Other desirable skills are being bi-lingual, having previous military service, performing community service and volunteer work. One must be willing to make sacrifices, work overtime and work on holidays.
Police Officer Testing in Washington State
The process of becoming a police officer in Washington State is multi-step and may take several months. It requires passing several tests, interviews and background investigation.
Written testing for police covers topics like general knowledge, grammar, spelling, multi-tasking, reading comprehension and memorization.
Physical Agility Test
Police work requires officers to be physically fit. Each person wishing to be employed as a law enforcement officer is required to meet the fitness standards. Those going through the process will need to pass the physical agility test during the initial testing process, prior to receiving any job offer. Then they will need to demonstrate the ability to meet the requirements again before entering the police academy.
During the screening process, candidates will have to go through at least one interview. This “oral board interview,” requires the applicant to come before a panel to answer various interview questions.
Additionally, some agencies require a video test, showing different police situations. Prior to receiving, a final offer of employment the candidate must pass a background investigation, polygraph and psychological evaluation. Each department conducts background checks on their prospective employees. Candidates must have very limited or no recreational drug use, no history of domestic violence and no felony convictions. One must qualify to possess a firearm in accordance of state and federal laws. The process also evaluates the individual’s traffic record, employment record, financial information and assesses prior drug use.
Washington State Police Job Outlook
There are many job opportunities in Washington with city and county governments, as well as with the state and tribal police departments. Long-term occupational projections for police officers and sheriff deputies in Washington show an annual average growth rate of 1.25% between 2014 and 2019 and a growth of 0.85% between 2019 and 2024.3
Pay and Benefits
Most officers in Washington State are part of a union or a collective bargaining unit. The pay is competitive, and most officers are compensated well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 data, the average hourly wage for police and sheriff patrol officers in Washington is $35.66 per hour and $74,170 annually, which is higher than the national average.1 Police officers receive benefits packages that include medical, sick leave, vacation, paid holidays and a generous retirement plan.
Those wishing to become a law enforcement officer in Washington have several options. Among the options available for employment as a law enforcement officer are city police departments, county sheriff departments, university police departments, the fish and wildlife department, tribal police departments. The state also has opportunities for state troopers, natural resource officers and liquor enforcement agents. Police officers also have several opportunities beyond being a regular patrol officer. There are K9 officers, school resource officers, detectives and other specialty assignments, like SWAT.
Police Departments in Washington
According the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission, there are 272 recognized law enforcement agencies in the state.2
The largest city police department in Washington State is the Seattle Police Department. Applicants must be at least 20. 5-years-old at the time they take the written exam.4 In addition to meeting the CJTC requirements; candidates must meet Seattle Police Department hiring standards. When conducting the background investigation, the department looks at the complete picture of the applicant’s life history. They look at the challenges and the life lessons that have been learned by the applicant. When assessing drug use the department evaluates each applicant on a case-by-case basis.4 Tattoos, scarification and other voluntary disfigurements are also reviewed on a case-by-case basis.4
Spokane is the largest city on the east side of the state and the second largest city in the state. The city has about 290 officers. Applicants must be at least 20-years-old at the time of applying and 21 by the time of appointment. In addition the passing physical and background requirements, candidates must have 45 quarter or 30 semester credit hours from an accredited college or university, which must include college English, with a grade point average of 2.0 or greater.7
The Washington State patrol has approximately 600 troopers that patrol the state’s highways. Washington State Patrol Trooper cadet applicants must be 19. 5-years-old at the time of applying.5 Applicants must meet the state’s background investigation requirements regarding drug use and possession, criminal history and driving record.5 A pre-employment polygraph test, medical exam and psychological exam must be passed.5 Applicants must also meet the state’s physical fitness requirements and body fat standards.5 The state patrol requires that employees be able to accept an assignment anywhere in the state.5 Starting base pay for Washington State Trooper cadets is $4,124 monthly, with progressive step increases and longevity pay.6 They are also eligible for shift differential, specialty pay for special assignments, extra pay for working in certain geographical areas and paid time off.6
Washington State Police Academies
All law enforcement officers in the state must pass a basic academy. In Washington State city, county, university police and other commissioned law enforcement officers must attend the CJTC’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA). The academy is 720 hours, approximately four and half months. At the academy, recruits will learn criminal law, traffic enforcement, cultural awareness, communication skills, emergency vehicle operations, firearms training, crisis intervention, criminal investigations and defensive tactics. State troopers attend a separate academy that is operated by the Washington State Patrol. In Washington, prospective police officers cannot attend the academy on their own without first being hired by a recognized law enforcement agency.2
- United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Washington: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wa.htm#33-0000
- Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, How to Become a Police Officer:https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=427&catid=0&Itemid=1
- Washington State Employment Security Department, Employment Projections:https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/reports-publications/industry-reports/employment-projections
- City of Seattle, Seattle Police Department Jobs: http://www.seattle.gov/policejobs/hiring-process/qualification
- Washington State Patrol, Employment Standards & Minimum Requirements:http://www.wsp.wa.gov/employment/requirements.htm
- Washington State Patrol, Trooper Career Compensation Package:http://www.wsp.wa.gov/employment/benefits.htm
- City of Spokane, Police Department, Jobs: https://my.spokanecity.org/police/officer/jobs/