How to Become a Police Officer in New Jersey

Unlike most states, you need at least a bachelors degree or 90 credit hours earned towards a college degree before you can become a police officer in New Jersey. All recruits-in-training are required to earn their bachelor’s prior to the date of their written police exams, but there are more benefits to a college education than just ticking off a criteria box. Being in a college classroom and participating in forum discussions will improve your critical thinking skills, which are immeasurably valuable to a police trainee since they should be prepared to resolve domestic disputes and make tough personnel, budgeting, and administrative decisions should they be promoted to a managerial rank, such as lieutenant or deputy chief. If you are curious as to how a college degree can improve your law enforcement career outlook, this list of top 5 online schools should serve as a good reference tool.

Luckily, New Jersey’s public universities have a strong yearly retention rate; thus you should feel optimistic about your ability to complete a two- or four-year degree plan. The New Jersey Department of Education reported that between the Fall 2010 and 2011 semesters, public universities in the state retained 86.8% of their prior freshman class. Both on-campus and online colleges offer degree tracks for law enforcement-related subject areas, such as public administration, communication, and criminal justice.

A bachelor’s degree in public administration could greatly benefit your future career as a New Jersey police officer as it will introduce you to local, state, and federal legislative systems as well as help you identify which governmental agencies are responsible for addressing public responsibilities such as infrastructure upkeep and law creation. A communications degree would also help you when dealing with local news crews and national broadcast teams if you ever have to contain a populated crime scene. Finally, a degree in criminal justice will familiarize you with courtroom procedures as well as tools for criminal apprehension, sentencing, and evidence reporting.

Basic Information on Police Officers in New Jersey

New Jersey is a small but densely populated state, so it is unsurprising that in 2011 the state employed 21,710 police officers. If you are thinking of becoming a police officer in New Jersey, the state’s Department of Labor projects that over 2,000 New Jersey peace officer jobs will be created between now and 2020 so you will have plenty of prospects. The New Jersey Police Training Commission (NJPTC) is the state agency responsible for standardizing the requirements to become a police officer. The New Jersey commission also has one of the most demanding basic police training requirements in the nation, specifically requiring applicants to have at least a bachelors or associates from an accredited college.

All police officers in New Jersey are required to pass their basic training course from an NJPTC or city department-sponsored academy, but the process to become a police officer is unique because there are Alternative Route Programs available for civilians who want to pay for their own tuition, instead of being sponsored by a hiring agency, before then seeking employment after graduation. There are 24 NJPTC basic training academies in New Jersey, but you should note that basic training certification is required of every recruit, so it will not ensure future employment the same way that earning an undergraduate degree would.

Becoming a police officer in Egg Harbor Township is almost an identical process to the one endorsed by NJPTC and the New Jersey State Police Academy, but there are small differences. Cities and counties will have their own training academies with different basic training curricula, recruit qualifications, and program length. Specifically, the Atlantic County Police Training Center offers a 23-week training course as opposed to the typical state-mandated 25-hour one. Additionally, other training academies may differ in terms of tuition rates and specialized training offered. For example, the New Jersey State Police Academy separates itself from city departments by requiring over 60 hours of self defense training and 40 hours of water safety instruction.

What Are the NJPTC Minimum Standards to Become a Cop in New Jersey?

  • You must be at least 21 years old, but no more than 35 at the time of your appointment to an agency.
  • You must have a valid New Jersey driver’s license and be a U.S. citizen.
  • You must pass the Physical Qualification Test (PQT) Battery.
  • You must pass the medical exam, background check, and psychological evaluation.
  • You must have a bachelor’s degree or at least 90 credits and a scheduled graduation date that falls before your written police exam.

What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a New Jersey Cop?

The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety clearly dictates and lists automatic disqualification criteria for state recruits. During the application and training process, you can expect to be asked questions about your criminal record, past felony convictions, military history, and illegal drug interactions. However, the language of the disqualification laws state that New Jersey is not a one-and-done state when it comes to vetting officers. For example, it is possible to become an officer even if you’ve had a warrant issued for your arrest, as long as it has not happened three or more times. Also, you are not immediately disqualified if you have ever smoked marijuana or hashish, as long as you did it three years or more prior to your sending in your application.

Police Training Academies in New Jersey

The New Jersey Police Training Commission (NJPTC) was created under the authority of the Police Training Act in July 1965. The NJPTC oversees 16 police training academies and is funded through the Law Enforcement Officers Training and Equipment Fund, which is an accumulation of monies from civil violation fines and contributions from the state’s Department of Law and Public Safety. Becoming a cop in New Jersey is a fairly consistent experience across different police academies and precincts. All agencies will ask you to meet the same police hiring requirements in New Jersey, including age, physical fitness, and undergraduate degree benchmarks. However, there are some police training deviations, specifically when it comes to the length of training programs for peace officers.

If you are applying for a job as a peace officer, the NJPTC stipulates that you should enroll in a 25-hour training course like the one at the New Jersey State Police Academy. However, the time length for academy programs will differ between counties and law enforcement concentrations, such as highway patrol. Many academies break from the NJPTC mold and institute Alternative Route Programs, which allows students to pay their academy tuition and enroll in police training courses before being hired and beginning their careers with an agency. These programs are not mandatory, but they are state-recognized so there are no official auditing agencies that investigate these or other small police training discrepancies.

New Jersey agencies that hire police officers have minimum standards that are consistent with most of the country’s state law enforcement entities. In order to become an officer, you will need to satisfy benchmarks such as being at least 21 and passing the state physical fitness battery. However, New Jersey also requires you to have at least a bachelor’s degree or complete 90 credit hours towards your college degree. The cost of state police academies is subsidized by your employing agency, but you can expect to pay roughly $4,000-$5,000 in tuition if you pursue your PTC Certificate through an Alternative Route Program. As a recruit-in-training, you will engage in firearms training, learn self-defense techniques, and master tactical driving and high-speed pursuit scenarios.

The NJPTC mandates a 25-hour training course, and you will be expected to pass all written examinations with a score of 70% or higher. State police classroom curriculum is not measured in the number of classes taken, but in the amount of hours logged. For example, the New Jersey State Police Academy requires 40 hours of water safety training and at least 21 hours of driving instruction. Some common police training courses in New Jersey include:

  • Counter Measures and Defensive Tactics
  • Sig Sauer 9mm and Benelli Shotgun Training
  • Basic Life-Saving Skills
  • Crime Report Drafting
  • Local Ordinance and Federal Law Review

Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in New Jersey

In May 2011, there were 21,710 New Jersey law enforcement jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the state only presents a relatively modest peace officer force, especially compared to New York, which hired more than 55,000 officers in the same time frame. When it comes to wages, on the other hand, a police salary in New Jersey dwarfs all neighboring states including New York, which only pays their officers $62,800 a year. As of May 2011, New Jersey cops earned approximately $82,000 a year. Both New Jersey and New York are densely populated northeastern states that are very urban and industrialized. They also have nearly identical crime indexes, but New Jersey’s is slightly higher with 2,459 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants as opposed to New York’s 2,311.

Most police rank systems are paramilitary and rely on commonly used military decorations, such as sergeants and lieutenants, but the order of ascending authority can be structured differently between police departments and agencies. For example, the New Jersey State Police have nine major ranks. In order of ascension, they are:

  • Trooper – Troopers protect public safety by arresting criminal offenders, filing police reports, and interviewing witnesses. Some officers can earn special training in fields such as counterterrorism, fraud investigation, and child protection. Other troopers may go on to become instructors at a NJPTC certified training academy in New Jersey.
  • Police Detective – Detectives specialize in crime scene investigation – especially entry-level personnel – as well as train and supervise new officer recruits.
  • Police Sergeant – Sergeants oversee the internal administration of police departments, including preparing daily officer assignments and conducting internal reviews that mediate personnel complaints and gauge officer compliance.
  • Staff Sergeant – Staff sergeants supervise lower ranks during their shifts and are accountable for daily report accuracy, attendance roster upkeep, and yearly officer reviews.
  • Sergeant First Class – Sergeants first class act as second-in-commands just below the lieutenants and other higher rankings. These officers are responsible for personnel scheduling, internal investigations, and officer appraisal proceedings.
  • Police Lieutenant – Lieutenants command the personnel in their division during their specific shift, which includes responsibilities such as incident report review, addressing civil complaints about officers, and reprimanding personnel, if necessary.
  • Police Major – Majors act as upper-level management in larger, urban police departments since they are in charge of specific divisions like detective and patrol units. They ensure that the officers working beneath them comply with all police regulations.
  • Colonel – Colonels engage in departmental management, specifically by overseeing police operations in their city and setting the budgets for all police divisions. Additionally, they work with police commissioners and hold meetings concerning crime management strategies.