How to Become a Police Officer in Pennsylvania

If you are looking into becoming a cop in Pennsylvania, you will be joining a large force, with 4,510 state police officers. The Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) writes the minimum standards for police officers in Pennsylvania, but some agencies and departments choose to set higher standards. These can include a higher age requirement, an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or psychology from an accredited institution, or military or law enforcement experience.

Every new Pennsylvania peace officer needs to attend basic police training before being sworn into service. There are 25 MPOETC basic training academies in Pennsylvania,that are approved to provide Act 120 training and qualify you to become a police officer. In many cases, you can coordinate with an agency that sponsors your time at the program and helps you meet various qualifications.

The requirements for becoming a police officer in Philadelphia are different from those in the Reading or Pittsburgh police departments. While the MPOETC provides common minimum standards, the requirements can vary from agency to agency. For example, the Pennsylvania State Police operates several training academies throughout the state exclusively for their own cadets. In order to avoid investing time and money in training that may not suit your needs, you should consult with the hiring agency to ensure you meet all department-specific requirements.

What are the POST Minimum Standards to Become a Cop in Pennsylvania?

  • Some departments in Pennsylvania require an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or psychology, so it is recommended that you complete a degree to better enable you to find a position as a cop in any department in Pennsylvania.  A degree will also allow you to pursue other avenues of law enforcement in the future.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must have at least a high school education or equivalent (GED), as well as demonstrate a minimum ninth-grade reading level on the Nelson-Denny Reading Test.
  • You must be free of convictions for criminal offenses, which are those offenses that can be punished with more than one year in prison.
  • You must pass a medical examination, which will check you for drug usage, excessive or addictive use of alcohol or other legal drugs, general cardiovascular health, severe visual or hearing disabilities, seizure disorders, or other disqualifying physical difficulties as determined by Pennsylvania law and the physician’s opinion.
  • You must be examined by a psychologist licensed in the state of Pennsylvania, who will interview you and administer a psychological examination in order to make certain that when you become a police officer, you will act fairly with the legal authority and lethal force you will possess.
  • You must be evaluated for physical fitness, which is judged primarily on your performance on a 1.5-mile run, 300-meter run, one repetition of bench presses, and one minute of sit-ups.
  • You must successfully pass a full background check.
  • You must attend academy training.

What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a Pennsylvania Cop?

Failure to meet the MPOETC benchmarks is the main disqualification from being a police officer in Pennsylvania. However, some agencies may have other metrics, which are often not disclosed publically. The Pennsylvania State Police list several automatic disqualification factors, including falsification or omission of information on the polygraph examination or application, substance use within a given time period or beyond what is considered experimental, and criminal arrests that would not reflect well on the Pennsylvania State Police. If you are curious whether a particular set of conditions in your own case might be disqualifying, you are encouraged to contact the agency to which you are interested in applying to speak privately and candidly with a recruiter.

Police Training Academies in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) is responsible for establishing the state standards for becoming a cop. MPOETC is funded by the government and was established in 1974 in order to set common standards and requirements for police training courses in Pennsylvania. There are 25 schools that are approved by MPOETC to provide training to those aspiring to be peace officers in Pennsylvania. While all schools must meet the established minimum police hiring requirements in Pennsylvania, some agencies can require higher age or educational standards.

The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) is a good example of an agency that sets higher standards for those applying for a job as a peace officer. The MPOETC’s age requirement to hire police officers is 18, whereas the state police have a minimum age requirement of 21 and a maximum of 39. The state police also require an associate’s degree or sixty credit hours in higher education, compared to the MPOETC’s minimum requirement of a high school diploma or GED. This education requirement can be partially waived if a student has experience as a peace officer or in police training in a MPOETC certified academy, or the equivalent from another state. Finally, some agencies, such as the Philadelphia Police Department, may require officers to hold residency within city limits or obtain residency within six months after being designated as police officers .

If you are considering training to be a patrol officer in Pennsylvania, you should study the requirements for application carefully. You must be a U.S. citizen with a valid driver’s license, as well as be able to pass a criminal background check and a physical screening for significant disability or visual and hearing impairment. You will also need to demonstrate a certain degree of physical fitness, typically around the 30th percentile according to the standards of the Cooper Institute and indexed to your age group and gender. In preparation for careers in law enforcement, students must pass all specific test components, including a 75% on the firearms test, in order to obtain certification. Students who fail any part of the exam must re-attend police training in that area prior to retaking that exam component..

Police training courses in Pennsylvania are standardized under the MPOETC and are offered at 25 different police training academies throughout the state. The current curriculum combines 562 hours of classroom time with 192 hours of practical exercises, which are divided among a wide variety of topics, including the following:

  • Transportation of Prisoners
  • Juvenile Law and Justice
  • Constitutional Law
  • Tactical Self-Defense
  • Crisis Intervention

Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in Pennsylvania

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 27,450 Pennsylvania law enforcement jobs in 2011, and that figure is expected to grow to about 28, 950 by 2018. The neighboring states of New Jersey and Ohio had 21,710 and 23,320 officers, respectively. The average police officer salary in Pennsylvania was $55,890 in 2011, comparable to neighboring Ohio but much lower than New Jersey’s average, which is the highest in the nation. While standards of living in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey are comparable, New Jersey and Ohio both have lower crime rates than that of Pennsylvania, which has 8% more violent crime than Ohio and 25% more than New Jersey.

Police hierarchies are organized in a loosely military manner, with each peace officer participating in a basic chain of command. There is some variety due to different sizes of departments, despite the unity provided by common MPOETC certified training courses in Pennsylvania. A sample of how these ranks work in practice is the Pennsylvania State Police, which has the following positions in order of rank and responsibility:

  • Colonel – The colonel serves as the commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police and provides leadership and guidance to the force.
  • Lieutenant Colonel – Lieutenant colonels function as the second-in-command and provide assistance to the colonel, as well as serving as commanders if the colonel is not able to perform his or her duties.
  • Major – Majors command the police in one of three areas of the state, providing leadership to the troops of police located in those areas. They compile reports and establish policies to deal with problems in their areas.
  • Captain – Captains command troops, which are divisions that encompass stations. They guide subordinate officers and may direct specialized units.
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenants command stations, which serve a particular area, and often direct particular sections in a troop, such as Criminal Investigation or Staff Services.
  • Sergeant – Sergeants direct a unit or section directly or work in a specialty area such as a K-9 Unit or Air Patrol.
  • Corporal – Corporals supervise troopers and oversee daily calls for service from the public.
  • Trooper First Class – Troopers first class perform duties similar to troopers, as the rank is a recognition of twelve years or more of service in the Pennsylvania State Police.
  • Trooper – Troopers patrol, investigate complaints, secure crime scenes, provide aid to stranded motorists, and enforce traffic laws on state roads such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Law Enforcement and Related Online Colleges in Pennsylvania

Students seeking to become a police officer in Pennsylvania often attend academy, not as private students, but as employees, particularly in the case of State Police Cadets. The MPOETC requirements to have a career as a Pennsylvania police officer do not mandate any kind of degree after high school other than the academy, but seeking further education can be valuable, both for personal development and to stand out among colleagues for promotions. Degrees in a wide range of fields, such as chemistry, accounting, and psychology, can aid in a police officer’s career.

Many crimes involve the misuse of chemicals, whether they are environmental violations or drug-related crimes, and possessing an associates or bachelors degree in chemistry will help you understand risks and perhaps detect signs of crime that might have otherwise eluded you. Studying accounting has similar advantages, helping a police officer detect signs of fraud or illegal sources of income. Psychology degrees can be useful in understanding suspects, ranging from murderers to thieves, and help officers communicate and understand the perspective of urban gang members.

Any college degree will expand and refine your critical thinking and communication skills, which will make you a more effective, well-rounded peace officer. You may also find that your education, even if not in criminal justice, can open up paths for advancement throughout a rewarding law enforcement career. If the idea of furthering your education in preparation for a law enforcement career interests you, this directory of traditional and online colleges in Pennsylvania is a great place to begin your search.