How to Become a Police Officer in South Carolina

If you are considering becoming a South Carolina peace officer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 836 state police officers in South Carolina. Projections indicate there will be about 280 job openings in each year through 2018, replacing retiring officers and expanding forces to meet new needs. The standards for becoming a cop in South Carolina are determined by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA), which is the central authority for basic police training in the state. Some agencies may have stricter qualifications, with some giving preference to those with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or sociology from an accredited institution.

All police officers in South Carolina must first secure employment with a law enforcement agency in order to attend the SCCJA for basic police training. There is only one SCCJA basic training academy in South Carolina, and all agencies throughout the state send their new hires to the academy for training within their first twelve months of employment. Students must graduate basic training to become a police officer, although there are advanced training opportunities in specialized fields as well.

While there is a great deal of similarity in the requirements between police departments due to the centralized SCCJA curriculum, the requirements for becoming a cop in Charleston include not only a clean criminal background but also good credit history. If you are applying to the Greenville Police Department, you can expect to take the entry-level test of the National Criminal Justice Officer Selection Inventory. Additionally, students with a bachelor’s degree or similar educational credentials may be able to skip some requirements, such as the Nelson-Denny Reading Test, which is required by the Columbia Police Department. Such students may be preferred in hiring and will often start at a somewhat higher annual salary.

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

  • You must be a United States citizen.
  • You must be at least 21 years of age, as demonstrated by your birth certificate.
  • You must possess a valid South Carolina driver’s license and a clean driving record, particularly with regard to driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident, or reckless driving.
  • You must have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent (a GED).
  • You must pass a criminal background check.
  • You must pass a medical examination according to the requirements of the state’s medical history form.

What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a South Carolina Cop?

The main barrier to become a police officer in South Carolina is a record of criminal convictions. If you have ever been convicted of a felony, any crime with a sentence of a year or more, or a crime of moral turpitude, you will be disqualified. At the Greenville Police Department, defaulting on a student loan is considered a disqualifying factor. Disqualifying criteria at local departments may vary slightly. If you have questions, a candid and private conversation with the recruiter of your local agency is the best way to determine whether your circumstances would disqualify you from police work.

Police Training Academies in South Carolina

The criteria for becoming a cop in South Carolina are determined by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Act and Regulations. This act was passed in 2007, giving the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA) authority to set minimum police hiring requirements in South Carolina. Every police agency in South Carolina sends its prospective cops to SCCJA, which minimizes the need for multiple police training academies. Although various agencies who seek to hire police officers may have slightly different standards, the requirements tend to be similar if not identical.

An example of a police agency with higher standards is the North Charleston Police Department, which requires that candidates pass not only a medical exam but also a polygraph test and drug screening, with candidates who have used marijuana in the past three years being disqualified. Although agencies have the freedom to hire police officers without academy training, careers in law enforcement get cut short by the law’s certification requirement, which mandates all peace officers complete the SCCJA’s training programs within a reasonable time frame. While there was a period of grace for older officers, it is long past. Patrol officers in South Carolina must undergo regular recertification of firearms and other skills, as well as attend continuing police training courses.

If you are applying for a job as a peace officer, you should be aware of some of the specific police hiring requirements in South Carolina. You will need a driver’s license from South Carolina, a birth certificate, a high school diploma or its equivalent, and a reasonably clean criminal record with no convictions for domestic violence, felonies, or crimes of moral turpitude. More uniquely, you must pass a credit check for the North Charleston Police Department, which typically checks to ensure you are not delinquent on any student loans or other forms of personal debt. Fortunately, you need to be hired by a law enforcement agency in order to attend police training courses in South Carolina, so loans to attend the SCCJA are not necessary. Students will gain both knowledge of criminal justice and hands-on firearm training.

The SCCJA training curriculum consists of twelve weeks of police training including live exercises and classroom work. Training is conducted in a residential environment with strict discipline. You will study topics that include:

  • Gang Culture
  • Traffic Safety and Enforcement
  • Forensics
  • Behavioral Science
  • Emergency Vehicle Operations

Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in South Carolina

As of May 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 9,480 peace officer jobs in South Carolina, many fewer than neighboring North Carolina. The average police officer salary in South Carolina was $38,810 at that same time, which is about 5% less than that of North Carolina. The cost of living in South Carolina is slightly less than that of North Carolina, although South Carolina’s crime rate is 34% higher according to the Census Bureau’s 2008 statistics.

While the standardized police training courses in South Carolina provide a consistent base of knowledge and experience for South Carolina law enforcement jobs, each police department operates internally on a slightly different scale. The South Carolina Highway Patrol shows a rather complex system, with the following thirteen ranks:

  • Colonel – The colonel leads the South Carolina Highway Patrol. Responsibilities include providing broad leadership for the patrol and working directly with the governor and legislature of the state.
  • Lieutenant Colonel – The lieutenant colonel serves as the second-in-command of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, serving where and when the colonel cannot and supporting his or her efforts.
  • Major – Majors administrate regions of the state patrol’s efforts and provide leadership to functions of the patrol such as the governor’s security detail or the Emergency Management Unit.
  • Captain – Captains lead individual troops, who supervise regions of the state that span several counties. They read and file reports, communicate with the public at large, and may manage specialized units such as Trooper Supply and Training.
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenants execute the directives from captains and supervise individual troop posts.
  • First Sergeant – First sergeants serve as post commanders or direct aides to Captains and lieutenants. They organize the activities of troopers in their specific areas.
  • Sergeant – Sergeants serve as team supervisors, planning duty schedules and filing reports of incidents and investigations.
  • Corporal – Corporals also supervise teams, but typically on a more functional level, such as leading several officers at the scene of a crime.
  • Lance Corporal – Lance corporals assist corporals with paperwork and patrol duties.
  • Senior Trooper – Senior troopers perform duties similar to other troopers but have completed a long term of service and are eligible for higher promotion.
  • Trooper First Class – Troopers first class provide peer leadership to other officers. The rank is something of an honorific for long and honorable service.
  • Trooper – Troopers are graduates of the POST certified training academy in South Carolina and work in direct contact with the public, assisting motorists, investigating complaints and crimes, and serving the public.

Law Enforcement and Related Online Colleges in South Carolina

Despite having dozens of sheriff’s offices and over twenty municipal police departments, South Carolina only has one police academy, the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. While this is the only place where you can receive the certification needed to become a police officer in South Carolina, a college degree can help prepare you for your career as a police officer. Your degree doesn’t just have to be in criminal justice, as fields as diverse as economics, English, and psychology can improve your skills as a law officer while helping you stand out for employment.

Degrees in economics can help you understand financial crimes and subtle signs of illegal activity. A degree in English will improve your ability to communicate in written language, which can be essential for an officer who must write clear and comprehensive reports of crime scenes and investigations. A bachelor’s in psychology can give you insight into human behavior, which can improve your career as a South Carolina police officer as you are tasked with profiling criminals and assisting the mentally ill.

A college education, even in the form of an associates, not only improves your career skills but also expands many other intellectual capacities, such as critical thinking and communication. If you are interested in studying at traditional or online colleges to prepare for your career, you should take a look at this directory of colleges in South Carolina.