How to Become a Police Officer in Tennessee

If you are interested in becoming a cop in Tennessee, you will be joining a mid-sized force, with 1,586 Department of Safety officers in 2009. State calculations predict about 470 Tennessee peace officer job openings each year through 2018. The Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) defines the requirements to become a police officer in the state. Many law enforcement agencies in Tennessee have more stringent requirements than POST’s minimums, however. These standards can include some combination of a bachelors degree in criminal justice or psychology from an accredited school, military or law enforcement experience, and high physical and moral standards.

All police officers in Tennessee have to attend the Basic Law Enforcement Training Course at one of six POST basic training academies in Tennessee. Typically, you will be hired by a law enforcement agency and then sent to the academy for basic police training. The hiring process can take several months, and in some cases you may be placed in temporary work at your hiring agency until the next academy class begins.

Becoming a police officer in Nashville is not the same as working in a rural county, although POST standards serve as a universal minimum. For example, the Nashville police department requires its applicants to have some combination of military service, advanced education beyond the high school level, or other work experience, while the POST standards merely require high school graduation or a GED. You should contact the agency you intend to apply to if you have specific questions on their requirements.

What Are the POST Minimum Standards to Become a Cop in Tennessee?

  • You must be at least 18 years of age (some agencies require a minimum of 21) and a citizen of the USA.
  • You must have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Some agencies may require higher education.
  • You must have received an honorable discharge from military service, if applicable.
  • You must have your fingerprints on file with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
  • You must successfully pass a background check and be of good moral character in the judgment of your hiring agency; typically, this means a positive position in the community and no offenses involving drugs or other matters of “moral turpitude,” as opposed to minor traffic offenses, etc.
  • You must be certified as being in good mental and physical health by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist as well as a licensed physician.
  • You must not have lost your certification as a police officer previously.

What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a Tennessee Cop?

While you must meet minimum requirements in order to become a police officer in Tennessee, there are factors that can disqualify you as well. Typically, the primary disqualifier involves criminal convictions, specifically those related to violent crimes, theft, gambling, drug or alcohol offenses, and other forms of dishonesty that would render you potentially untrustworthy. Some of these may be waived in the case of old offenses, such as teenage marijuana use. You should contact the recruiter for the department you intend to apply to if you have concerns.

Police Training Academies in Tennessee

Tennessee’s police training program is overseen by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST). POST was founded in Tennessee by a statute in 1983 in order to improve the quality of police training in the state and is funded by state revenues. POST’s standards and requirements for certification shape the police hiring requirements in Tennessee, and the statutory fine for knowingly employing uncertified peace officers backs this up. However, agencies are free to set higher standards for prospective cops, and many do.

The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department represents a good point of comparison, as their requirements are significantly higher than the POST guidelines. The police hiring requirements in Tennessee only mandate a high school education or GED equivalent; the MNPD, however, requires two years of law enforcement work, military service, or academic training, or five years of full-time employment, to be considered. The MNPD also has a minimum age requirement of 21, although due to the length of the hiring process, you may start applying for a job as a peace officer in Nashville two months before your 21st birthday. The POST guidelines only require a minimum age of 18.

Becoming a cop is more than meeting requirements, however. After you pass a background check, medical examination, and background screening, you will generally receive an academic examination to test your general skills. In most cases, attending police training academies is free if you have already been hired by a particular police department, but criminal justice students may apply for admission on their own. Completion of the basic law enforcement officer course will qualify you for many law enforcement careers, provided you keep up with continuing education. Academy sessions are residential programs, and it is necessary to attend one within six months of your initial hire.

Police training courses in Tennessee are a combination of classroom education and practical exercises in an eight-week, 452-hour intensive program. The content of the training is largely determined by statute, and some topics you may cover include:

  • Patrol Procedures
  • Firearms Safety and Marksmanship
  • Constitutional and Criminal Law
  • Written Communications
  • Emergency Vehicle Operations

Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in Tennessee

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 13,120 Tennessee law enforcement jobs in the state as of 2011. The average police officer salary in Tennessee was $41,600 in 2011, slightly higher than neighboring Kentucky. Tennessee has a slightly higher cost of living than Kentucky, but also suffers from nearly twice as much violent crime as of 2009.

The POST certified training courses in Tennessee provide a great deal of similarity between law enforcement agencies, but their size and scale still vary from place to place. The Memphis Police Department, with ten ranks, is a good example of a metropolitan force. Its ranks include, in descending order:

  • Director – Directors command the entire Memphis Police Department, setting the overall goals and strategies of the agency and coordinating with city and state officials. There is only one director at a given time.
  • Deputy Director – Deputy directors serve as second in command and assistant for the director of the police department, and also serve as director when the director is unavailable. As with the director, there is only one at any given time.
  • Deputy Chief – Deputy chiefs command specific branches of the Memphis police, such as the two Uniform Patrol Districts or Administrative Services. They set policy for their departments and coordinate with public and community groups.
  • Colonel – Colonels manage the affairs of a particular precinct, setting overall policy for the officers beneath them and staying in touch with local community groups to engage in long-term crime reduction. They may also assist Deputy Chiefs in specific units, such as Investigative Services.
  • Lieutenant Colonel – Lieutenant colonels serve as seconds-in-command to colonels. They typically implement policies that colonels develop in order to deal with local difficulties and challenges.
  • Major – Majors supervise the activities of one or several police stations, collecting and filing reports, and providing administrative support.
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenants directly supervise the activities of a police station or a watch of a larger station, collecting reports, making administrative decisions, and keeping abreast of ongoing investigations.
  • Sergeant – Sergeants lead teams of officers, managing investigations directly and securing crime scenes, as well as being the first point of contact with public complaints.
  • Police Officer – Police officers patrol for crime, investigate crime scenes directly, provide aid to stranded motorists, and address other public difficulties. They are sometimes known as peace officers, and represent the bulk of the Memphis police force. Experienced police officers may become members of specialized units or become trainers at a POST certified training academy in Tennessee.

Law Enforcement and Related Online Colleges in Tennessee

Starting a career as a Tennessee police officer requires certification, as employing an officer without certification from a state academy carries a $1,000 fine. College education is not required to become a police officer in Tennessee by POST standards, but some departments do require it. Any applicant will stand out from the crowd if they come equipped with a degree in fields as wide-ranging as chemistry, English, or psychology.

Chemistry knowledge can help you to detect evidence of illegal drug production, as well as give you the tools you need to deal with hazardous environments such as methamphetamine production labs. An associate’s degree or more in English can help you write clear, concise, and informative reports, which can be vital in communicating with other departments or with superiors. Psychology degrees, whether on the four-year level or higher, can provide insight into human behavior, with applications ranging from understanding the criminal mindset to assisting the mentally ill.

In addition to the professional advantages of higher education, any degree from conventional or online colleges will teach you improved skills at communication and critical thinking, which can only help in a career in criminal justice. Take a look at this directory of traditional and online colleges in Tennessee to learn more.