How to Become a Police Officer in Texas

With 3,504 state-level police officers in Texas as of 2009, there are many possible openings if you want to become a police officer. Even more encouraging, state projections indicate that there will be around 2,300 job openings per year through 2018 to replace retiring officers and respond to population growth. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Certification (TCLEOSE) determines the requirements to become a Texas peace officer. Positions can be competitive, however, and some departments have requirements above the TCLEOSE minimums, such as requiring a bachelors degree in criminal justice or psychology from an accredited institution, higher age minimums, and other local requirements.

TCLEOSE’s requirements for licensing mean that you will have to attend one of the 32 TCLEOSE basic training academies in Texas, whether after being hired by a department or before you become a police officer. Texas’s requirements are similar to many other states, and prior law enforcement experience can greatly accelerate becoming a cop in Texas. You will want to look up your local hiring agency’s requirements, so that you know what to study for with regards to qualifying examinations. As a general rule, though, a high level of physical fitness is demanded.

The process for becoming a police officer in Houston is different from a smaller town such as Midland. Many larger areas, such as Houston, operate academies solely for their own needs, which may thus be tailored to local needs; for instance, Houston’s academy is a commuter school and requires students attending it to have no competing employment or other demands on their time. Many departments also will provide accelerated programs if you already have a TCLEOSE license as a law officer, although some – such as Houston – will still want you to attend their academy for basic police training.

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

  • Graduating from college is a requirement for some departments in Texas, so earning a degree in criminal justice, psychology, or sociology will help you qualify for a job as a cop in any area of Texas. A degree will also distinguish you from others and gives you latitude to explore other areas of law enforcement outside of police work.
  • You must be at least 21 years of age, unless you have received an associate’s degree or 60 credit hours of study OR been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces with at least two years’ active service, in which case the minimum is 18.
  • You must possess a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED).
  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must have a clean criminal record, which is defined as having never been convicted or given probation for a class B or higher misdemeanor or its equivalent; some agencies may waive this requirement for minor offenses, or ones which were committed a long time ago. You must also have never been convicted of ANY family violence offense, and must be legally able to operate a motor vehicle and handle firearms.
  • You must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check.
  • You must receive a medical examination and have the physician – who must be licensed by the Texas medical board – state that you are free from any physical defects that would interfere with police work, show no sign of drug dependency or illegal drug use, and have normal or correctable vision and hearing.
  • You must be examined by a psychologist who is licensed by the Texas board, who will certify that you have a stable personality and can be trusted with the responsibilities and powers of a law officer.

What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a Texas Cop?

The laws of Texas state the disqualifying factors for certification in Title 37, part 7, Chapter 17 of the Texas Administrative Code. While much of it is either qualifications that can be obtained (such as education) or unambiguous statements (felony or family violence convictions), there are some points of ambiguity. If you are concerned about a particular situation, contact your local recruiter for a candid and confidential discussion on whether or not you should proceed with the application process.

Police Training Academies in Texas

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) sets standards for becoming a cop in the state. TCLEOSE was created by the Texas legislature in 1965 to guarantee the people of the state of Texas highly-trained peace officers. The TCLEOSE is funded by state taxes as well as private and federal grants. All agencies in Texas are required to hire officers certified under TCLEOSE’s requirements for all non-elected positions. Though TCLEOSE sets the minimum police hiring requirements in Texas, some agencies establish additional requirements or clarifications suited to local needs.

TCLEOSE does not set any maximum standards for application for police training, but the Houston Police Department sets a maximum age of 44 for applying for a job as a peace officer in Houston. Similarly, the HPD requires one of the following in all applicants: at least 48 semester hours of college credit with a minimum GPA of 2.0, two years or more of military service with an honorable discharge, or five years of licensed employment as a licensed law officer in Texas or another state. Perhaps the best way that you can prepare yourself for police training is to pursue academic work and maintain your physical fitness. You should also be prepared to wait some time before beginning a law enforcement career; even when a particular agency is able to hire police officers, police training academies are intensive programs and are scheduled as funding and training officers permit.

In order to gain admission to one of the TCLEOSE-certified police academies in Texas, you will usually need to be hired by a law enforcement agency. You will need to pass a background check, have your fingerprints taken, and may need to complete an exam to assess your reasoning and language skills. The academy is either a residential or commuter program, depending on the location, and is structured around an eight-hour day, five days a week. Once you complete training, and as long as you stay current with continuing education, your law enforcement certification will qualify you for most police jobs in Texas.

Police training courses in Texas are structured by TCLEOSE requirements, and the programs are typically somewhere between 650 and 700 hours, varying slightly by local preferences and supplementary classes. These courses combine classroom learning and practical exercises, and topics covered include:

  • Patrol Procedures
  • Firearms Training
  • Courtroom Testimony
  • Emergency Care
  • Use of Force and Defensive Tactics

Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in Texas

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 54,920 Texas law enforcement jobs as of May 2011, placing Texas second only to California in the number of peace officers employed. The average police officer salary in Texas was $50,990, which is substantially less than California’s average. However, the cost of living is much lower in Texas than in California, and Texas only has about 1% more violent crime per capita than that state.

While the TCLEOSE certified training courses in Texas provide a similar background of knowledge, different agencies are organized on different levels according to local needs and resources. An example is the Houston Police Department (HPD), which has relatively few ranks despite serving the largest city in Texas. These eight ranks, from highest to lowest, are:

  • Chief of Police – Chiefs of police command the entire HPD and work with city government and state and federal authorities.
  • Executive Assistant Chief of Police – Executive assistant chiefs of police lead specific branches of the HPD, such as Support Operations and Investigative Operations. Executive assistant chiefs are appointed from the ranks with the approval of the Mayor, and must have a master’s degree and at least 5 years of HPD service.
  • Assistant Chief of Police – Assistant chiefs of police supervise departments of the Houston police, either regional such as North Central Patrol or organizational, such as Staff Services or Homeland Security. They are appointed along the same lines as executive assistant chiefs of police.
  • Captain – Captains command district-level police officers or specific task forces within a department, such as Airport police or Narcotics. Captains are chosen from the ranks of lieutenants by examination and must hold a bachelor’s degree as well as two years of service as a lieutenant.
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenants supervise a particular office and manage its personnel and ongoing investigations, as well as stay in touch with the local community. Lieutenants are chosen from the ranks of sergeants by examination and must have an associate’s degree or 65 hours of college credit, as well as 2 years of service as a sergeant.
  • Sergeant – Sergeants lead police officers in the performance of day-to-day duties and represent the lowest supervisory rank in the Houston police, filing reports and communicating with higher authorities, as well as managing daily assignments. Sergeants are chosen by examination among officers with 5 years of service.
  • Senior Police Officer – Senior police officers conduct investigations and provide peer support, but are in essence equivalent to conventional police officers. Senior police officers gain their rank after 12 years of service and obtaining advanced TCLEOSE licensing.
  • Police Officer – Police officers enforce the laws, patrol for crime, conduct investigations, and assist the public. Police officers in their first year are called Probationary Police Officers and are required to meet certain evaluation goals before gaining the full privileges and wages of a Houston police officer. 

Law Enforcement and Related Online Colleges in Texas

Texas is home to the Texas Rangers, the oldest law enforcement agency in North America. The Texas Rangers have existed in recognizable form since 1823 and are protected by statute from being dissolved. Even Rangers, however, require training to go with their grit, and many police departments require some college to become a police officer in Texas. While programs in criminal justice exist, the Rangers show that any background can be helpful in upholding the law, including degrees in fields as wide-ranging as Spanish, psychology, and accounting.

Spanish is the unofficial second language of Texas, and for many residents of the state it is their native language. While many officers receive training in basic conversational Spanish, the advanced knowledge that comes from a master’s degree in the language can allow for fluid, easy communication with Spanish-speaking members of the public. Psychology training can give you insight into the criminal mind, as well as the proper way to deal with persons suffering from mental difficulties. Accounting training can reveal signs of fraud and criminal activity that can easily go overlooked, as well.

The wide-ranging benefits that a college degree brings to your career as a Texas police officer are more subtle than these, too: your critical thinking and communication skills will be expanded, and you will easily prove your dedication to hiring or promotion boards. Take a look at this directory of traditional and online colleges to learn more.