How to Become a Police Officer in West Virginia
With 684 officers, West Virginia’s state police force was about average compared to other state police forces in 2009. Employment of police officers in West Virginia is projected to increase by 90 jobs each year until 2018. The Law Enforcement Professional Standards (LEPS) Program of the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Service is the agency responsible for standardizing the employment and training requirements for law enforcement officers. Jobs in West Virginia are competitive due to the limited number of positions. However, if you are interested in becoming a cop in West Virginia and advancing in rank, it is recommended that you hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, business administration, or communications from an accredited college or university.
Within the first 90 days of employment, all police officers must complete basic police training at the West Virginia State Police Academy. West Virginia is a single academy state, therefore the West Virginia State Police Academy is the one LEPS basic training academy in West Virginia that is approved by the Law Enforcement Training (LET) Subcommittee to certify peace officers. Basic training is limited to candidates who have been selected to serve a West Virginia peace officer in one of the state’s city, county, airport, conservation, college, or state trooper law enforcement agencies.
There is not much variation in the hiring process for police officers across the state of West Virginia. Therefore, the process for becoming a police officer in Fairmont is very similar to the hiring processes in Barboursville or Huntington. However, some agencies do not have a continuous hiring process and only accept police officer applications two or three times a year. For this reason, it is recommended that you contact the recruiting department of your choice agency to confirm job availability.
What are the POST Minimum Standards to Become a Cop in West Virginia?
- You must be a United States citizen.
- You must be an adult between the ages of 18 and 40 years old.
- You must hold a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED.
- You must possess a valid West Virginia driver’s license.
- You must pass a physical agility test before submitting an application for employment as a law enforcement officer.
- You must pass a background check and be of good character.
- You must be cleared of any physical, emotional, or mental conditions that could affect your ability to perform the duties required of a law officer.
What Could Disqualify Me from Becoming a West Virginia Cop?
West Virginia law enforcement agencies do not disclose the criteria for disqualifying police officer applicants. As an applicant, you will be required to complete a personal history profile and a background investigation to determine the occurrence or recurrence of potentially negative factors such as domestic violence or felony convictions, illegal and recreational drug usage, automobile accidents, and traffic violations. Agency recruiting departments typically welcome you to contact them with questions regarding the process to become a police officer. If you are concerned that there may be factors that would make it difficult for your to become a police officer, you should contact a recruiter who can address your concerns and help you determine whether beginning the police officer application process is a feasible option for you.
Police Training Academies in West Virginia
The West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Service (DJCS) coordinates all functions of the criminal justice system, including the standardization of hiring and training requirements for peace officers. Created in 1966 by the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Correction, the DJCS is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education, and the state of West Virginia. One of DJCS’s primary functions is to provide police training and certification through the Law Enforcement Professional Standards (LEPS) Program. LEPS and the DJCS oversee the only police academy in the state. Therefore, it is mandatory that all 186 precincts participate and comply with the minimum police hiring requirements in West Virginia as defined by LEPS. However, agencies do have the authority to implement standards that exceed the LEPS guidelines.
For example, LEPS does not enforce an age limit on police officer candidates. However, the Fairmont Police Department will not hire police officers who are over the age of 40 at the time of application. In addition, some agencies require peace officer candidates to have some college credits and law enforcement training prior to applying for a job as a peace officer. Also, the Division of Natural Resources requires a four-year degree or four years of law enforcement experience and has physical agility and muscular endurance requirements that far exceed the state minimums.
If you are interested in becoming a cop in West Virginia, you must first meet the minimum requirements and successfully pass a physical stamina test before even being cleared to take the written exam. The application process, which includes a comprehensive background investigation into your driving, medical, financial, and criminal records, can take several months to complete. West Virginia only has one approved training facility, and candidates cannot attend out-of-state police training academies once they have accepted employment with a West Virginia law enforcement agency. Newly sworn officers must complete basic training within the first 90 consecutive days of employment. The training program includes extensive weapons and defensive tactics training to prepare officers for the types of situations they will face while on patrol during their police careers.
Police training courses in West Virginia are based on the LEPS basic training program, wherein recruits study 41 modules during a 16-week residential training program at the West Virginia State Police Academy. The police training curriculum covers the basic skills and knowledge that lay a solid foundation for recruits to become successful and effective peace officers. The study modules can include topics such as:
- Crisis Intervention and Negotiation
- Traffic Law Enforcement
- Community Relations
- Defense Tactics
- Firearm Safety
Law Enforcement Jobs and Salary in West Virginia
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia employed 3,560 law enforcement officers in 2011. In that same year, the average police officer salary in West Virginia was $36,250, which was 7% lower than the average peace officer salary in South Carolina. Though West Virginia and South Carolina have comparable standards of living, in 2011 the violent crime rate in South Carolina was nearly twice that of West Virginia.
Although all officers must be trained at the LEPS certified training academy, the titles and primary duties of West Virginia law enforcement jobs can vary from precinct to precinct. Additionally, the hierarchies within police departments can vary from one department to another. The Charleston Police Department uses the following eight rank classifications for active officers in order from highest to lowest:
- Chief of Police – The chief of police is the chief administrator of the police department and is responsible for developing policy, implementing programs, and maintaining the overall effectiveness of the department.
- Deputy Chief/Major – The deputy chief works directly under the chief of police and is responsible for supervising officer performance in every aspect of department operations. The deputy may also act as department spokesperson in the absence of the chief.
- Police Captain (Division Command) – Captains oversee divisions, such as Traffic Enforcement or Criminal Investigations. Their responsibilities also include ensuring all lower-level officers comply with department policies, rules, and regulations.
- Police Lieutenant (Division Command) – Lieutenants manage divisions on a supervisory level. They also make staff assignments and may act as station commanders.
- Police Sergeant (Unit Command) – Sergeants supervise units within department divisions. They also conduct performance reviews, investigate internal grievances, and respond to citizen complaints.
- Police Corporal – Police corporals serve as assistant supervisors under police sergeants and can assume supervisory roles in the absence of a sergeant. They may also supervise and train probationary officers, civilian employees, and volunteers.
- Detective – Police detectives typically lead criminal investigations, including suspect interrogation and witness and victim interviews. Senior detectives also train and supervise new detectives.
- Police Officer – Police officers perform a variety of law enforcement and crime prevention duties, including emergency call response, crime scene investigation, patrolling, and issuing citations and warrants.
Law Enforcement and Related Online Colleges in West Virginia
The West Virginia State Police Academy, the only law enforcement training academy in the state, provides an accredited associates degree in police science at the completion of the 30-week trooper cadet training program and field internship. A degree in police science is not a prerequisite for a career as a West Virginia police officer or state trooper. However, degrees in a broad array of subjects such as computer forensics, criminology, or emergency management can make you more marketable as you seek to become a police officer in West Virginia.
A bachelors degree in computer forensics can be a practical option for law enforcement personnel who wish to investigate Internet-based crimes like cyberstalking and identity theft. A criminology degree is also useful to officers and can help them better understand the causes and consequences of criminal behavior. Finally, as police officers are typically the first responders to most crisis situations, an emergency management degree can enhance traditional police training by equipping officers with the specialized skills needed to prepare for and respond to man-made and natural emergencies.
Earning a college degree, whether in criminal justice or another subject, can enhance your training and prepare you for promotions within a police agency. Pursuing a degree can also help you develop interpersonal and communication skills that can help you successfully interact with fellow officers and members of the community. The directory below contains a list of offline and online colleges in West Virginia that can prepare you for a rewarding law enforcement career.