Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

A lot has changed in the profession of law enforcement including what it takes to get hired. Many people are finding that they have a new way to get a competitive advantage and have a fast-track to getting hired. That secret is to become POST Certified as a peace officer on your own prior to applying for a position.  

Each state has a Peace Officer Standards and Training or P.O.S.T. Certificate. This is what makes someone a police or peace officer, in that state. Whether you work as a police officer for a city, a deputy sheriff for a county, or as a state trooper, you are required to have a POST certificate. In the past, you would get your POST certificate by applying with a law enforcement agency, then going through a police academy where you would get the training to meet the POST training requirements and as a result of which you would be POST certified, and then get sworn in with that agency as a law enforcement officer. 

However, now many applicants are going through a police academy on their own and getting POST certified. Then when they apply to a law enforcement agency they are already POST certified and may not have to go through the entire police academy.  

While it is a good idea to consider certification while still looking for a job, you should still keep in mind that it can be a risky investment as the certificate gives you a competitive advantage but does not guarantee that you will pass all the tests and get hired.

So why do agencies prefer to hire applicants who are already POST certified? 

A POST certified applicant is a great advantage for any police agency. First of all, this is huge cost savings to the agencies. They do not have to pay to put someone through the academy. As they pay a police academy a fee for each attendee, you can imagine that being save this cost is of significant savings for the department.  

In addition to that, agencies save the cost of paying a new recruit for the time while they are in the academy. This may include the savings of the salary for the recruit for the 4-6 months while the recruit would normally be in the academy. A potential law enforcement officer receives a salary for the time spent learning and even though it is not the same as a working professional repayment, it is still a significant savings for the agency. Not to mention, that it is always better to pay someone who is actually performing the duties that you need rather than paying them to learn how to perform the job.   

Finally, not everyone who starts a police academy will graduate. Some fail the physical training portion, others do not pass the legal or police procedures portions. When this occurs, the agency which hired the recruit now has to go through the entire hiring process again and thereby has lost all of the cost associated with hiring and training that recruit who has left the academy. Also, some recruits get into the academy and then come to the realization that law enforcement is not the career for them. This again is a huge financial cost for the agency.  In other words, in many cases, it turns out that the agency invests in a potential recruit without being actually able to pick the fruits of its investment. When an applicant is already POST certified, all of those risks are eliminated. 

What is a Police Academy? 

Police academies are also referred to as law enforcement training facilities and as can be judged by the name they provide courses and training for prospective law enforcement officers. Passing a police academy awards you a certificate to be a police or peace officer. There are no national criteria for police certification since law enforcement is delegated by the federal government to the state and local authorities. Hence, there are different types of police academies that train prospective law enforcement officers.  

In general, each state has the right to establish the requirements concerning the training in the police academies it has on its state. There are variations when it comes to the duration of the training, the hours required and even the courses covered in each academy. Some academies can be affiliated with colleges, while others may be part of a given state or even local police agency. 

Large agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department or the Dallas Police Department put on their own training academies and only those who have already been hired by their agency are enrolled in their academies. Thus, the agencies ensure that the candidates get the best training, which is most adequate for their specific needs.  

Smaller agencies often use what can be referred to as “Regional Training Academies” and these academies serve to train people from multiple agencies. There may be a regional training academy that has a class who represents new hires from several law enforcement agencies. Smaller agencies may have just one recruit in a class. Participants in these regional police academies are called “Sponsored Attendees” because they are sponsored by the agencies that have hired them. 

Regional Training Centers often have extra capacity in their training academy and open this up to people who want to attend but have not yet been hired by a law enforcement agency. These attendees are called “Open Enrollees.” These are the academies that you can research in case you want to get POST certified on your own prior to being hired by a given agency.

How to Attend a Police Academy on your own 

If you have decided to add a competitive advantage in the form of a POST certificate to your CV prior to applying for a police officer you need to research the police academies that can help you achieve that. Not every police academy accepts open enrollees. Those that do are regional law enforcement training centers and may often be associated with community colleges or tech schools. Also, keep in mind that getting into a police academy as an open enrollee is competitive. You may not get in the first time, however, if you are truly determined to get POST certified, you should not give up and try again.   

Each regional law enforcement training center has their own application and selection process. The selection process for enrolling in the police academy as an open enrollee is similar to being hired by a law enforcement agency. This is because often there are more people interested in attending than the capacity of the academy to take learners in, and hence they need to have a competitive selection process. Secondly, there is no point in training someone who for whatever reason has no chance of ever being hired as a law enforcement officer. In order to determine if you are eligible to attend the academy, each training center uses a competitive selection process similar to that used by the agencies for hiring police officers. In such a way the training centers select those who have a reasonable chance of having a career in law enforcement.  

There are certain requirements for attending a regional police academy as an open enrollee. These can include: 

  • Minimum or maximum age requirement 
  • Driver’s License 
  • No felonies or certain misdemeanors 
  • Educational requirements 

The requirements will be the same as the requirements set by the law enforcement agencies in the state.   

Those who meet the minimum requirements may be invited to participate in an oral interview. The interview panel will ask the applicant various questions to determine why they want to work in law enforcement. Part of the conversation will also discuss their understanding and expectations about a career in law enforcement to make sure that the applicant is actually aware of the duties and tasks that lay ahead of them.  

A final step is the selection process will be a Background Investigation which may include passing a Psychological Exam and Polygraph. 

The overall aim of this competitive selection process is to make sure that only the best candidates who are suitable for law enforcement officers will get the training. On the other hand, however, if you are unable to attend a police academy as an open enrollee it does not mean that you do not qualify for becoming a police officer and that you have no chance to be hired if you apply with a law enforcement agency. It may simply mean, that you need to better prepare for the police officer hiring process.

Cost of attending a Police Academy 

Acquiring a POST certificate on your own comes at a certain expense. Open enrollees pay a fee to the police academy to participate and this can range from $3,000 to $5,500. Applicants must also provide their own equipment including a firearm. The good news is that some police department may reimburse part of the amount for your training upon hiring you. Make sure to check and avail of this option if it is offered by the agency that hires you.  

Duration of study 

These academies may last anywhere from 3 to 6 months. Attendees at these regional academies usually commute and do not live at the academy. However, some meals are often provided. 

Attendees, including open enrollees, are required to maintain a minimum score in their classes, as well as adhere to certain behavioral standards. Failure to do so can result in being removed from the academy, with the open enrollee forfeiting the cost of attending. 

Upon graduation, an open enrollee is “POST Certified” as meeting the training requirements for a peace officer in that state. However, they do not have any law enforcement authority at this point. This authority is granted after being hired by an agency and being sworn-in. 

When someone who is POST certified is hired by an agency, they may be waived from having to attend a police academy. Often, they go through an abbreviated training program to teach them policies and procedures specific to their agency. 

If someone who is POST certified applies to an agency that has their own police academy, often the applicant will be required to attend the entire police academy for that agency even though they are already POST Certified. 

How being POST Certified will help you get a job 

When searching for Police Officer Job Openings, be prepared to see that many law enforcement agencies have put on a job announcement where the requirements include being POST certified. Agencies have made the determination that these are the type of applicants they want and if you are POST certified you will be able to compete for this opening. Often agencies will have POST Certified as one of the “Preferred Qualifications” or described as something their “Preferred Applicant” will possess. This means that if you do not have the certificate you are still welcome to apply. However, priority will be given to those who are already POST Certified. For agencies that do not require POST Certification in advance, or list it as a preferred qualification, being POST Certified will certainly give you a competitive edge in the hiring process.

Becoming POST certified is one of the secrets that can rocket you to the top of the preferred candidates and help you become a police officer. It is an investment of time, money and effort that is worthy if you truly want to pursue a career in law enforcement. Just keep in mind that you need to attend a training academy in the same state where you apply for a job as otherwise your POST certificate won’t be recognized. Be prepared for additional training by your hiring agency. This training involves policies and procedures specific to that agency.