Police officers can wear glasses or contacts as long as their vision is correctable to 20/20 and uncorrected vision is no lower than 20/40. Some departments will allow uncorrected vision in one eye to be as low as 20/200, while the DEA will accept applicants at 20/300.
Law enforcement agencies require vision to be corrected to 20/20 by glasses or contact lenses. That is just one of the many requirements for becoming an officer in most police departments. States have set basic standards for departments and agencies residing within their borders. These cover specific educational qualifications, including a written exam of basic knowledge, an in-depth background check, a psychological examination, and a physical fitness test.
Becoming a police officer takes mental and physical strength, along with a healthy dose of wanting to serve the public in whatever capacity is needed. The very first step in this process is asking yourself whether or not this is the right job for you. The application process reflects the rigor required for a career in law enforcement. The initial phase includes health and vision screenings, followed by a thorough background check. If you pass these, you then proceed to a psychological examination and physical fitness test. These look different for different states and departments, but there is a baseline most states have put into place.
The vision requirements for becoming a police officer go beyond just correctable eyesight and whether you can wear glasses or contacts. In the past, police officers needed perfect vision or near-perfect vision before being considered for a career in law enforcement. With advancements in eyecare, the regulations aren’t as stringent. These days officers can wear glasses or contacts, but there are still some things to consider.
- Vision Correction. Vision can be corrected to 20/20, with most departments requiring uncorrected vision be no lower than 20/40. One eye can be as low as 20/200 but not both. If corrective eyewear is lost, officers still need the ability to shoot and distinguish between faces.
- Peripheral Vision. You need to have a normal range in your peripheral vision. It affects reaction times and situational awareness in the field. Both are important if you are to be effective in law enforcement.
- Color Test. Officer candidates will also need to take a color-blindness exam. They need to be able to recognize all basic colors.
- Depth Perception. Good depth perception is necessary for driving and other police officer related tasks, such as firing a weapon and spacial awareness.
Good vision is essential for any law enforcement officer. Have your eyesight thoroughly tested before applying for any job in the criminal justice field.
Learn the steps to be a police officer HERE!
Before applying to become a police officer, you’ll need to take a written exam. This tests the basic education you would receive in high school courses in reading, writing, and math. Though this assessment is one of the main qualifying factors, more and more police departments require college courses or a Bachelor’s degree for even rookie positions. Some universities even offer a Master’s in Law Enforcement for the higher-level administrative career paths. Here are what each educational option looks like:
- GED or High School Diploma. Trying to get hired in a police department via this route leads to the police academy and on-the-job training. Most of the larger police departments will not accept this route anymore, but many smaller departments still do.
- Military. Most applicants with military backgrounds have weapons training, discipline, and mental conditioning, along with extensive on-the-job training that replaces the college degree options.
- Associates Degree. Getting any degree past high school is going to boost your credibility. It’s no different when becoming a police officer. A two-year degree in criminal justice or law enforcement will make you competitive in smaller departments. If you’re looking at leadership positions, you may need more education, but this degree will set you on the right path.
- Bachelor’s Degree. Highly competitive applicants complete their 4-year degrees in criminal justice, law enforcement, law, and justice, or any other related field of study. If getting hired by any of the various federal law enforcement agencies is your long-term goal, you will need a BA at a minimum.
- Master’s Degree. These are becoming more and more popular for higher-ranking leadership positions and the upper echelons of law enforcement. Some specialized units in larger cities seek these qualified individuals, though it’s not a requirement.
Choose the path above that fits in with your career goals and personal situation. Also, consider where you want to work, how much time you have to commit, and the cost of schooling. Inquire about becoming a reserve officer or request to do ride-a-longs with any department where you’re applying. Both will get your foot in the door and solidify your decision to choose law enforcement as a profession.
Psychological Examination Requirement and Background Check
Mental strength in the law enforcement field is imperative for success. It would help if you could handle difficult situations with sensitivity and have the ability to determine what actions are necessary while under stress. This includes whether you can deal with being verbally assaulted and functioning well while investigating crime scenes. The psych exam s can often be the deciding factor in your future as a police officer. Look at it as another avenue of enlightenment on your career path moving forward. This process will be one more element in deciding if this job is right for you. The pre-screening psychological examination goes through the following steps:
- Pre-Screener and Background Checks. You will be given a questionnaire about your background, including work history and even past drug use. These questions are very general and ones you might see on other applications. These questionnaires are separate from the federal background checks and fingerprints you go through in the initial application process.
- Personality Questionnaires. These are screeners explicitly targeted for police work. They are used to determine whether you have the job’s personality, not whether or not you have mental health issues. There will be many similar-sounding multiple-choice type questions that test for consistency in answers and honesty. Ethics and morality are necessary for police work, to the point that most Bachelor’s degrees with a law enforcement focus dedicate entire semesters to this subject. Always be as honest as possible.
- Interview with a Psychologist. Out of the whole process, this can be the most uncomfortable. They will dig deep into your background and preferences. Though this session is not to diagnose, the psychologist will examine specific behavior patterns and any depression experiences. As with the personality questionnaires, be as honest and open as possible.
Though it can be uncomfortable talking about yourself in such an in-depth manner, this part of the process is vital in weeding out those individuals not suited for this type of work.
Physical Fitness Test Requirement
The written exam will be taken before the Physical Ability Test (PAT). Each department determines what physical abilities it will test and how to test them. All PATs are pass or fail. Some departments have height and weight restrictions, so research these specific requirements before applying to a police department or agency. There are generally two different methods in testing physical fitness:
- Job Simulation. You might be asked to climb up and downstairs, go through an obstacle course, or any number of actions that mimic what you might do on the job. More examples include pulling a weighted dummy at a certain distance, going through a window, climbing, running, or jumping.
- Fitness-based. This is a traditional physical fitness test. You may be asked to do push-ups, sit-ups, run a certain distance, and different weighted strength tests. It is usually scaled for age and gender.
Ask the department you’re applying to for more specific instructions. These will guide you in how you prepare and train. You might also be required to get clearance from a physician before participating, so take that into consideration.
The steps in becoming a police officer are often strenuous but always necessary. It is a serious job in which a thorough process assists not only the department but individual candidates in deciding their future in law enforcement.
Can I become a police officer with a hearing impairment?
On average corrected hearing loss is accepted in many police departments. Most departments require a hearing test during the physical, so check with the department you’re applying to for acceptable standards.
What will disqualify me from becoming a police officer?
The most significant disqualification for entering law enforcement is having a felony conviction. Other disqualifiers are:
- Serious misdemeanors
- Dishonorable discharge from the military
- Past or current drug use
- Bad credit history
- Reported domestic violence
If you’ve started the application process, the psychological exam can also disqualify you from moving forward if they determine you’re not psychologically suited for law enforcement.
Do I have to be a certain height to become a police officer?
On average, the minimum height requirement for a male police officer is 5’7, and for a female, it is 5’2. There may be some exceptions in different police departments and agencies
To learn how to best prepare and study for your police exam click here.
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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
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