Can a Felon Become a Police Officer?

Felons that wish to enter law enforcement may choose to become a police officer. Police officers are some of the most trusted members of society, the respect for the work that police officers do is very high. In this article we will cover the steps a felon must go through to join the police force, as well as look at the qualifications for becoming a police officer.

Requirements to Become a Police Officer.

Felon or not, every applicant that wishes to become a police officer must meet the following criteria.

  • Hold a high school diploma or equivalent (college is preferred).
  • Be at least 19 years of age (some states require police officers to be 21+)
  • Be a U.S. Citizen.
  • Be of sound mind and have strong moral character.
  • Hold a valid driver’s license.
  • Have no psychical impairments to perform the job.
  • Be fluent in English.

There are many more qualifications that vary state to state, but the qualifications listed above are universal across the country.

Police Officer Training, What Does it Look Like?

If a candidate is admitted to police academy, they are in for a challenging 21 weeks. Technically, the police academy is not measured in days, week, or months, it is measured in hours logged. The 21 weeks that was mentioned translates to 594 hours of instruction.

When soon-to-be police officers first arrive at the academy, they will learn about the value of respect, integrity, honestly, and communication. Police academy is not about how many push-ups someone can do, it is about problem solving and critical thinking; yes, fitness is a large part of police academy, but there are hundreds of hours being logged in the classroom as well.

The idea of what police academy looks like has been skewed by Hollywood. Police academies across the nation have been portrayed as always being a competitive environment where the students are constantly battling one another. The reality is that the police academy teaches teamwork and communication skills- police academies breed team players, not solo hot shots.

A large majority of the time in the academy will be focused on the hundreds of laws and procedures police officers are expected to know. A police officer cannot do their job of enforcing the law if they don’t know it, that is why police officers become groomed by legal experts and teachers on not only the laws themselves, but what they are allowed to do as police officers to enforce that law. One of the most typical responses a police officer hears when arresting someone is: “I didn’t know that was illegal”. There are many laws that the average United States citizen is unaware of- that is until they break them. It is a police officer’s duty to know the laws inside and out so that they can follow the proper procedures when detaining or arresting an individual for breaking the law.

After the 594 hours (or 21 weeks) of training are complete, the student is officially sworn in as a member of the police force, congratulations! These new officers are required to take an oath and to uphold the values that the United States holds so dear.

After the swearing in ceremony and a little celebration, the new officers quickly get to work.

How a Felon can Become a Police Officer.

Felons face many restrictions due to their criminal record; these restrictions expand to the job market as well. Becoming a police officer is generally not allowed due to their prior convictions, but it is not impossible.

One of the major obstacle’s felons face during the process of becoming a police officer is the fact that they are not able to possess a firearm. Therefore, for the rest of this article, the police officer position in question is under the assumption that the officer will not be required to possess a firearm.

The first step in determining if a felon can be hired as a police officer is seeing if the state the felon resides in allows it. There are certain states that do not even consider felons for police officer roles due to their criminal record.

If the felon does happen to live in one of the states that do allow convicted felons to become police officers, the next step is to assess what type of felony is on the felon’s record. Any violent felony (murder, rape etc.) automatically rules out the candidate. If the felony that was committed was non-violent, then it is still possible to become a police officer.

Some states offer felon reform programs where felons are able to work for a certificate that states how they have changed and are not a threat to society. This certificate is not technically required to be hired as a police officer, but it is highly recommended and will boost an applicant’s chances of achieving hire.

If the felon is not allowed to become a police officer, but still wants to work within law enforcement or criminal justice, there are number of other careers that the felon might want to take into consideration. The alternative careers will be covered later in this article, so keep reading!

How a Felon Can Increase Their Chances of Getting Hired.

Boost all areas of your life before applying to the police academy. Raise your credit score, build strong work history with contactable references, make all of your payments on time. These things will show up on the background check that the police academy will run when you submit your application- and if you are doing well in life, that will increase your chances.

Focus on the things that you can control. It may seem overwhelming to try and improve all of the areas of your life overnight- just take it one day at a time. Signs of progress are noticeable on background checks, so don’t worry if things are not happening as fast as you’d like.

Consider going to community college to study criminal justice. Community college is very affordable, and the degree only takes two years to complete. This will drastically increase the likelihood of you getting hired because it shows that you are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal of becoming a police officer.

Gather high-quality references to submit along with your application. A high-quality reference is someone who would speak highly of you and is from a professional setting. Professors, former managers or co-workers, or even parole officers can make outstanding references. Employers love to contact references to either verify any information put on the application or ask questions about someone’s character. For a felon, references can be the difference between getting hired or not.

Take a police officer out for coffee and ask the officer to review your application before submission. Most officers would be happy to do so, so long as the felon is polite about it and expresses a genuine interest in joining the force.

The bottom line here is that there is no clear-cut path for a felon to become a police officer, every story is different. The silver lining in every success story is how the felon improved his/her life, and used those improvements to chase their dream.

Alternative Careers for Felons.

There are many other great and exciting careers within criminal justice that a felon may choose to take up. Below is a list of some of the most popular alternative careers for felons.

  • Forensic Analyst
  • Private Security
  • Private Detective
  • Bond Enforcement Agent

This list only scratches the surface on careers for felons. One of the main reasons why a convicted felon is unable to become a police officer is because felons are unable to possess a gun. All of the jobs listed above do not require the person to possess a gun (unless the specific company or agency requires it).

The salaries for these careers are the same, or even more than the average entry level salary for a police officer, which is $34,000.00. Some of these careers do require schooling, such as becoming a forensic analyst or a paralegal, but the other careers do not require any official degrees.

If none of these careers seem appealing, keep in mind that there are many other choices for felons to choose from.


Can a felon join the FBI?

No. The FBI automatically dismisses applicants that have committed felonies. Some roles in the FBI will even eliminate candidates if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor.  One of the most popular career choices in the FBI is to become a Special Agent. If you have a felony or a violent/serious misdemeanor, then this position is unavailable to you.

Can a felon become a DNR officer?

A DNR officer (Department of Natural Resources) is required to carry a firearm in order to safely and properly conduct their duties. A felon is unable to possess a firearm; therefore, felons do not meet the basic standards for becoming a DNR officer and are ruled ineligible.


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