Cop Talk Live!

November 15, 2006 | Karin's Blog | 6 comments

Dear Officer Friendly, do you need a college degree to move up the ranks in a police department? How young could a lieutenant be? How fast can you move up the ranks? Thanks.

Most departments these days are requiring at least an AA degree in order to apply for work. I always advise young people thinking of a career in law enforcement to obtain a BA in business. First, you can’t get hired in most states unless you are at least 20 1/2 years old. That way you are 21 upon graduation from the academy. Second, law enforcement is no different than any other business when it comes to supervisory positions which are everything above the rank of patrolman. Therefore, if you plan to promote, get some managing skills through a degree.

Okay, let’s say you get hired at 21, do your two years of probation and at least two more of patrol and now you are 25. Next would be a special assignment of no less than two years and now you are 27. You test for Sergeant but because it’s your first time, you don’t score high enough to be considered. Back to patrol for one to two more years when they test again or you pick up another special assignment. At any rate, you are now 29 and very, very good and score high on your written and oral board. Now you need to be a Sergeant for a few of years and run a shift. A special assignment as a Sergeant for a couple of years is also in order and then the testing routing again. Probably get passed over the first go around and have to wait a couple of more years. Let’s see, add the nine and three, carry the one, ummm. Okay, about 36 in most average size departments I would think would be the earliest possible age, and that is for a very fast tracker who’s kept his nose clean and kissed some serious ass.


  1. Lee

    That would be kissing some big serious ass! I found in my career, if we got a young sergeant, they had one hell of a time, because the team most likely had a lot of years on him, and experience. But those who did move up the ranks early usually did have college degrees pushing them. But still experience and respect is everything in this line of work, as you well know. I had a young inexperienced sergeant once, who we ran circles around. He spent far to much time, making coffee for the brass, rather then being in the trenches and doing combat duty. So by the time he got to us, a very senior cranky night team, who’d been together for years. He found out how much he didn’t know. As for my husband, when he got a younger sergeant, (considering his age and expereince) he was known as punishment to a kiss ass newbie young sergeant. He ususally got a warning from the LT. to behave.

  2. Amanda

    Thanks Officer Friendly, I wanted to be sure my characters are old enough for being Lt. in the story. This helped alot, thanks. Wow, alot of work and effort to move up the ladder of success.

  3. Officer Friendly

    36 is being generous, Amanda but it does happen. As you go up the ranks, the ranks become fewer, more Sgts. than Lt’s, more Lt’s than Captain’s and so one. Therefore, the individuals obtaining those ranks should be the best and most mature. Too bad it doesn’t always workout that way…

  4. J. Carson Black

    I had a friend who went into police work later in life – when she was in her thirties. She was also brilliant. After waiting the required two years to take the test for detective, she aced it the first time – which is unheard of – and three years later she was a sergeant. However, I’m guessing she made more than a few enemies along the way. Now she’s a lawyer, pulling down mid-six figures a year. When I want to brush off my inferiority complex, I have lunch with her!

    I have a question for the hub-man. Isn’t it true in a lot of sheriff’s departments and also small-town police forces that he sheriff or chief can appoint someone detective? Like waving a wand and saying, “You’re a detective”? I have a twenty-seven-year-old woman sheriff’s deputy, and I want to make her a detective. This is a very, very small force in the south. Now that she’s suddenly a detective – does the sheriff send her for any additional training or just start sending cases at her way? We’re talking few resources, but I’m thinking he would pair her with the one other detective…


  5. Officer Friendly

    Jake – The Chief or Sheriff is the ultimate power in the department and can pretty much do as thye please so long as there isn’t a process for such promotions already in place. Larger departments have human resource departments to contend with and a City Manager’s office, but it is totally possible in a small organization.

  6. J. Carson Black

    Thanks, OF. I hope you got your family safely to the rec room and back. Protect and Serve. (The vows that replaced honor and obey, I think.) 😉

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