Can a Felon Become a Police Officer?

A criminal conviction for a felony is a pretty serious issue. These offenses can typically qualify the offender to a sentence of over one year. They can range from simple pickpocketing to murder.

The classification of the offense as a felony or misdemeanor will depend on the jurisdiction. The punishment attached will similarly vary.

Once released from prison, felons will often start by looking for a job. Not many employers and industries are accommodating of felons.

It is thus surprising how many will ask, can a felon become a police officer?

Can a Felon Become a Police Officer?

Having been on the receiving end of law enforcement, many are interested in joining up.

A career as a cop is something many young people aspire to. Even for those who end up pursuing a different career, there is still a chance later in life.

Sadly, for those that end up committing serious crimes, this dream can become harder. It is hard to imagine a criminal later wanting to become an enforcer.

However, the circumstances surrounding some crimes, including felonies, may not really indicate bad character.

In answer to the question, can a felon become a cop? – The answer is, it depends.

As a rule of thumb, anyone with a felony conviction cannot become a police officer. In many instances, a felony conviction for a police officer can lead to end of employment. However, not all jurisdictions and law agencies work the same.

There are however some ways one might wiggle through. The conditions are however often difficult. Even then competition from other candidates with clean records can make things more challenging.

Let’s look at how becoming a police officer might happen.

Guidelines for Becoming a Police Officer

With different jurisdictions, comes different rules on how one can become a police officer. Here are some general steps to follow to become a cop.

1. Meet The Minimum Requirements

Most jurisdictions require that you be an American citizen. You should also have a driving license. By the time you graduate from the police academy, you should be 21 years old.

Guidelines for Becoming a Police Officer

A background check will be carried out. A clean record is better. Many jurisdictions do ban those with felony or misdemeanor convictions.

2. Education Requirements

An undergraduate degree would be ideal, but even some college credits can be accepted. Some states require at least 60 college credit hours. Or at least two years’ college training.

While most do not specify specialties, subjects that relate to this work are advisable. Choices like criminal law, psychology, and sociology are popular choices.

3. Apply and Pass the Police Entrance Exam

Once you meet the minimum requirements you need to fill out an application. You will need to complete your details and attach copies of supporting documents. You will also need to write a cover letter.

If accepted by the academy, you will still need to sit the entrance exam. This exam tests several areas including problem-solving ability. Your admission will depend on your score.

4. Physical Exam

This is another area you will be tested on. Much of police work as a rookie involves physical exertion. You need to be fit enough to perform your duties.

Required fitness levels may vary according to state and the recruit’s gender. In some states, you may be required to have additional skills like swimming.

Recruits are often taken through a serious exercise regimen. This includes running, weight lifting, climbing, and core exercises.

Shortcomings, like being overweight and having hearing difficulty, can lead to disqualification. History of uncontrolled PTSD can also be a problem.

5. Drug and Polygraph Test

This serves to complement background checks. Although some cities have eliminated questions on drug use, drug tests are still in effect.

A history of drug use does not disqualify a candidate. Lying about it can however do so. If asked during the interview, do not lie.

A drug test is mandatory for all recruits. How the results will affect candidacy will depend on the jurisdiction. Some academies will still consider candidates whose drug offenses are not excessive and older than several years.

Polygraphs tests are a part of background checks. They test how truthful a candidate has been in their application. The exam takes the measurement of such factors like blood pressure and breathing.

6. Complete Training

a Felon Become a PolicePolice academy training can take between 12-14 weeks. This can equate to over 800 hours or more, in and out of the classroom. It includes firearms training, vehicle operations, first-aid, and emergency response protocols.

The training is quite intensive and the passing score fairly high. During this time there are strict codes of conduct to adhere to. This covers such areas as appearance to personal conduct.

Besides physical conditioning, recruits are also expected to cover certain academic courses. This can include studies such as hostage negotiation to civil liberties.

A recruit is assigned to a senior officer on completing training and passing all tests as required. This officer will provide them with further on-the-job training and mentorship.

Now you’ve learned what it takes to become a cop. You may want to understand why felons are disqualified.

Here’s what you need to know.

Factors Against Hiring Felons


Decent employment can keep felons on the straight and narrow. Law enforcement, however, does increase the risk of interaction with criminals. The temptation to fall back into old ways may be high.

Even when on parole, felons are obliged to stay away from other ex-cons because of this. The risk of re-offending makes this kind of work less than ideal.

Credibility Issues

One of the common tasks police officers undertake is giving testimony. If they have a felony conviction they become vulnerable to impeachment.

A defense lawyer can lawfully interrogate them on their criminal conduct. Such revelations can make it hard for juries to believe their testimonies. This can make even a clear cut case to fail.

Loss of Rights

can a felon become police officer rightCertain criminal convictions can result in the loss of some rights. Losing the right to possess firearms will automatically disqualify a person. Police officers must carry guns.

Losing your driving license is another issue that can disqualify a candidate. These rights are part of the reason those that ask – can a felon be a cop – get a no.

Parole Conditions

As long as you are on parole, you cannot apply to become a police officer. Technically, you are still serving the punishment for an offense.

Other restrictions can also apply. Sex offenders required to keep certain distances from schools cannot possibly work in law enforcement. You must have freedom of movement to do the job.

Moral Conduct Code

The requirement of good moral conduct is applicable to law enforcement and the military. A criminal conviction denotes a lack of said moral conduct.

Failing moral character standards is a red flag in law enforcement. It suggests that you lack discipline and could even become a security risk. You may even serve to disrupt order and badly influence others.

What to do when you do not fit the bill? Let’s have a look at your options.

Supporting Felons Finding a New Career

Police departments that hire felons are practically non-existent. Even for those that claim they can, the barriers are often insurmountable.

It is also not really known how a criminal background may affect relations with other officers. And how it may affect career progression. It is better to aim for jobs with better chances of success in the short and long-term.

Supporting Felons Finding a New CareerA good starting point for any recently released convict is to turn to family. Your family knows your good side as well and is often more sympathetic. Let them know you are looking for work and they may be able to help.

If you have been assigned a therapist and parole officer, make use of their contacts. Many have a Rolodex of likely employers they can send you to.

Many of the initial jobs felons find are low paying and low-level. They will, however, keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Make use of whatever free time to add to your skills in a field you are interested in.

Self-motivation is key here as not many people will have a kind word for you. Many felons have managed to rebuild their lives and their wealth this way.

Try not to be discouraged. Make use of aptitude tests, your interests, and professional recommendations to find careers that you can excel in.

Some careers can be more difficult to pursue than others. Find a balance between what you want and what is achievable.

Not satisfied? Here are a few direct answers that can clarify things.


Can I Be a Cop with A Felony Arrest?

An arrest is not a conviction, so yes. You can become a cop if arrested for a felony, but not convicted.

This is only if the case was resolved without your conviction. If the case is still ongoing, you cannot become a police officer.

Can You Become a Police Officer with a Misdemeanor Conviction?

It depends on the jurisdiction and severity of the offense. Some convictions can however outrightly disqualify you. This includes anything that strips you of rights to firearm possession and driving.

Can I Become a Police Officer If I’ve Been Arrested?

Yes, if there are no pending proceedings. If the arrest does not end in conviction, you are fine.

If, however, the investigation or legal proceedings are ongoing, then no. you will have to wait till the case is resolved.

Can I become a police officer with a felony conviction?

Generally speaking, no. Felony convictions are one of the crimes that disqualify a person from joining the police force.

There are some jurisdictions where you can get a waiver. However, competition is usually so high that those with clean records are given priority.

Can I Become a Cop with an Expunged Felony?

Again this is a no. Even an expunged record will still be unearthed during background checks. Background checks are mandatory for law enforcement.

Any false statement about this can further add to credibility concerns. This would definitely disqualify you.

Can I Become a Cop with an Expunged Misdemeanor?

Again, this will depend on the jurisdiction and severity of the offense. If it restores your right to firearm possession and driving, it can work in your favor.

Can I be a cop with a DUI conviction?

If the conviction includes a suspension of license, then you cannot be considered. You would have to wait till the case is resolved and license restored.

The reason behind the DUI may however matter. If there is a drug or alcohol abuse component, your chances diminish. One time offenses are less likely to lead to disqualification.


There are places one can apply to become a police officer with a felony conviction. However, law enforcement jobs are very desirable and many will apply.

When considering a felon’s application versus someone with a clean record, the odds are not great. You would have to be a truly exceptional candidate whose qualities surpass the competition.

Sadly, a conviction, even an old one, gives rise to worrying factors that would discourage such selection. These are realities that every responsible adult has to face.

Some states, like Colorado, do grant waivers to police applicants with felony convictions. However, certification for law enforcement work does not mean securing the actual job.

It is advisable to focus on work that you stand a reasonable chance of attainment. Rather than waste time and effort on law enforcement, look at other career options that offer better hope.

If you do manage to regain your firearm rights, then private security work is a good alternative. Though not quite law enforcement, it is similar in terms of responsibilities.

Letting go of a dream can be difficult. With an open mind however you can still find job satisfaction and success in another line of work.

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