Today we are going to cover a question that we have received many times from DiscoverCorrections.com users. So, Christopher, S. Nichole, and whoever else has asked about this, this blog post is for you!
Peace Officer Defined
After receiving numerous inquiries about what a peace officer is, we decided to provide a definition in our Glossary of Terms:
“Peace Officer: The definitions of a “peace officer” are governed by state law, and therefore vary by jurisdiction. A peace officer generally refers to any employee of a state, county, or a municipality, a sheriff or other public law enforcement agency, whose duties include arrests, searches and seizures, execution of criminal and civil warrants, and is responsible for the prevention or detection of crime or for the enforcement of the penal, traffic or highway laws. The Peace Officer definition may also include those deputy sheriffs whose duties include the care, custody and control of inmates in a jail setting.”
To sum it up, a peace officer is a person who has been certified to enforce law and order. Probation and parole officers may be considered a peace officer in some jurisdictions.
In order to be considered a peace officer, an individual must be certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, commonly referred to as POST. We have also provided a definition for POST in our Glossary of Terms:
“Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST): In some states, the POST provides peace officers with the training and certification mandated by a state, including the authority to carry firearms, concealed or otherwise, subject to the written firearms policy created by the agency employing the peace officer.”
More Details on Peace Officers and POST
• Normally a peace officer is someone who works in law enforcement-- police, sheriff, customs, state patrol, etc. Correctional professionals can also be certified as peace officers.
• In some jurisdictions, a peace officer is known as a law enforcement officer.
• Whether or not correctional officers or probation/parole officers are considered peace officers varies from state to state and sometimes from organization to organization within a state.
• Even when correctional professionals are considered peace officers, their permissions can vary in regards to carrying firearms, conducting searches, and possessing arrest powers.
• Some agencies may provide correctional officers or probation/parole officers with limited powers similar to those of peace officers, even though they are not officially certified as peace officers. These limited powers can include being able to carry a weapon and power to arrest and transport, as required to carry out their job duties.
• When an individual is certified as a peace officer, it means that they meet the requirements set up under POST, including successful completion of a training academy provided by a law enforcement, police or correctional POST-approved training center.
• POST certification must be maintained over time, which can mean ongoing in-service training and re-certification for weapons and defensive techniques, if applicable.
• If a position requires you to be POST-certified, they will often allow you a period of time after hire to obtain certification (a year, for example) unless otherwise stated in the job posting.
• States have their own POST organizations. Therefore, you are certified as a peace officer by the POST authority in your state. When you obtain employment in another state, there is no guarantee that the new state will honor POST certification from another state (a process that is called reciprocity).
• In some states, you can become a peace officer on your own by going through the POST certification process (often called self-sponsorship). It will add to your resume, but please remember that you may have to complete the process again if you need to be certified by another POST authority (i.e., you may not be able to transfer your POST certification from one state to another). The certification can also expire or become inactive if you are not employed by a law enforcement or correctional agency and/or a stated amount of time passes.
• POST requires a certain amount of training hours and designated topics for the academy that must be completed in order to obtain certification. They also determine the training hours and mandated topics for ongoing training that must be completed by peace officers in order to maintain certification (normally on an annual or bi-annual basis). Training must be approved by POST and provided by a POST-approved instructor if it will count towards certification or re-certification as a peace officer.
• Minimum qualifications to be eligible for certification as a peace officer can include citizenship (must be U.S. citizen), age (18 or 21 years of age depending on POST authority), education (high school diploma/GED or higher depending on POST authority), background investigation/fingerprints, medical exam, polygraph exam, psychological exam, and no felonies or recent drug use. These qualifications are in addition to the successful completion of the POST-approved academy that can include approximately 500 hours (number of hours varies by POST agency) of required training.
• Peace officer certification can be required for some higher-level administration positions in law enforcement and corrections. Supervisors may be required to be POST-certified at a higher classification level, which means increased training than required of line staff.
Why Being a Peace Officer is Important
Although you can certainly work in corrections without being a peace officer, this certification provides a higher level of authority and permissions to carry out your job duties. Because certification is strictly administered by the POST authority, certification as a peace officer may also provide an advanced level of respectability and accountability.
If you live in or want to work in a state that requires candidates to possess peace officer certification prior to being hired, we would recommend that you contact the local Peace Officers Standards and Training Council (POST) to find out more about the process.
We hope that this post answers many of the common questions that you may have about what it means to become a peace officer and why it may be important for your career. If you have a question that has not been properly addressed, feel free to comment below and we may feature it on an upcoming blog post.