Those who think law enforcement training is exclusively for police officers are in for a surprise: These degrees open doors to a wide breadth of career possibilities. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, law enforcement and private sector security are increasingly intertwined, diversifying job options. Some law enforcement grads are even making headway in nontraditional fields like education and business.
What to expect from law enforcement degree programs
While not all law enforcement positions require formal education, earning an online criminal justice degree can help professionals advance through the ranks faster. An associate degree may suffice for local or state-level positions, but federal positions often require a bachelor's degree or perhaps a master's. Doctoral programs, however, are few and far between. Schools might offer degrees in law enforcement specifically or in one of the following related disciplines:
- Criminal justice administration
- Police science or administration
- Organizational security and management
Law enforcement degrees vary, but most have a similar curriculum. According to The College Board, the following are among the most common law enforcement classes:
- Community relations
- Criminal justice administration
- Criminal law
- Police organization, administration
Though rarely required, courses in communications, management and foreign language can help to boost graduates' resumes.
Online degrees in law enforcement have their perks
Most law enforcement degree programs help build leadership skills and legal know-how, leaving the more physical aspects of the field to police academies. This is precisely why online law enforcement schools work. Online degrees in law enforcement could be a fitting choice for those already working in law enforcement--known for its irregular hours--who want to advance their careers without sacrificing experience. This platform promotes cultural awareness and networking opportunities, both of which benefit law enforcement professionals immensely. Some agencies may help cover tuition costs for employees going back to school.
Who makes a great law enforcement professional?
Law enforcement professionals come from diverse backgrounds, but might be sticklers for the rules with a passion for justice. They are honest, dedicated and willing to risk their safety for others. These natural-born leaders must also display sound judgment and an ability to keep cool in a crisis.
Most law enforcement hopefuls must also meet a number of physical requirements. Candidates must typically be at least 21 years old, in good physical condition, and have a clean criminal record. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those applying for advanced or federal positions might even need to take a polygraph test.
Popular law enforcement career paths
Law enforcement degrees can offer graduates a surprisingly wide array of career opportunities. The following are just a few of these careers, as reported by the BLS and the DOJ:
- College professors
- Federal agents, including FBI or DEA
- HR managers
- Police, correctional or probation officers
- Private security professionals
- U.S. marshals
Whether you are looking for a new career or to advance in your current field, an education can be beneficial. Law enforcement careers are for those who want to make a difference, and an education could be the key to stepping in that direction.
Law enforcement at a glance
- Job outlook: Positions among law enforcement pros are projected to grow by 10 percent between 2008 and 2018. Those with degrees may fare best.
- Key employers: Government departments of all levels and college campuses hire the highest concentration of law enforcement grads.
- Salary: While the BLS notes that police officers earned a 2010 median annual salary of $55,620, detectives and first-line supervisors earned more robust wages of $68,820 and $78,260, respectively.