The field of law enforcement is broad, but the root of it encompasses the men and women who serve their community as police and patrol officers, and the detectives and investigators of the federal government. While analysts, forensic technicians and other criminal justice experts all pay a role in the legal system, law enforcement degrees are designed specifically for those who wish to entire a police academy and pursue a job as an officer or detective after they graduate.
Many future officers decide to major in either Criminal Justice or Criminology, as these two majors oversee all of the fundamentals and contributory factors of the legal system they strive to defend and uphold. Law enforcement degrees are available separately by a few schools in the US, and there are also state technical institutes that offer preparatory law enforcement degrees that allow students to test for certification after they finish.
Most law enforcement degrees, however, are found as a specialization within a larger Criminal Justice program.
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Law Enforcement Degrees
Law Enforcement Associate’s Degrees
A two-year associate’s degree in law enforcement is a great way to kick off your law enforcement career. Law enforcement degrees usually fall under criminal justice or criminology. Students of either program take essential courses such as Introduction to Criminal Justice, Introduction to Criminology, Policing and Corrections, Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law.
Law Enforcement Bachelor’s Degrees
A law enforcement bachelor’s degree is often awarded as a criminal justice degree with a concentration in law enforcement. This degree presents studies in criminal justice, law, the judicial process, crime and law, drugs and crime and the correctional process.
By following a law enforcement track, students who aspire to become local, state or federal law enforcement officers will learn about the complexities of law enforcement at the various levels of government through classes such as Crime Scene Investigation I, Criminal Procedure, Patrol Procedures, Community Policing and Police Supervision & Management.
Law Enforcement Master’s Degrees
Master’s degrees in law enforcement prepare officers for upper-level police supervisor and management positions, as well as federal and state detectives and investigators for promotions through the exploration and research of a particular division of law enforcement.
Some concentrations that a master’s degree student of law enforcement might choose are Law Enforcement Administration and Law Enforcement Intelligence & Analysis. The intensity of a master’s degree program is designed to test student’s current knowledge and utilize the skills they developed in undergraduate studies and the work force to introduce them to new concepts of law enforcement procedures and theories.
A Federal Law Enforcement specialization or Law Enforcement Administration master’s degree will ready students for promotions and applications to upper-level positions in the state and federal government.
Law Enforcement Doctorate Degrees
Those who want to teach others about law enforcement, or reach the top tier of law enforcement careers in the federal government, will benefit most from a doctorate degree in law enforcement. The most common approach for those who want to study at the doctorate level of law enforcement is to attend law school and earn a JD. You can then go on to pass the Bar exam and become a practicing lawyer, or apply the specific branch of law you studied to your desired division in the work force.
The highest level of education most upper-level law enforcement degree holders will pursue is a master’s. However, a PhD or JD is a way to delve further into the legal aspect of law enforcement and prepare yourself for potentially an entirely different career path, one that will be enriched by all your past experience and education in criminal justice.
What Can You Do With a Law Enforcement Degree?
Depending on the career you want, an associate’s degree may be fine. Many police academies require their applicants to have at least two-years college experience studying criminal justice, while other entry-level law enforcement jobs, such as detectives with the FBI, need at least a bachelor’s to get their foot in the door.
Depending on where you live, college experience may not be necessary in order to apply to a police academy, but it’s strongly encouraged for several reasons. First, a criminal justice degree will provide you with a solid understanding of the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. You’ll learn not just about the laws in America, but the different types of crime that plague our nation most, how each can be addressed and ethical means of enforcing the law.
Second, a degree is one way to make yourself eligible for promotions within the police force. Work experience, training and any other criteria are important, but the fact of the matter is that most upper-level law enforcement careers require a level of knowledge and understanding that the police academy doesn’t provide, and should be attained through the curriculum of an accredited criminal justice program.
Lastly, a criminal justice or law enforcement degree will give you more options. If you graduate from a police academy and decide years down the line that you no longer want to be an officer, your potential job options will be limited. With a degree in criminal justice, on the other hand, you’ll be well equipped to enter a variety of entry-level careers, and even be able to return to school to further your education or study a particular area of criminal justice that interests you.
Career Outlook and Salary
The skills obtained through a law enforcement degree program, along with the training received in a police academy, will prepare students to enter the work force and obtain jobs as officers, detectives and more. Some will work for the local government, while others may go on to work for federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.
The income of law enforcement officers and similar positions varies throughout the United States, and is influenced by factors such as location, demand, as well as your own education and experience. As of May 2014, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for police and sheriff’s patrol officers to be $59,560. The top 10 percent of officers in the United States the same year were earning as much as $92,450.
The local and state government held the majority of employment, with 547,520 officers employed at the local level and 59,030 through the state. The federal executive branch of government employed 11,690, while colleges, universities and private schools employed slightly more with 12,570 officers employed in security.
Detectives and criminal investigators earned a higher salary, with an average annual income of $80,540, and the top 10 percent making as much as $127,400 per year in May 2014.