Law enforcement typically allows for different entry points and a diverse array of career opportunities, sifting through all the available information to find the best school can prove challenging.
The following information sheds light on a law enforcement career path. Students learn what the typical online law enforcement degree looks like, what program and professional prerequisites might exist, and possible careers for a degree in law enforcement. Equipped with this information, students better understand the different programs and career options available and what pathways suit their interests best.
Overview of Law Enforcement Degrees
An online law enforcement degree prepares graduates for careers in protective services, crime prevention, and emergency response. Equipped with specialized enforcement skills and training, law enforcement graduates find work in local police departments, security organizations, and federal agencies. This training and expertise also separates law enforcement graduates from those with a criminal justice degree, as the latter typically prepares students to work within the law after police apprehension.
Online law enforcement degrees often allow students to specialize their training and education, allowing them to match their specific interests with their intended profession. Upon graduation, aspiring police officers typically attend an officer training center or a police academy. While a law enforcement degree rarely replaces the need for this additional training, it helps prepare students for it. A bachelor's degree in law enforcement online does not differ much from on-campus degrees. Even with the required practicums, many online schools allow students to find a local placement to avoid long commutes or relocation.
While many law enforcement professionals pursue this degree to satisfy their personal values, ethics, and ideals, the career outlook for protective services acts as a strong incentive. Across the country, protective services organizations employ large workforces and pay them well. Police officers earn a median annual salary of nearly double the average salaried employee, and the projected job growth stands on par with the average job.
The admission requirements for online law enforcement degrees vary by school and program. Many schools require nothing more than a high school diploma and a satisfactory GPA for admission; however, some schools wish to see a student's community commitment, which could entail community service, volunteering, or membership in a community organization.
As the law enforcement profession continues to change and evolve, aspiring police officers must demonstrate the aptitude for critical thinking and problem solving, along with an interest in community well-being. Applicants may need to display these skills, strengths, and interests within an application letter or through their work and volunteer experience. Applicants must also boast clean criminal records, specifically the absence of a felony conviction.
Due to the physical nature and demands of the policing profession, some law enforcement programs may require students to pass certain physical exams. While students often use the time in school and within the program to build the necessary stamina, strength, and agility, some tests, such as vision and hearing exams, may prove more restrictive. Students should verify the application requirements for their specific program of interest and the requirements of their local police academy and police department in advance.
What Will I Learn?
The typical online law enforcement degree provides students with the analytical and conflict resolution skills necessary for a career in policing and protective services. Students not only learn the complexities of the law, but also how to investigate, enforce, and apprehend those who break the law. Many programs include work placements or practicums to provide students with practical experience and a closer look at the profession. Some students also receive the option to specialize in a specific law enforcement area.
Most online law enforcement degrees require 120 credits for graduation, a total of which typically includes 24-36 credits in core law enforcement courses, 12-30 credits in law enforcement electives, 30-36 credits in general education, 20-26 general elective credits, and 6-12 specialization credits. While each program provides different offerings, the following list highlights some of the typical courses available in a law enforcement bachelor's degree. Course titles may vary slightly, but the information covered represents some of the core teachings found in law enforcement programs.
Introduction to Law Enforcement
This course covers the fundamental structures and players in the law enforcement world. Students gain an understanding of how law enforcement works and what challenges exist within the field. Many programs include criminal justice introductions which provide information on the court systems and rehabilitation services available.
Courses in police psychology provide students with the skills to apply psychology to law enforcement. In law enforcement, psychology not only applies to crime, and criminal assessment and evaluation but also within the police force. While a psychology background prepares police officers to better handle negotiations and investigations, this background also aids in understanding the high levels of stress police officers face.
Principles of Investigation
This course teaches students the why and how regarding civil and criminal investigations. Students analyze criminal behavior and various investigative techniques specific to different types of crimes and criminals. Some programs also provide students with experience in certain scientific methods, such as using radiation and ultraviolet lights or analyzing fabrics and hairs.
These courses typically include a historical look at policing and the professional evolution that came from law changes, societal movements, and technological innovations. Diversity within the police force and increased scrutiny on the profession play a large role in these courses as modern policing evolved within and because of these contexts.
Criminal Procedure and Evidence
In this course, learners explore how case law and evidence work together. Students learn about evidence admissibility, how to collect and analyze evidence, and how to evaluate it as evidence and proof. Other course elements typically include search and seizure policies, due process, and modern developments.
While some schools offer cybercrime investigation as a specialization, the prevalence of cybercrime makes this training necessary for nearly all law enforcement programs. In this course, students learn how to detect cybercrimes and how to use available resources to conduct cyber investigations. Students also learn cyber laws and methods for collecting and analyzing evidence.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement?
Graduates with an online law enforcement degree benefit from a specialized skill set that gives them an inside track for careers in policing and protective services. Not only do many police training programs and academies now require a bachelor's degree to enter the program, but advanced positions, such as detectives and management roles, often require degrees from applicants regardless of their experience. Use the following information to learn more about the skills acquired in a law enforcement degree and the potential careers awaiting graduates.
Students taking an online law enforcement degree work through various levels of education, acquiring unique skills and training along the way. In the early years, students learn fundamental skills, such as communication, critical thinking, and leadership. Over time, students learn highly specialized practical skills in areas such as crime scene investigation, interview and interrogation techniques, and police administration. While these skills transfer into other professions, they provide graduates with a running start for police and protective services careers.
Students also benefit from the legal aspects of a law enforcement degree. Since law enforcement programs include training regarding the legal system, the court system, and case law, graduates acquire the skills employed in legal professions. This knowledge allows graduates to explore other professional options aside from policing. Many schools and programs enable students to specialize in certain fields. Specializations typically provide unique training, a more diverse skill set, and even more career options. The following information highlights just some of the careers and opportunities awaiting law enforcement graduates.
Potential Careers and Salaries
While becoming a police officer remains the primary goal for many law enforcement students, the degree and specialized training leads to many other options for graduates. Many related industries, such as security or private investigation, seek out these highly trained individuals to fill their ranks. The legal profession also provides career opportunities for those trained in law and administration.
Since not all police departments require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, those who do may achieve higher ranks, positions, and salary. Some professions, such as probation officers, require bachelor's degrees. In fact, these positions typically require candidates to possess prerequisite courses in psychology or social work. While the careers below offer a look at some available options for law enforcement graduates, certain administrations and departments may require additional education or training.
Annual Median Salary: $62,960
Police officers work in general law enforcement, patrolling and responding to calls and emergencies. Generally, police officers sweep their patrol area for suspicious and criminal activity. Some officers work in more specialized units dealing with drugs, weapons, or specific populations and crimes.
Annual Median Salary: $51,410
Parole officers work with released prisoners, helping them rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. These officers meet with parolees and their families during scheduled visits. They may also run rehabilitation programs and help counsel parolees and their families when needed.
Annual Median Salary: $65,050
Security managers work in a variety of industries and manage a team of trained security guards. Depending on the industry, managers may require specialized training. Typical positions require leadership and communication training, along with formal security training or licensure.
Annual Median Salary: $46,957
Fraud analysts typically work alongside law enforcement professionals in a variety of industries detecting, analyzing, and preventing fraudulent activity. Analysts train to identify suspicious activity and track it back to its source.
Detective or Criminal Investigator
Annual Median Salary: $50,700
Private detectives and investigators work within the confines of the law to conduct investigations, but they do so as private citizens. Investigators, while often highly trained, must perform their duties without obstructing the law or infringing upon another person's rights.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Law Enforcement?
A bachelor's degree in law enforcement prepares graduates with the skills and education necessary for many entry-level positions in the field. Some careers, however, may require additional training for entry. While most police departments require bachelor's degree graduates to complete a training or cadet program, some positions require an advanced degree in law enforcement for eligibility. Graduates with these degrees typically seek management positions or specialized positions in agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In addition to more training, a master's degree in law enforcement typically includes degree concentrations, which provides graduates with more specialized training. Concentrations may provide more direct access to specialty positions, but not all management and specialty positions require an advanced degree. In fact, many professionals attain these positions with a bachelor's degree, work experience, or training provided through the police force.
Accreditation for Law Enforcement Bachelor's Programs
Accreditation remains one of the most important factors for any higher education program. While no national accrediting body oversees or validates American law enforcement programs, students can still verify that their desired programs and schools meet the highest standards.
Students can ensure that their desired school obtained regional accreditation by one of the six accrediting bodies, including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the Higher Learning Commission, the New England Commission of Higher Education, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. These governing bodies authorize and validate each accredited institution, ensuring that each meets the region's educational and institutional standards.
Some programs also offer relationships with various reputable law enforcement agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. While these programs do not guarantee positions or entry into the partner organization, the programs provide students with an educational path that leads in the right direction.
Law Enforcement Professional Organizations
Professional organizations in any line of work provide members with quality resources and industry connections. Members typically gain access to industry publications, workplace support lines, and networking events. For law enforcement professionals, these organizations help members stay current on law and policy changes, provide access to legal assistance, and even offer union support. The following list highlights some of the most powerful organizations in law enforcement.
National Association of Police Organizations
The association bands together police officer unions and associations from across the country to create a unified voice for advocacy, education, and advancing the law enforcement profession. Members gain access to networking events and pension plans.
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
This association represents more than 26,000 federal law enforcement officers across the country, providing advocacy and professional support, insurance, professional development opportunities, and legal advice for its members. Members also receive discounts on various services and scholarship opportunities.
American Criminal Justice Association
Representing professionals from criminal justice-related careers, this association features six regional chapters across the country along with the overarching national body. Members receive numerous benefits, such as access to industry news and events, scholarship and professional development opportunities, and job boards.