Law enforcement professionals make it their everyday mission to serve and protect others, provide security for their communities, and be among the first responders in times of crisis. Societal demand for public safety ensures a steady availability of jobs in this important field and earning a master's in law enforcement can help lead to advanced employment opportunities.
On this page, discover details about online master's in law enforcement programs, including what it takes to graduate, what to expect in your studies, and how to identify an ideal online program. Other subjects covered include career opportunities for graduates, professional organizations in the field, and college funding options.
What to Know About Online Master's in Law Enforcement Coursework
Earning a master's in law enforcement online requires the completion of 30-36 credits, depending on your school's curriculum. When studying full time, students can typically graduate in 1-2 years. Part-time students may take anywhere from 2.5-4 years, depending on their schedule.
During your master's program, you can expect to encounter new concepts and build on prior learning. Law enforcement graduate degrees focus on the development of leadership skills. Many programs also offer students the opportunity to tailor their education by selecting a specialization or concentration. Popular concentrations include emergency management, judicial administration, crime prevention, and homeland security.
The main difference between online and on-campus law enforcement programs is location: learning at home vs. in a classroom. All curriculum components are the same, but online students typically require extensive self-motivation and excellent time-management skills to succeed.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Law Enforcement Program?
Students pursuing a master's in law enforcement or other closely related degree, such as criminal justice, can expect to encounter coursework in administration and leadership, policy, and conflict resolution. Your specific degree plan may vary depending on your school choice and concentration options, but we provide a few sample courses below.
- Organizational Leadership
By examining the concept of leadership through a variety of theoretical frameworks, students gain a better understanding of how effective leaders operate within a law enforcement organization. The course discusses different contexts, situations, and applications and encourages students to perform rigorous self-assessment of their own leadership strengths and weaknesses.
- Ethics and Criminal Justice
This course addresses ethics issues in criminal justice. Students examine issues from both theoretical and applied standpoints, allowing for advanced exploration and discussion. Students develop an ability to recognize ethical concerns in law enforcement. Topics may include law vs. morality, search and seizure rules, capital punishment, and the use of deadly force.
- Crime Causation, Prevention, and Control
This course provides an in-depth review of modern theoretical perspectives on criminal activity. Students examine how these theories relate to crime prevention and control in their communities. Upon mastering theoretical knowledge of crime causation, prevention, and control, students learn how to effectively apply these theories to real-world policy and action.
- Risk Assessment
This course focuses on developing advanced student knowledge of risk assessment and risk management. Coursework typically focuses on recognizing real vs. perceived threats, along with information sharing and resource collaboration between communities and agencies. Students learn to effectively assess, analyze, and manage potential risks in their communities.
- Law Enforcement Intelligence
Courses on law enforcement intelligence provide insight into the methodologies and functions of strategic, tactical, and operational intelligence in modern law enforcement agencies. Students may examine the organizational structure of intelligence units, the role of the analyst, and how various forms of intelligence can influence a community's crime prevention policy, planning, and decision-making.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Law Enforcement Program?
To better meet the needs of all types of law enforcement leadership, graduate degrees commonly offer several tracks to provide specialized education and training in a singular focus. We describe popular master's in law enforcement concentrations in detail below. Note that offerings differ from one school to another.
- Federal Law Enforcement
This concentration prepares students for federal law enforcement leadership in roles including FBI agent, federal officer, or special investigator. Specialized coursework promotes advanced study of criminology, investigation, and apprehension at the federal level. Students develop relevant hard and soft skills and explore current tools, strategies, and techniques used in federal law enforcement.
- Homeland Security
A concentration in homeland security focuses on preparedness and response. Specialization courses may cover causes and effects of terrorism and the sociological impacts of disasters on local communities. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of homeland security issues, roles and functions of relevant agencies, and real-world skills for risk management and response.
- Justice Administration
A justice administration concentration promotes the leadership abilities of law enforcement professionals through the study of relevant issues and administrative responsibilities. Students typically explore human resource management concepts, management and administrative theories, and legal and ethical issues. Coursework may also cover the design and analysis of policies and professional training programs.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Most graduate degrees require students to complete a culminating experience prior to graduation, typically in the form of a capstone project or thesis. For a master's in law enforcement, capstone projects are far more common than thesis writing. However, some programs allow students to opt for a thesis, if desired.
All final projects require intensive work throughout a student's final semester, but specific capstone requirements vary from school to school. Students might complete a professional portfolio of prior projects, papers, and presentations; an original research project in response to a current issue in law enforcement; or a relevant internship in their local community.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Law Enforcement Program?
The first hallmark of a high-quality, trustworthy college program is a reputable form of accreditation. While no current organization accredits law enforcement degrees in particular, students can rely on institutional accreditation to help evaluate a school's legitimacy. You should seek out schools with accreditation from respected regional or national agencies.
Prospective law enforcement graduate students can further evaluate a program by examining the information and data readily shared by the school itself. Many academic departments provide dedicated pages detailing the faculty's experience and credentials. Look for schools with professors who hold advanced degrees and work experience in the field. If available, data about a program's graduation rate and student satisfaction can also provide valuable insight.
While most online universities run legitimate operations, online learning scams do occur. Red flags to watch out for include schools with dubious or questionable accreditation, schools without a physical address, sites without an .edu URL, and institutions with little or no social media presence.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Law Enforcement Degree
No college degree can guarantee a student's success in the job market, but earning a master's in law enforcement can help increase your chances of landing a leadership role in criminal justice. Five potential career options for law enforcement graduates are listed below along with relevant salary, employment, and growth projection data. Note that some law enforcement careers require less education than a master's for entry-level pursuits. Similarly, advanced roles may require additional experience or credentials.
- Supervisor of Police and Detectives
Supervisors of police and detectives may operate under various titles, including chief of police, police captain, lieutenant, detective sergeant, or shift supervisor. These professionals directly monitor and coordinate the work activities of police force members. Supervisor tasks include providing guidance and expertise to investigators and ensuring all employees follow policies, regulations, and laws. Supervisors may also complete duties relating to human resource management: training staff in proper procedure, resolving internal problems among staff, and investigating charges of misconduct.
- Median Salary: $89,030 per year
- Currently Employed: 116,660
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +7%
- Supervisor of Correctional Officers
Supervisors of correctional officers may operate under various titles, including captain, lieutenant, correctional lieutenant, correctional sergeant, or shift supervisor. Primary tasks include maintaining order, discipline, and security according to all relevant regulations, policies, and laws. Other duties include coordinating and directing correctional officers' work and responding to emergencies. Correctional officers and supervisors may work in local, state, or federal facilities.
- Median Salary: $63,340 per year
- Currently Employed: 43,760
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: -8% (decline)
- Correctional Officer
Correctional officers work in jails or prisons overseeing individuals awaiting trial or serving a sentence. This demanding job requires daily tasks like maintaining order, enforcing rules, inspecting facilities according to security and safety standards, and frequently interacting with inmates. A master's degree in law enforcement prepares professionals for correctional work in federal prisons, where minimum employment requirements generally include at least a bachelor's degree and several years of relevant work experience.
- Median Salary: $44,400 per year
- Currently Employed: 468,600
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: -7% (decline)
- Detective or Criminal Investigator
Detectives and criminal investigators gather facts and evidence for use in criminal cases. Common tasks include conducting interviews, examining records and files, and observing suspicious activity. Detectives may specialize in one type of crime, such as homicide or fraud. Detectives commonly start their careers as police officers, earning a promotion to detective work with added experience and education. To perform investigative work at the federal level, job candidates must typically hold a bachelor's degree.
- Median Salary: $81,920 per year
- Currently Employed: 103,450
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +5%
- Emergency Management Director
Emergency management directors work alongside in coordination with public safety officials, nonprofits, and government agencies to develop plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters and other emergency situations. Common tasks include organizing training programs, assessing hazards, coordinating resource sharing, applying for federal funding, and leading response efforts during and after emergencies. Emergency management directors typically need at least a bachelor's degree and several years of relevant experience in fields like law enforcement, the military, or fire safety.
- Median Salary: $74,420 per year
- Currently Employed: 9,550
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
What's the Expected Job Growth for Law Enforcement Careers?
Projected job growth for law enforcement careers runs the gamut — some facing rapid growth, others facing slight decline. Local and state government budgets directly impact this employment field, meaning growth projections vary depending on location. Due to the high cost of incarceration, some state governments seek shorter sentences and prison alternatives, which accounts for the national projected decline in correctional officer jobs between 2016-2026. Conversely, the continued desire for improved public safety drives the projected increase in police force jobs, including supervisors, officers, and detectives.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Law Enforcement
Students, recent graduates, and current law enforcement professionals can enhance their educational and professional journeys by joining a membership association. Common benefits include networking and professional development opportunities; access to industry and research publications; and exclusive, members-only content and resources. Many organizations offer discounted membership rates to college students.
The world's largest, nonprofit professional association for police leadership works to enhance community safety and policing professionalism worldwide. Membership benefits include global networking, professional development opportunities, and extensive online resources.
FLEOA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional association acting as the legislative voice for more than 26,000 federal officers nationwide. Members receive benefits including legal advice and representation for work-related matters and 24-hour hotline access.
ACA is the oldest international criminal justice association and works to improve the justice system through research, education, and professional development. Members receive access to publications, networking opportunities, and a variety of discounts.
NCJA represents local, state, and tribal governments on issues relating to crime prevention and control, with membership representing law enforcement, corrections, academics, and court professionals. Benefits include funding and networking opportunities and exclusive online resources.
ASC encourages the multidisciplinary exchange of information between criminology professionals, researchers, teachers, and students. Members receive access to peer-reviewed journals and a discounted registration rate for the annual ASC meeting.
How to Pay for a Master's in Law Enforcement Degree
When it comes to paying for college, students may utilize several methods. Common funding sources include out-of-pocket financing, federal financial aid, scholarships, and employer tuition assistance programs. Take a more detailed look at four potential funding sources for your master's in law enforcement below.
Federal Financial Aid
All college students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to understand the federal grants and loans for which they qualify. Whether you decide to take federal aid or not, most need-based scholarships and other funding opportunities require applicants to supply a copy of their FAFSA results.
Schools regularly fund their own annual scholarships through donations and general university funds. Check with the financial aid department to see if you qualify for any institutional, departmental, or program-specific scholarships. Awards are often highly competitive and based on academic achievement, financial need, or both.
Charitable individuals, foundations, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations make millions of dollars in college scholarships available each year. Eligibility for third-party scholarships may depend on financial need, field of study, geographic location, or other factors like minority status. Seek out and apply for as many scholarships as you can.
Employer Tuition Assistance
To encourage employee growth and loyalty, employers may offer tuition assistance to professionals interested in returning to school. For example, many state governments offer tuition waivers or reimbursement programs for state employees, including law enforcement professionals, who choose to attend a public, state-funded school. Program policies and maximum funding amounts vary.