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Degree and Certificate Programs for Police Officers

As criminals use increasingly more sophisticated methods to commit crimes, the investigative techniques and tools used to capture them have also evolved.  New technologies have presented new opportunities for criminals.  In order to combat the mounting threat of gangs, criminal organizations and terrorist groups, aspiring police officers often seek instruction from knowledgeable experts.

These experts are found in the classrooms of universities, colleges and vocational schools, while others are serving in the military or in prestigious federal agencies like the FBI or ATF.  Criminal justice and legal instruction is widely available to prospective and active police officers through both campus-based schools and online programs.  Many of these experts have written textbooks or designed courses that facilitate the function of police officers.

There is growing recognition among law enforcement agencies that more educated officers are better officers.  Key groups like the FBI have encouraged local police to institute college degree requirements to better ensure public safety, and many departments have responded by implementing minimum college credit requirements.  Studies show that a degree can improve the effectiveness of officers in the field through improved critical thinking, enhanced public respect, and greater sensitivity to socioeconomic issues.  Two or four year degrees are also extremely beneficial in the promotion process.

The educational community has also recognized the need for more options for students interested in formal police education.  With almost 14 percent of new recruits unable to complete basic police training, police schools and colleges offering police education have become vital to helping candidates meet the intellectual challenges come with attending a police academy.

Certification Programs Offered By Police Schools

There are several professional certification programs that designate an individual as having the advanced skills necessary to serve in law enforcement. Most commonly, these programs are between eight and 14 weeks in length.  Veteran police professionals who have had firsthand law enforcement experience provide instruction in many of these courses.

Some of these courses are offered through accredited community colleges, while others can be found in independent police schools.  Some states permit the police academies that train new police recruits to admit non-recruits to these or similar programs. Graduates of these police academies often possess a competitive advantage in the selection process.

These courses vary widely in their ability to prepare students for the rigors of the hiring process, police training, and active service.  The most helpful programs are those that are modeled on the state mandated police academies. These will include a robust physical regimen designed to build stamina, dexterity and strength. Most of these programs introduce students to firearms, martial arts and essential police arrest techniques.

The academic curricula in many of these programs are designed to introduce key concepts in law and law enforcement, which are usually taught in basic training. These topics may include the following

  • Search and seizure
  • Criminal investigations
  • Report writing
  • Crime scene management
  • Ethics
  • Evidence collection

Associate’s Degrees Available Through Schools Offering Police Education

An associate’s degree may be obtained upon completion of a two year post-secondary college.  The most common degree majors for police careers are

  • Criminal Justice
  • Police Science
  • Corrections
  • Law enforcement
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Public safety administration

An associate’s degree is often a worthwhile investment as most police organizations are willing to provide a substantial increase in salary to officers with such a degree.

Bachelor’s Degrees Available Through Schools Offering Police Education

Bachelor’s degrees in law, police science and criminal justice are awarded to students who have completed a four-year program of study at an accredited college or university.  In recent years more of these schools have begun to offer degrees for professionals seeking law enforcement careers.  While there are a wide variety of law enforcement degrees, some schools also offer related degrees in counter-terrorism, explosive ordinance disposal and weapons of mass destruction preparedness, which have also gained in popularity as many police organizations integrate national security issues into their agenda.

A baccalaureate degree provides a more detailed education into law enforcement issues.  The initial years of study are devoted to basic topics, while the later years may involve courses in more advanced subjects like

  • Community relations
  • Evidence management
  • Crime prevention
  • Policing strategies

Advanced Degrees Available Through Schools Offering Police Education

Postgraduate degrees like a masters, PhD, or J.D. are usually designed for law enforcement professionals who wish to specialize within a specific area of police work.  While there are general degrees in criminal justice that provide a broad education in law enforcement, most advanced degree holders choose to focus on more narrowly defined topics like:

  • Law
  • Intelligence and analysis
  • Forensic science
  • Behavioral analysis

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