Law Enforcement Education

There are few jobs more satisfying than law enforcement.  Preserving peace and security within the community, assisting those in need and meting out justice to those who commit criminal acts are very fulfilling accomplishments that law enforcement professionals can take pride in.  These positions are not easily obtained, however, and the competition for them has only increased in recent years as the public has become increasingly concerned with combating threats to both public safety and national security.

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In order to obtain a rewarding position in law enforcement, more applicants are using law enforcement degrees as a means of distinguishing themselves from the competition. While many local, county and state organizations require only a high school diploma, the reality is that these organizations are seeking the most highly qualified candidates possible.  Most law enforcement organizations recognize that a college degree speaks to a candidates’s determination to succeed and commitment to learning.

The number of degrees available to prospective law enforcement officers is growing, but the major ones include criminal justice, law, forensic psychology, and police science.  These degrees can be obtained through a variety of two-year colleges, baccalaureate institutions, police academies, and online schools.

Municipal Police

Although many police organizations at the municipal and local level do not require law enforcement degrees, recruits entering these organizations without some type of academic preparation will be sorely disadvantaged during the hiring process, academy training and service in the field.

Police officers are expected to obtain working knowledge of constitutional law, forensic science and procedures, information systems operations and investigative techniques.  While it is possible to obtain this knowledge on the job, the best prepared officers are most likely to find success in resolving cases, handling complex situations and limiting liability due to mismanagement.

Law enforcement skills may be acquired through a variety of institutions:

  • Independent training programs:  There are numerous courses that are offered through universities and vocational facilities, which introduce students to basic law enforcement concepts and procedures.  Some of these programs are a semester in length or shorter.
  • Associates degree:  Many two-year programs provide in-depth courses in criminal justice.  These degrees supply students with entry-level skills that assist in obtaining a junior position in most municipal police departments.
  • Bachelor’s degree: A four year degree provides a comprehensive foundation in almost all of the major law enforcement topics like
    • Law
    • Legal rights
    • Police procedures
    • Information systems
    • Constitutional issues
    • Justice system
    • Ethics


Sheriff’s Offices

Although their exact responsibilities depend on their state’s law enforcement structure, deputy sheriffs are usually charged with maintaining law and order in the areas surrounding metropolitan areas.  In order to fulfill their responsibilities, deputy sheriffs must possess a broad understanding of law enforcement issues.

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While few sheriffs’ organizations require more than a high school diploma, it may be difficult to obtain a job with these important organizations without a law enforcement degree of some kind.  The most common credentials that applicants present are short-term training certificates, associate’s degrees or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or a related field.

State Troopers and State Police

As one of the most important law enforcement agencies within a state, the state police recruit the best and brightest.  While many of these organizations only require a high school diploma, few candidates with only a high school education actually serve in these agencies.

Most state troopers fulfill a wide range of responsibilities including traffic enforcement, narcotics interdiction, and criminal investigations, which requires diverse knowledge of law enforcement issues.

A minimum of an associate’s degree is highly recommended, while a bachelor’s degree is a fairly common credential among applicants.  There are a number of candidates who will apply to these organizations with a master’s degree in a specialized law enforcement area.  Advanced degrees are usually indicative of exhaustive study of a specific topic within the field including

  • Forensic science
  • Criminal psychology
  • Digital forensics
  • Constitutional law
  • Financial management
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Not only do advanced degrees signify enhanced intellectual capacity, but they also reveal a desire to ascend to higher levels in the organization.  Many state police organizations are highly selective in their hiring programs and an advanced degree may be a compelling advantage. These degrees allow officers to achieve promotions more quickly as well as gain admittance to select units like criminal investigations, special operations, and aviation teams.

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