What is a law enforcement degree?

A degree in law enforcement prepares students to complete specific on-the-job training programs that are typically required for positions in fields such as policing, detective work, corrections, and probation.

The curriculum of degree programs commonly includes courses in:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Investigations
  • Victimology
  • Cyber Crime Investigations
  • Evidence and Court Procedure
  • Policing / Law Enforcement Operations
  • Police Administration
  • Police and Community Relations
  • Corrections
  • Ethical Issues in Law Enforcement
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Law History
  • Media Relations
  • English Composition

Program options

Associate Degree in Law Enforcement
An associate degree in law enforcement lays the foundation for students to pursue entry-level jobs in the field or a higher-level degree.

Core courses at this level include the following:

  • Crime Types – white collar, property, and organized crime
  • Policing and Police Strategy – the history, status, and future of policing; community policing; patrolling
  • Investigating Crime Scenes – managing crime scenes; gathering and documenting evidence
  • Introduction to Criminal Justice – how the legal system works; policing styles; crime prevention; criminal rehabilitation
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice – dealing with and responding to ethical dilemmas in the field
  • Criminal Law and Procedures – standards of proof and due process; criminal responsibility; criminal defense
  • Juvenile Justice – juvenile delinquency; juvenile laws, probation, and corrections; juvenile justice theories
  • Psychology for Law Enforcement – applying psychological concepts to interviewing suspects, modifying offender behavior, and coping with professional stress

Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement
With a bachelor’s degree, law enforcement graduates often become police officers, detectives, probation officers, correctional officers, or private investigators. Common concentration options at this education level include police administration, corrections, emergency management, and public safety.

Courses like the following are integral to bachelor’s programs in law enforcement:

  • Criminal Justice – review of the courts system, corrections, and law enforcement; theories of what causes crime
  • Police Ethics – police culture; sources of unethical police conduct
  • Emergency Planning – avoiding, reducing, and managing emergencies like riots
  • Police Models – differences between local, state, and federal policing
  • Community Policing – how to address hate crimes, domestic abuse, and race-related crime in various communities
  • Constitutional Law and Civil Process of Criminal Procedures – examination of the role of the law enforcement officer and the rights of the individual
  • First Responder – the basics of first responder/medical emergency training; preserving the crime scene
  • Police Report Writing – terminology used by law enforcement officers; general writing skills

Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement
A Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement prepares students for advanced and leadership positions in the field. Some examples are police supervisor, police lieutenant, detective supervisor, corrections supervisor, firefighting and fire prevention workers supervisor, emergency management director, immigration officer, intelligence analyst, federal special agent, and FBI agent.

Master’s coursework includes:

  • Criminal Statistics – statistical analysis methods
  • Counterterrorism / Intelligence Gathering – intelligence and surveillance methods; related legal issues
  • Police Administration – managing police personnel and operations; technology for law enforcement
  • Correctional Leadership – the history, law, and management of correctional institutions; punishment and rehabilitation of offenders
  • Cultural Competency in Criminal Justice – a review of bias-based policing and racial, gender, and economic profiling
  • Research Methods in Criminal Justice – applying criminal justice statistics and data to working in law enforcement
  • Criminal Justice Professional Development – career advancement in the field

Degrees similar to law enforcement

Police Science
Degree programs in police science prepare students for all aspects of police and security work: patrolling, investigating, crime prevention, community relations, report writing.

Corrections
Corrections majors study prison life and examine ways to improve how prisons work. The typical corrections curriculum covers controlling the cost of operating prisons, maintaining acceptable living conditions for inmates, and helping parolees returning to life outside prison.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is concerned with society’s response to crime. It is an interdisciplinary major that explores every aspect of crime, the law, and the justice system.

Criminology
Criminology is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society.

Forensic Science
Forensic science is an interdisciplinary field which combines science and criminal justice. Majors in the field learn how to collect and analyze evidence – blood, DNA, and other kinds of evidence – and how to effectively use it in a court of law.

Public Administration
This degree field focuses on how administrators implement policy at various levels of government. Common coursework includes public policy, economic development, public budgeting and financial administration, local politics, and organization theory.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with social and psychological problems and challenges that arise in their everyday lives.

Sociology
Sociology is the wider study of society, social institutions like religion and law, and the ways in which people live and work together.

Skills you'll learn

While learning about the criminal justice system and developing the specific hard skills required to work in law enforcement, students also cultivate a set of soft skills, which are becoming increasingly valued across the job spectrum:

Communication
Working in law enforcement calls for the ability to communicate in various ways. Tone, facial expressions, and gestures are without doubt as important as verbal messages. Writing clear and concise reports is also a requirement of many jobs in the field.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
The capacity to gauge situations by thinking critically to solve problems is an integral part of law enforcement work. It is the foundation of what is known as the SARA model of problem solving: scanning, analysis, response, assessment.

Ability to Follow Orders
Law enforcement has a rank-structured culture. In other words, following orders is typically a part of the job.

Respect, Empathy, and Compassion
Even in their positions of authority, law enforcement officers must remain respectful, be able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, and show compassion to people in challenging or traumatic situations.

Adaptability
Individuals who work in law enforcement need to be flexible and able to adapt to demanding and unexpected situations, changing social climates, and new technologies.

Building Trust
Law enforcement officers who are able to build rapport and trust are invariably more successful at building community security.

Conflict Resolution
Encountering and dealing with conflict is a large part of enforcing the law. Students of law enforcement learn to listen actively and assess, de-escalate, and resolve situations.

What can you do with a law enforcement degree?

Policing, Law Enforcement, and Investigation
Law enforcement majors often find full-time employment with police departments. While some may take the traditional path and work as police officers or detectives, others seek to apply their knowledge of criminal justice, evidence handling, and data management in crime scene investigation positions.

Corrections - Prison Systems / Probationary Systems
Working in probationary and prison systems is another natural fit for law enforcement graduates. Having studied crime and criminal justice, they are valuable resources in the corrections environment.

Government
Government agencies at the federal, state, and municipal levels are significant employers of law enforcement majors. They may find employment opportunities with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Transportation Security Administration/Border Patrol (TSA). In addition, some law enforcement grads may be employed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as criminal investigators or by the Foreign Service as diplomatic security agents, who are responsible for protecting ambassadors.

Private Sector Loss Prevention
Opportunities in this field exist with retail stores, hotels, and other private companies.

Law
The legal field presents opportunities to law enforcement graduates, as well. Some lawyers and paralegals begin their education with a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement.

Forensic Science
A career in forensics is another option for law enforcement graduates who are willing to undergo additional education specific to the forensic field they pursue. This is a diverse sector with positions in the following categories:

  • Arson Investigation – analyzing arson and explosions
  • Computer Forensics – searching computers for evidence of criminal activity
  • Crime Scene Photography – taking crime scene photos to preserve evidence
  • Document Examination – examining handwriting, printing, ink, and other documents for evidence
  • Forensic Accounting – examining financial records to identify criminal behavior
  • Forensic Anthropology – investigating crimes by examining human remains
  • Forensic Art – producing artwork for crime investigation; example: police sketches of subjects
  • Forensic Biology – examining DNA, blood, bodily fluids
  • Forensic Chemistry – chemical analysis of evidence
  • Forensic Engineering – examining physical evidence for signs of criminal activity
  • Forensic Nursing – reducing the consequences of violence by treating victims of assault and other crimes
  • Forensic Social Work – working with offenders with mental health problems in secure hospitals and in the community
  • Forensic Toxicology – studying bodily fluids to uncover evidence that toxic substances may have been involved in a crime

Salary

Find out what graduates typically earn.

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