Only a handful of states offer peace officer certification online. However, those planning on pursuing law enforcement careers can study criminal justice or law enforcement via online programs in preparation for their police academy applications. Some law enforcement agencies require peace officer applicants to hold associate's or bachelor's degrees, while others accept candidates with only a high school diploma or its equivalent.
There are a few online colleges and universities, both public and private, that offer online associate's and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, police studies and law enforcement. While criminal justice programs tend to be broader in scope, offering an array of classes for those interested in working in various areas of the criminal justice system, policing and law enforcement programs tend to focus on those areas. After finishing an online degree program, aspiring peace officers must complete police academy training and exams before they can start working the field.
Generally, to join the police academy, physical and psychological examinations are required of all applicants who meet the department's minimal educational requirements. Candidates who pass the medical evaluations take a written application exam or civil service exam. Those who pass this exam are subject to a rigorous background check, including criminal and financial reviews.
Individuals with clean background checks are eligible for the oral examination or interview and admission to the department's academy. Those who successfully complete this training become probationary officers of the peace and can take their state's certification exam. A few states allow the applicant to take this exam online, but most require candidates to test in-person at a state-designated testing site. After passing this exam, most police and law enforcement departments require their officers to complete extensive training before they are given a duty assignment.
Criminal Justice Degrees
Most online criminal justice programs are offered at the bachelor's level, though associate's degree programs also exist. The curricula provide an overview of the criminal justice system and its processes. Students also learn about specific segments of the court system and study topics such as the rules of evidence and the roles of legal counsel. Coursework covers:
- The juvenile justice system
- Security and police administration
- Intro to law and corrections
- Criminal law
Police Studies and Law Enforcement Degrees
These types of programs are less prevalent than criminal justice degree programs. Offered as certificates as well as associate's and bachelor's degrees, law enforcement programs include instruction in the history of police systems and practices. Lessons discuss ethical issues and the proper role of police officers within a community's legal systems. They blend law enforcement theories and methods, including criminal investigation techniques and forensic science. Some of the classes found in these types of programs include:
- American policing
- Probation and parole
- Intro to criminal justice
- Contemporary police strategies
- Ethical decisions in policing
Students in an online program generally have access to materials 24/7, though classes must be completed by the end of a semester. Participants communicate with their peers and instructors through an online learning network.
Online peace officer certification programs are available, but they are not as common as online undergraduate programs in criminal justice, police studies and law enforcement. In these online undergraduate programs, students take courses in the theories of criminal justice and their applications in the law enforcement field.