Police science and law enforcement degrees can prepare individuals to become police officers, federal agents, or corrections officers. Although it may be possible to begin a career as a police officer or correctional officer without postsecondary study, a bachelor's degree is recommended for police officers and will increase job opportunities for corrections officers; federal agents are required to have a bachelor's degree.
Police science and law enforcement degree programs teach students about criminal justice theory, research and investigation methods, the legal system and criminology. Graduates must complete further training at law enforcement academies after they are hired by their agencies. They must meet physical fitness requirements and age restrictions as well. While a degree may not be necessary for all positions, it can often help with career advancement. Federal jobs generally require a bachelor's degree.
|Career||Police Officer||Federal Agent||Correctional Officer|
|Education Requirements||High school diploma or equivalent, but bachelor's degree is recommended||Bachelor's degree||High school diploma or equivalent for local and state jobs; federal prisons require a bachelor's degree|
|Other Training Requirements||Law enforcement training academy||Federal law enforcement training academy||Law enforcement training academy|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||5% for police and sheriff's patrol officers||-1% for detectives and criminal investigators||4%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$58,320 for police and sheriff's patrol officers||$101,700 for federal detectives and investigators||$40,530 for correctional officers and jailers|
Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Bachelor's degree programs in police science and law enforcement prepare students to work as police officers or correctional officers. Other graduates pursue careers as officers with specialized branches of the federal government.
Many police officers work as patrol officers, responding to accidents and investigating assaults, burglaries or other crimes. They may also work in traffic, where they issue citations to individuals who break traffic laws. Police officers at the state and local levels typically have completed college coursework and, after obtaining employment, complete 12-14 weeks of training in police academies. Officers may complete specialized training that allows them to work in certain fields, like firearms instruction, crime scene analysis or K9 policing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 680,000 police and sheriff's patrol officers were working in the U.S. in 2014 (ww.bls.gov). These workers earned an annual median wage of $58,320 as of May 2015.
Agents who work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) research and analyze various federal violations. Law enforcement officers may also work for other sectors of the federal government, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Homeland Security or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Qualifications for such law enforcement professionals vary, but generally include 4-year degrees, related experience and extensive formal training.
Salaries vary greatly at the federal level, depending on the position and seniority. The BLS reported in May 2015 that the median wage for detectives and criminal investigators at the federal level was just over $101,700.
Correctional officers supervise prisoners and maintain order in jails and prisons. They can be employed at the local, state and federal levels. Requirements vary, with a high school education being sufficient for most jobs, but a bachelor's degree required for federal positions. There are other requirements, including training at a law enforcement academy and on-the-job training as well as in-service continuing education.
The median salary for all types of correctional officers and jailers was $40,530 in May 2015, the BLS reported, with those employed in the federal prison system making the most, about $53,560. State and local officers made mean wages of $45,880 to $44,860 at that time.
Correctional officers oversee inmates in prisons and jails, while police officers and federal agents are responsible for investigating crimes and making arrests. Police officers work at state and local levels, correctional officers may also work for federal, state or local governments, and federal agents can pursue a career with many federal departments, such as the FBI or DEA. While a bachelor's degree is only required to become a federal agent, advanced degrees will improve job prospects in all of these career fields.