Careers in Law Enforcement: Job Options and Education Requirements

Law enforcement careers typically start with hands-on academy training. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

The requirements for a career in law enforcement can vary, depending on the specific branch of law enforcement. It may be possible to enter a police training academy with a high school diploma, while probation officers will need a bachelor's degree to prepare to enter that career field.

Essential Information

Numerous career possibilities are available in law enforcement at federal, state and local levels. Education requirements vary according to position and locality, although many require some type of formal education in a field related to law enforcement or criminal justice.

Career Titles Police Officer Correctional Officer Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Required Education High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent Bachelor's degree
Other Training Police academy American Correctional Association training State or federal training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% (for police and detectives) 4% (correctional officers and jailers) 4%
Average Salary (2015)* $61,270 (police and sheriff's patrol officers) $45,320 (correctional officers and jailers) $54,080

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Law enforcement careers are available at the municipal, state and federal levels. Agents, marshals, park rangers and inspectors are employed by the federal government to enforce the rules, laws and regulations of a vast array of agencies and departments like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Law enforcement jobs are also available at state, county and municipal levels. Positions can encompass everything from catching criminals to monitoring parolees to enforcing state hunting regulations. State, county and local government agencies or departments that employ law enforcement personnel include court systems, correctional institutions, state parks or conservation areas and public universities.

Police Officer

Police officers to uphold the laws and protect citizens and property. This includes state troopers, sheriffs or sheriff deputies. Officers typically issue tickets and citations, arrest criminals, compile reports and interact with community organizations. According to BLS data from 2015, police officers made an annual average wage of $61,270 that year.

Although educational requirements vary, most police departments require officer candidates to have a high school education and college credits or a degree. Training can be found in certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs that are available online or on campus in areas such as law enforcement, criminology and criminal justice.

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers monitor prisoner activities in federal as well as state, county or local correctional institutions. They typically supervise meals and recreational activities, escort prisoners throughout the facility or outside to court appearances and oversee inmate work assignments. Officers may also search prisoner cells for contraband, patrol an institution's premises and monitor inmate visits with friends and family. Correctional officers made an average annual salary of $45,320 as of May 2015.

Education requirements vary depending on the type of institution. Federal prisons require corrections officers to have a bachelor's degree, while some states may require a high school or GED diploma only. Many states prefer candidates to have a combination of college credits and previous experience in civil or military law enforcement. Associate's degree programs are available online and on campus in corrections or law enforcement with a corrections focus.

Probation Officer

Probation and parole officers monitor people who have been placed on probation by the courts or people who have been released from a correctional institution. Besides supervising offenders through personal contact visits, probation and parole officers may also arrange substance abuse counseling or job training for those under their watch. Typically, probation officers specialize in either adult or juvenile offenders and can also be found working at the federal level. In May 2015, the BLS reported that a probation officer's average annual salary was $54,080.

Probation and parole officers are usually required to have a bachelor's or master's degree, depending on state requirements. Degree programs that can lead to a career in this field include law enforcement, social work and criminal justice. Coursework in a program with a concentration in probation and parole can cover juvenile justice systems, interview techniques, offender treatment in correctional institutions and correctional legal issues.

Fish and Game Warden

Wardens typically enforce the rules and regulations covering hunting, fishing and boating in state parks, conservation and recreational areas. Depending on the state, they can be trained in firearm use and patrol their areas via airplane, boat, vehicle, horseback or on foot. Besides enforcing regulations, they may also provide the public with education and training in areas such as boating safety, firearm use and wildlife conservation. The average yearly salary for fish and game wardens was $54,970 in 2015, per the BLS.

Fish and game wardens are required to hold a bachelor's degree in most states, in an area such as conservation biology, wildlife management, fisheries and wildlife, law enforcement or wilderness management. Coursework in a wildlife and fisheries management program might cover environmental policies, natural resources ecology, field sampling and animal physiology.

Law enforcement professionals may work for municipal, federal or state governments. Fish and game wardens focus on enforcing regulations related to boating, hunting and fishing and typically work in parks or conservation areas, while probation officers focus on the rehabilitation of offenders who are being released from prison. Police officers enforce laws and pursue charges against those who break the law, while correctional officers work with criminals who are in prison.

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