Community colleges and technical schools offer 2- year associate's degree programs in law enforcement fields. Some law enforcement jobs require applicants to have completed 1-2 years of college coursework, making an associate's degree program a common choice for those seeking entry-level careers. Four-year bachelor's programs in criminal justice typically include more intensive coursework than associate's programs, and criminal justice master's programs tend to focus more on research. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or GED for entry into an associate's or bachelor's programs while a 4-year bachelor's degree is needed for entry into a 2-year master's programs.
Individual law enforcement agencies usually have their own training academies, such as a police academy, for new recruits. Training academies may last between 12-14 weeks and provide both instruction and supervised practice in topics such as patrolling, emergency response and firearm use.
Associate of Science in Law Enforcement
An Associate of Science (A.S.) degree program in law enforcement is designed to prepare students for entry-level careers in a range of criminal justice agencies, such as police, corrections or border patrol. Topics of study might include:
- Evidence processing
- Crime scene administration
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in criminal justice is earned through an undergraduate degree program that introduces students to more advanced, specialized subjects related to law enforcement. The curriculum of a bachelor's degree program in criminal justice may also include general education courses. Some course topics may include:
- Security administration
- Juvenile justice
Master of Science Criminal Justice
Students who wish to assume law enforcement leadership positions may choose to pursue Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in criminal justice. An M.S. program is a scientific, research-based course of study in which students explore a number of advanced topics in the field. Topics examined in the curriculum may include:
- Nature of crime
- Criminal justice research methods
- Correctional counseling
Most law enforcement agencies prefer that candidates have some experience working in the field before applying. Some degree programs may offer students the chance to engage in internships at a local law enforcement agency. This hands-on experience in areas such as police administration or loss prevention may be valuable in a student's job search.
Licenses and Certifications
Depending on the field in which graduates wish to work, certain certifications may be required. For instance, probate officers are usually required to complete a training program and certification test administered by the states in which they are working. Police officers must complete academy training before working, which includes hands-on experience and classes in topics like state and constitutional law. Though academies vary by state, graduates are usually considered certified police officers after they successfully finish the training and are hired by a police department.
Additional Professional Development
Law enforcement agents may pursue professional development in the form of classes that are often offered by local law agencies or private organizations. Law enforcement officials may take courses in subjects such as defensive tactics, background investigation and forensics. This professional development may be valuable to an agent who is interested in advancing or specializing within his or her field.
A variety of workshops and courses are available to law enforcement officials who wish to keep up with current law enforcement trends and topics. Some organizations may offer workshops that departments and agencies can host on-site for all of their employees. Workshops may address topics like new law enforcement technologies or social issues in law enforcement.
The appropriate program for those interested on law enforcement varies according to background, but most agencies offer their own training once hired. All programs include coursework in criminology and justice to varying degrees.