Though a college education is not always required, a law enforcement certificate or associate degree in criminal justice can improve career opportunities. Entry-level positions are available to officers without a formal post-secondary education, though employers may ask for some college-level academic experience. Job experience is gained through training programs offered by employers, which are usually local or state government agencies. Police officers are not required to be licensed or certified; however, officers must complete a training program to be eligible for employment.
Because of the stressful and sometimes dangerous situations police officers face, physical fitness, stamina, and good mental health are required. Police officers must demonstrate integrity, professionalism, and ethical attitudes in the line of duty. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or GED, physical and mental aptitude, and 15 to 60 hours of college coursework. Certificate programs generally last one to two semesters, and some courses and programs are available online.
Law Enforcement Certificate
A law enforcement certificate program prepares students for careers as police officers with local or state government agencies. Programs generally require one or two semesters of study and teach students to follow policing regulations, serve, and protect communities and testify in various legal settings. Common courses include:
- Policing procedures and practices
- Community and police interaction
- Criminal law
- Evidence and court procedures
Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
An associate's degree in criminal justice meets the 60-hour credit requirement set by some employers. In an associate's degree program, students learn advanced concepts in criminal behavior, crime prevention and intervention, mediation, and negotiation tactics. Students learn about constitutional laws and how to properly conduct police investigations and file reports. A criminal justice program may include courses on:
- Police management and organization
- Statistical research in criminal justice
- Judicial processes and systems
- Criminal behavior
- Juvenile justice systems
- Private and public law enforcement
Entry-level police officers are typically not required to have any job experience, though some employers may require 1-3 years of law enforcement experience. In general, entry-level police officers receive job experience by entering a police training academy that is sponsored by the employer. Training programs vary by police department, but most programs require at least 10-14 weeks of training. Prospective police officers must meet physical and competency prerequisites before entering a training program. After completing a training program, officers have sufficient job experience and hands-on training.
Most police officers are employed by local or state government agencies. These agencies typically hold training workshops and seminars for both beginning and experienced police officers. Workshops usually focus on one aspect of police work, such as crime intervention, negotiations and mediation, weapons proficiency, or civil policing. Police workshops usually last one or two days.
The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) provides professional development and career opportunities to police officers throughout the country. The association has more than 300,000 members, including active police officers, retired officers, and civilians. In addition to providing legal and career information to police officers, NAPO conducts research studies that examine the well-being of law enforcement officials. Using the results from these ongoing studies, NAPO can provide advice and information to help police officers better serve and protect their communities. In addition, NAPO provides contact information for police associations in various states and cities throughout the country.
Police officers interested in advanced positions as police chiefs, special agents, or detectives can pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, or psychology. Many times, employers offer reimbursement incentives to police officers who pursue advanced degrees.
Police training programs include coursework on criminal behavior, crime prevention and intervention, mediation, and negotiation to prepare students to enter the law enforcement field. Professional development opportunities will likely increase advancement opportunities.