Law Enforcement, Policing & Investigation

Growing up, most kids played some variation of the game of“cops and robbers.” And let’s face it – for most of us, it wasn’t all that fun to be the robber. Who would want to be the criminal when presented with the opportunity instead to be the good guy who saves the day?

It is that basic premise of protecting and serving others that is instilled in those who seek out jobs in the law enforcement industry.

Law enforcement officers, police officers and investigators are the first line of defense against criminals in our society. Their focus is placed on crime prevention, but when deterring crime isn’t possible, their attention shifts to investigation and apprehension.

Required Education

Law enforcement, policing and investigation are among the most recognizable jobs in the criminal justice field. Requirements for working in law enforcement may vary by location; however, at a minimum, most jobs require the successful completion of police academy training. To remain competitive in the job market, and increase the chances for promotion,candidates are encouraged to seek out higher-education degrees in law enforcement.

Traditional and online programs are available for law enforcement degrees.

  • Associate Degree: This two-year degree program, whether offered online or in a traditional setting, provides an overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. Students who enroll in associate degree programs can expect to explore the topics of criminology, criminal investigation, domestic/international terrorism, counter-terrorism techniques and criminal law.
  • Bachelor Degree: This four-year degree program will expand on the basics learned in an associate program, providing greater emphasis on areas of correction, crime scene investigation protocol and techniques, forensic psychology, juvenile crime and corrections, law enforcement and homeland security. Having an undergraduate degree will increase job opportunities for law enforcement candidates, as well as increase the chance for promotion within the field.
  • Master Degree: A graduate degree in law enforcement, policing and crime scene investigation will focus on the training required to work as an administrator or instructor, as well as for state and federal government-level jobs within the industry. Topics that are explored in an advanced degree program include causes of criminal behavior in various cultures and the factors which attribute to social deviance. Because many law enforcement professionals continue to work while pursuing advanced degrees, online degree programs can be convenient. Traditional classroom settings also are available, as well as hybrid programs which combine both traditional and online courses.


Future Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the need for those working in law enforcement is expected to increase by 7 percent between now and 2020, which is slower than average for the rate of increase for all other occupations. While demand for police, detectives and other public safety personnel is predicted to lead to more job openings at the local level, state and federal jobs will remain competitive.

The average annual salary for law enforcement officers was $55,010 as of May 2010. Detectives and criminal investigators typically earn higher average salaries at around $68,000. Patrol officers and sheriff’s officers earn an average of $53,540 annually.

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