Master’s degree in law enforcement

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Welcome to the field of law enforcement

The field of law enforcement has various entry points. You can get a position immediately after high school or with an associate degree. However, undergraduate and graduate programs have significant benefits in terms of skills and knowledge.

A master’s degree program in law enforcement encompasses many topics, including intelligence, security, safety, international crime and the structure and processes of the justice system. As a graduate degree holder, you may find additional opportunities in places like the federal government and international agencies.

Roles with higher salaries and more responsibility typically mean managing people, budgets and other resources, so many degree programs include courses on leadership, administration and ethics. People who are already working in law enforcement may consider this degree to enhance skills and provide insight into current issues.

The law enforcement program is distinct from other criminal justice degrees, although there are many similarities. A criminal justice master’s degree may come with a concentration in law enforcement. However, some standalone programs can be found, and they are usually taught by those with experience in the police force or security agencies.

The majority of master’s degree programs in law enforcement offer the chance to earn a master of science (M.S.) degree, although you can also find master’s of public administration (MPA) programs. Read on to discover the cost, coursework, teaching methods, and admission requirements for this degree.

What do I need to apply?

Although the requirements can vary based on the institution you choose, there is a general standard for admission to law enforcement master’s degree programs. Applicants need to have a bachelor’s degree in any field. Transcripts should be submitted demonstrating a minimum 3.0 grade point average (GPA).

Generally, schools also require a personal essay or statement of intent, 2 to 3 letters of recommendation and a resume. Some universities require applicants to provide evidence of current employment, often with at least 2 years’ experience. You may need to submit your graduate record examinations (GRE) results and proof of your proficiency in English.

It is not common to transfer into a master’s in law enforcement program. However, many schools accept credits from master’s programs at other institutions accredited by a regional body. You will need to meet the same admission requirements as standard applicants in this case.

Degree flexibility

Most master’s degree programs allow significant flexibility, as they are typically aimed at people already working in their field. As a result, there are several different learning formats available, including traditional on-campus teaching.

Programs can be taken part-time to reduce the number of hours you need to commit each week. You can also choose a hybrid or online class, with evening options to fit around your schedule.

The most flexible option is an asynchronous online program, where you can access the classes and materials at a time that suits you. There are law enforcement master’s degree programs in this format, making it possible to earn the degree while working or attending to family commitments.

ach school has different rules regarding class drops and swaps so be sure to check in with your school’s financial department. Emergencies and medical events are often excused from the school’s normal rules regarding pausing, delaying or dropping a class. You can typically find guidelines to follow for these scenarios on your school’s website.

How much does the degree cost?

Many factors impact the cost of your degree, and tuition can vary depending on the teaching format, the institution and whether you are a state resident. Some law enforcement programs offer reduced tuition rates to law enforcement union members and military personnel.

Tuition at private institutions can be between $28,000 to $40,000 for in-state students, while the average tuition at a public university is about $12,000.

For out-of-state students, tuition can be higher, typically ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. Many graduate-level law enforcement programs charge per credit hour, and it’s common for online programs to have this format with a technology fee. Per-credit costs can range from $550 to $1,600.

Financial aid

Graduate students seeking a master’s degree in law enforcement have several options to fund their studies. Your school might offer support programs to subsidize your studies. You can apply for a grant or scholarship from a private institution or check your eligibility for government funding and federal loans. As a graduate student, you could also apply for an assistantship to teach at the college to cover part or all of your tuition.

Coursework

A master’s degree in law enforcement will cover aspects of public administration and policing and teach you data analysis, investigation and management skills. Courses build on your existing knowledge of the profession while taking a closer look at working with other organizations, terrorism and how technology is used in policing.

Potential coursework includes:

Threat assessment

This course teaches the methods of assessing different kinds of threats based on different conditions including prevention and intervention practices from formulation to implementation.

Public budgeting and finance

This course looks at political, economic, institutional and ethical considerations when setting budgets.

Crime analysis

A course that explains the different approaches that law enforcement agencies use to document crime, establish patterns, and develop a response.

Public safety knowledge and leadership

This course covers ethics, evidence-based decision making, conflict resolution, and people management.

Intelligence and counterterrorism

This course teaches students how to gather and analyze intelligence legally and understand what interventions and outcomes can occur.

Most graduate law enforcement programs involve a capstone project instead of a thesis. It typically means conducting research and working with a mentor to put theory into practice. You may also complete a short research paper. Many programs also offer the opportunity to complete a supervised practicum or internship in a law enforcement organization.

Specializations

Although the majority of law enforcement master’s degree programs do not offer a specific concentration, most programs include electives. These courses help you shape your degree in areas that interest you or are relevant to your potential career.

Some examples include:

Law enforcement organization and management

This course covers the hiring process, interagency collaboration, discipline and implementing change.

Introduction to homeland security

This course covers public policy, law and the impact of terrorism and counterterrorism.

Advanced crime statistics

A course that takes an in-depth look at how data is gathered and analyzed. Students learn about how to read and interpret crime statistics, how they are formulated, and trends to spot over time.

Accreditation

There is not a specific accreditation body for law enforcement degrees. However, finding a school that has regional accreditation and faculty members with law enforcement experience is generally a sign of a good program. Most institutions that provide law enforcement programs seek accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission.

Career paths

A master’s degree can open up professional opportunities and help you progress to a more senior position with a higher salary and more responsibilities.

The degree can also lead to roles at more senior agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These roles require an understanding of international crime, terrorism, intelligence, organizational cooperation, and management.

Special agents are employed at several federal agencies, and a master’s degree in law enforcement could help you get this role. The work typically involves investigation, intelligence and analysis, as well as being quite active and potentially dangerous. Depending on your previous experience in law enforcement, you may need to complete some additional training.

Whether you work with Homeland Security or the FBI, this job usually involves travel and working with different organizations.

The average annual salary for a federal agent is $90,870.

The management, organizational, leadership and budgeting skills that you learn through your master’s degree in law enforcement can be put to good use as a chief of police. This senior role means overseeing a police department from reviewing crime statistics and implementing measures to reducing overall crime. To be successful in this role, you need to work well with people, be able to plan and respond to events, assess performance and lead personnel.

The average annual salary of a police chief is $72,674.

If you have chosen electives that help you understand crime statistics or analyze intelligence data, then you might be suited to a role as a criminal profiler. These professionals gather and use evidence to form theories about why and how a crime occurred and what type of person could have committed it.

The average annual salary for a criminal profiler is $62,056.

Continuing education

A master’s degree in law enforcement is the ideal degree level for roles in leadership, analysis and management. For this reason, many in the field do not continue their education past this point. However, there are some roles in federal agencies where a doctoral degree is beneficial.

Those with a Ph.D. typically choose related fields such as criminology, psychology, or criminal justice over law enforcement. These fields focus on the motivations behind crimes, researching theories of criminal behavior, policing, community impact, and profiling methods.

Should I get this degree?

A master’s degree in law enforcement is an excellent option if you plan to advance your career in the field. It equips you with crucial skills that enable you to take on a leadership role in a law enforcement agency and can also help you gain a role at a more prestigious agency, such as the FBI. In short, earning this degree shows your commitment to the profession at large and helps you advance your career into more senior leadership roles. A master’s degree in law enforcement is the ideal degree level for roles in leadership, analysis, and management. For this reason, many in the field do not continue their education past this point. However, there are some roles in federal agencies where a doctoral degree is beneficial.

National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO)

A coalition of US police associations and unions that advances the rights and interests of police officers through advocacy and education.

Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)

A professional organization representing federal officers from multiple agencies.