Law enforcement full program information

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Introduction to law enforcement

Law enforcement, courts, and corrections make up the 4 major components of the criminal justice system in the United States. These components, while operating semi-independently, collectively work to:

1. Prevent and deter crime

2. Investigate suspected illegal activity

3. Determine and administer legal consequences

4. Punish, rehabilitate, and ensure public safety

There are almost 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. These agencies investigate suspected criminal activity. They report their findings to state or federal prosecutors and detain suspects awaiting trial.

Law enforcement agencies are responsible for preventing crime and maintaining public order. Their employees may be among the first to respond to emergencies and public safety threats. They may work to protect public facilities and officials and assist with the operation of detention centers.

These agencies operate at federal, state, county, and municipal levels and employ more than 800,000 people. The agencies include:

  • More than 3,000 sheriff’s departments
  • 49 state police departments
  • More than 12,000 municipal police departments
  • 65 federal law enforcement agencies
  • Over 1,500 special police agencies like transit police and school police

Law enforcement encompasses a wide range of professions. At the municipal level, job opportunities could include:

  • Police or probation officer
  • Police detective or dispatcher
  • Firefighter
  • Crime scene investigator

At the county and state levels, job opportunities include:

  • State trooper
  • Sheriff
  • Corrections officer
  • County or city police officer

A high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) is often the highest degree required of police officers. This rule is especially true in many city police departments and can also apply to state troopers. However, each of the most common law enforcement careers generally requires customized training. Certification or licensure may also be necessary.

For example, most aspiring law enforcement, probation, and corrections officers have to:

1. Graduate from their agency’s training academy

2. Complete a period of on-the-job training

3. Successfully meet rigorous physical and personal standards

In some states, probation officers may need certification. Private investigators often need to hold a license to practice professionally.

Why get a degree in law enforcement?

A law enforcement degree can help graduates earn a higher salary and could allow for more career advancements in the field. Many jobs that combine law, criminal justice, and policing begin with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement.

Due to relatively low rates of turnover in law enforcement, job applicants may face stiff competition. Those with a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience tend to have more job opportunities. Speaking a second language can also give a job applicant an advantage.

A career in a federal law enforcement agency usually requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. However, these agencies often prefer candidates to have a master’s degree in criminal justice.

As part of the executive branch of the national government, these are the primary federal agencies:

Counter Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

United States Secret Service (USSS)

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

United States Marshals Service (USMS)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Naval Crime Investigative Services (NCIS)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF

Some criminal justice degree programs offer federal law enforcement as an area of concentration.

Careers in law enforcement

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 3% employment growth rate in protective service jobs from 2019 to 2029. This rate is just under the average growth of 4% for all occupations for this period and could result in about 95,200 new jobs.

Careers in protective services can include:

alt"identification-1" Security guards

alt"identification-1" Private detectives

alt"identification-1" Private investigators

alt"identification-1" Police and detectives

alt"identification-1" Gambling surveillance officers

alt"identification-1" Correctional officers and bailiffs

According to the BLS, protective service workers had a median annual wage of $41,580 in May 2019. This salary was slightly higher than the median yearly wage for all occupations.


Police and detectives are one of the fastest-growing occupational groups within protective services. The BLS has projected a job growth rate of 5% between 2019 and 2029 for this group. In May 2019, the median annual salary for police and detectives was $65,170.

Here is a breakdown of the salaries earned by this occupational group in May 2019, according to the BLS:

  • Detectives and criminal investigators earned $83,170
  • Transit and railroad police earned $71,820
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned $63,150
  • Fish and game wardens earned $57,500

Simultaneously, detectives working in the federal government were among the top earners, with a median annual salary of $88,060.

Government spending determines the level of employment for police and detectives. This can mean that the number of job opportunities in this field can vary year to year and between states.

Graduates from law enforcement degree programs will have the skills they need for numerous careers in criminal justice.

The following are some of the most common occupations in law enforcement:

alt"identification-1" Police officer/detective

alt"identification-1" Private detective / investigator

alt"identification-1" Probation officer / correctional treatment specialist

Law enforcement degrees often enable further specialization in areas like corrections, police administration, and emergency management.

Some less common future career opportunities could include:

alt"identification-1" Compliance officer

alt"identification-1" District attorney investigator

alt"identification-1" Medicaid fraud investigator

alt"identification-1" Child Protective Services investigator

alt"identification-1" General fraud investigator

Law enforcement degrees

There are many educational degrees and areas of concentration in the study of law enforcement. Students may concentrate on criminal justice, criminology, or crime scene investigation. Forensic psychology or sociology are also popular.

Some degree programs allow students to attend in either a part-time or full-time capacity. They may also have options to study completely online, on campus or a hybrid of the 2.

Associates degree

Students earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice will learn foundational knowledge and skills. Potential career opportunities for graduates include parole officers and paralegals.

General education courses like English composition and introduction to psychology are usually required. However, the bulk of the curriculum consists of core classes in crime theory and law. Typical coursework can cover:

pencil-alt Law enforcement

pencil-alt Homeland security

pencil-alt Correctional operations

pencil-alt The juvenile justice system

pencil-alt Legal and judicial processes

Associate degree programs can prepare students for advanced study. Areas such as forensics, law, criminology, and criminal psychology are typical concentrations. Many associate degree programs include internships that enable real-world learning.

Students can gain fundamental skills in areas like criminal profiling and crime data analysis. They may learn how to read criminal behavioral patterns and crime scenes. Students may work to establish agency procedures and protocols that improve an agency’s response to crime.

Many community colleges offer an associate’s degree program in criminal justice. These degrees typically take 2 years of full-time study to complete and usually entail 60-68 credits.

Accelerated degree programs exist in some states and allow students to complete an associate’s degree in less time. Students can then either enter the workforce or apply to a bachelor’s degree program. State colleges typically offer these accelerated degree programs, with many available online.

Students who have earned an associate’s degree may be able to apply their credits toward earning a bachelor’s degree. This credit transfer could leave them with only 2 additional years of coursework.

Bachelor’s degree

A Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (BACJ) program could suit those who wish to increase their career and promotion potential in fields like policing, security, or corrections.

The following is a list of some common courses included in a bachelor’s in law enforcement program:

pencil-alt First responders

pencil-alt Police report writing

pencil-alt Introduction to the criminal system

pencil-alt Community policing, diversity, abuse, and victimization

pencil-alt Constitutional law and civil process of criminal procedures

Most bachelor’s programs in law enforcement require about 120 credits and 4 years to complete. Many bachelor’s programs require students to pursue practical experience through their capstone project

Master’s degree

A Master of Science of Criminal Justice (MS of CJ) program could benefit those who wish to work as a police captain or chief. There are choices within most programs for specialized study. Typical areas of specialization include forensic psychology, homeland security, and public administration.

Students do not need to hold a bachelor’s degree in an area of law enforcement to be eligible for admission to a graduate degree program. However, in many cases, your undergraduate transcript must reflect a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Some students may be able to complete a master’s program in as few as 12 months. Online degree programs can be useful for those who want to earn an advanced degree without leaving the workforce.

Combined bachelor’s and master’s degree

Some qualified undergraduate criminal justice students may be able to work toward earning the BACJ and MCJ degrees simultaneously. Credits earned while enrolled in a BA/MCJ program can apply to both degrees, allowing for completing the MCJ degree in an accelerated time frame.

Legal studies or criminal justice degree

Many students interested in a career in law enforcement pursue a degree in criminal justice.

Some criminal justice degree programs offer law enforcement as a concentration.

Criminal justice programs look at the reasons behind criminal behavior and the best ways to manage it. Conversely, legal studies focus on law, including courtroom procedures and litigation.

Degree programs in both legal and criminal justice will include law-related classes. An undergraduate degree in either concentration will provide job prospects in law enforcement.

With this range of available degrees, those wishing to begin a career in law enforcement have a wide variety of career options.

Financial aid and cost

Average tuition fees for full-time students for 2020-21

  • $3,770 – public 2-year district resident
  • $10,560 – public 4-year state resident
  • $27,020 – public 4-year out-of-state
  • $37,650 – private non-profit 4-year

Financial aid

There are various federal and state grants, loans, and scholarships available. A free application form for federal student aid is available on October 1st at the Federal Student Aid website. This site provides information on the types of aid available, aid eligibility, and loan repayment options.

Prospective students should check school and state grant deadlines and apply as early as possible. Grants, scholarships, and loans are often available directly from colleges. Additional information, including deadlines, is generally available on a school’s website.


Schools must gain accreditation certification from an independent accrediting agency. This process ensures that a degree program or institution meets an agreed-upon standard for quality.

Accreditation certification gives graduates and the institution itself credibility with employers and other institutions. Some law enforcement degree programs receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) or the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). Accreditation is a voluntary process.

Studying at a regionally accredited university can keep the door open for future studies. If you need to transfer schools or decide to advance your degree, there’s less of a risk that you’ll have to start over. It may be easier to qualify for financial aid for an accredited school. The same organizations oversee all educational institutions.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ is the chief enforcer of U.S. federal laws. This department also provides resources to criminal justice professionals.

U.S. Marshals Service

As an official bureau of the DOJ, this organization represents federal marshals and court officers in the U.S. Their website offers job postings for deputy U.S. marshals. Information is also available for detention, aviation, and law enforcement agents and administrators.


This site allows police officers and departments across the U.S. and the world to exchange information. It provides coverage of breaking news and expert analysis of law enforcement topics. Job postings, product pages, and online training resources are also available.

National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center (NCIRC)

This center provides criminal justice professionals with opportunities for training and continuing education. These resources are primarily concerned with law enforcement intelligence operations and practices.

National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)

This member-based organization represents black CEOs, municipal and command-level officers, and criminal justice professionals serving in law enforcement. It offers its members educational services, mentoring, and career opportunities, among other things.