Law enforcement officials protect and serve their local communities by investigating crimes, responding to emergencies, and patrolling high-risk areas. A career in law enforcement can be quite lucrative. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for police and detectives in 2017 was $62,690, about $25,000 more than the median salary for all occupations.
An online bachelor's degree in law enforcement can prepare you for jobs in police departments, federal agencies, and security firms. While a degree in criminal justice provides a broad introduction to the causes of and responses to crime, a degree in law enforcement focuses on specialized knowledge and professional skills for work as an enforcement officer. Graduates usually find work as a patrol officer, state trooper, or federal investigator.
Hundreds of schools offer a bachelor's degree in law enforcement and justice administration. With so many options, it’s important to choose a school that meets your unique academic and professional needs. Look for schools that offer concentrations in your area of interest. For example, you may hope to find a job in a specialized field within law enforcement such as cybercrime; however, not all programs offer coursework in this area. If you plan to continue your education and earn an advanced degree, consider degrees that include a research-based thesis.
Cost is another important factor when selecting a program. You may qualify for substantial tuition discounts by attending a school in your home state. Because you do not need to pay for room, board, transportation, and on-campus fees, an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement can save you a significant amount of money.
While online programs provide a great deal of flexibility, they also require exceptional organization and time-management skills. Hybrid programs, which include online and on-campus classes, combine the convenience of distance learning with the in-person support of professors and peers.
Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement
The exact courses you take for an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement vary depending on which school you attend, your chosen concentration, and a number of other factors. However, most programs share a similar set of core classes. The list below describes five common courses in bachelor's in law enforcement programs.
|Introduction to Policing||In this course, students learn about police operations and the evolution of police work throughout history. Students also examine the expectations that the public has for police officers and other law enforcement officials.|
|Issues in Police Administration||This course explores leadership and management issues in contemporary police forces. Topics include staffing, training, scheduling, collective bargaining, disciplinary action, and community relations. The class is particularly useful for students who hope to take on supervisory roles in law enforcement.|
|Introduction to Homeland Security||Increasingly, local and state law enforcement officials partner with federal agencies to protect their communities from threats like international terrorism. This course examines the relationships between various law enforcement institutions in the country. It also covers the role of private security and emergency responders in implementing the Homeland Security Act of 2002.|
|Criminalistics||Many students pursuing an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement hope to become detectives or criminal investigators. This class provides an overview of physical evidence that investigators may encounter at crime scenes, along with methods for identifying, collecting, and analyzing that evidence. Students learn the basics of bloodstain analysis, DNA typing, and point of origin determination.|
|Juvenile Delinquency||This course helps students prepare for careers as juvenile police officers or school resource officers. Students examine the causes of youth crime and best practices in the treatment and rehabilitation of young offenders.|
How Long Does It Take to Get a Law Enforcement Degree?
Most bachelor's programs consist of 120 credits and take full-time students about four years to complete.
Many programs allow you to transfer credits from another accredited postsecondary institution. If you already have an online associate degree in law enforcement, for example, you may be able to complete a bachelor's program in two years. Some schools also grant credit for military training or prior work experience.
Some online law enforcement degree programs allow students to advance through coursework at their own pace. Rather than learning alongside their peers as part of a cohort, students in these programs review course materials, complete assignments, and take exams on their own schedule. The sooner you master the material, the sooner you can earn your degree.
The BLS projects that employment for police and detectives will grow approximately 7% through 2026, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. While demand for police services should increase, employment opportunities are largely tied to local and state funding for law enforcement agencies. Applicants with military experience or an undergraduate degree, such as an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement, likely have the best job prospects.
Many jobs in the field offer competitive, high-paying salaries, especially for detectives, investigators, and front-line supervisors. Since large cities maintain higher law enforcement budgets than smaller towns, officers in rural settings tend to earn less. Individuals with a bachelor's degree often earn more than those with just a high school diploma or associate degree. Degree-holding candidates are also more likely to receive promotions to positions with increased responsibilities and higher salaries.
How Do You Become a Police Officer?
Becoming a police officer requires, at a minimum, a high school diploma or GED. However, some employers prefer candidates with an associate or bachelor's degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. More advanced positions, such as detective or federal investigator, may require an undergraduate degree.
All precincts and law enforcement agencies require new hires to meet minimum physical fitness standards, such as running a mile in under eight minutes or completing 30 sit-ups in under one minute. Aspiring police officers must also pass a criminal background check. Most law enforcement employers will not hire candidates with a felony conviction, and some might pass over candidates with misdemeanor convictions.
To become a police officer, you typically need to graduate from a state-approved training academy. These academies provide additional training in criminology and ethics. They also help candidates develop professional skills such as handling a firearm or operating a police vehicle. Cadets in these academies must pass a comprehensive exam before they can be fully certified as an officer.
Online Bachelor’s in Law Enforcement Careers
After earning an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement, you can pursue a variety of jobs in the field. You may serve your community as a police officer or work for a private company as a chief security officer. Regardless of the career path you choose, positions in law enforcement demand exceptional communication, leadership skills, empathy, and perceptiveness.
Probation OfficerProbation officers assist in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders. They supervise and coordinate services for individuals who have been placed on probation or parole. These professionals conduct evaluations of probationers, design plans for rehabilitation, interview clients to assess progress, and testify in court as to whether an offender is ready to be removed from probation.
Police LieutenantPolice lieutenants supervise officers, handle scheduling, and oversee the arrest and booking of criminal suspects. They may also assist with ongoing investigations or maintain criminal statistics for their precinct. Lieutenants often supervise the work of police sergeants.
Chief Security OfficerChief security officers create and maintain safe environments for organizations and companies. They design and implement an institution's security policies, manage security personnel, and lead crisis response efforts. Typically, individuals in these positions have at least a bachelor's degree in a field like criminal justice or law enforcement.
Police SergeantPolice sergeants act as front-line supervisors for patrol officers, troopers, and other entry-level law enforcement officials. In addition to supervisory responsibilities, sergeants often oversee hiring, training, and evaluation of police personnel. While many of a sergeant's duties involve office work and paperwork, they may also lead investigations and police actions in the field.
Police CaptainPolice captains lead precincts, districts, or other large law enforcement agencies. They have broad administrative responsibility and often supervise several police lieutenants. Captains also act as the primary point of contact for the press and community leaders. Many of these positions require an advanced degree in law enforcement or a related field.
|Position||Median Annual Salary|
|Chief Security Officer||$131,039|
All students, regardless of major, should attend an accredited school. Accreditation ensures that schools meet minimum educational standards and adequately prepare their graduates for jobs in the field. Most employers do not recognize unaccredited degrees, and accredited schools do not accept transfer credits from unaccredited schools.
There are two main types of accreditation: regional and national. Most nonprofit colleges and universities receive regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is generally considered more prestigious because it requires higher standards and a multi-year approval process. For-profit and vocational schools often receive national accreditation. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a national accrediting body, oversees accreditation for many schools that offer an online bachelor's degree in law enforcement.
To check whether your program has received regional or national accreditation, you can review the U.S. Department of Education's database of postsecondary institutions.
The first step in financing your online bachelor's degree in law enforcement is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA connects you with various forms of financial aid, including federal student loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. You do not need to repay the money you receive from grants or work-study programs. However, you must pay back federal loans unless you participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Many states and private organizations also offer scholarships to students pursuing a career in law enforcement or criminal justice. Like grants, you do not need to pay back money you receive from scholarships. You may, however, need to maintain a certain GPA or meet other requirements.
You can also take out private student loans to pay for your education. Private loans typically charge higher interest rates and are not eligible for loan forgiveness programs. Because of these disadvantages, you should consider private loans as your final option.
Law Enforcement Scholarships
In order to encourage more people to enter the field of law enforcement, many organizations offer scholarships and grants. Students can find scholarships through local businesses, foundations, state governments, police departments, nonprofits, and companies. Below are a few options available to law enforcement majors.