Every police officer you see on the job has completed a rigorous police academy program in their city or state. While this is a requirement across the board, further education is often necessary to advance your career or work in a specialized area of crime and law enforcement.
Knowing what your career goals are can help you decide which way to go first: Straight to the academy or off to college.
To become a police officer, you'll be required to take a law enforcement training program at a police academy. Coursework normally includes:
- Criminal law
- Defensive tactics
- Conflict management
- Community policing
- Investigative procedures
- Motor vehicle law
- Patrol procedures
- Emergency driving techniques
- First aid
You'll also need to pass a physical training test.
Police academies differ depending on the jurisdiction. In some cases, you'll be trained by a state academy. If you're planning to work in a large metropolitan area, you may be required to attend a police academy specific to that city's force. This often happens because different cities contend with issues unique to their communities.
Some public colleges operate police academies that are separate from police departments, but are considered acceptable forms of training.
You should be prepared to invest anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months in a police academy program.
Benefits of a Law Enforcement Degree
Aspiring police officers are required to have at least a high school diploma or GED in order to participate in a police academy program. However, some departments will require a bachelor's degree for entry-level police work. In locations where it's not required, a law enforcement degree can still help you get a leg up on the competition.
Some of the benefits of earning a degree include:
- An opportunity to move up the ranks faster
- The ability to move to a specific career path quickly
- Other career options if police work isn't available
Moving Up the Ranks
Police officers with a college degree tend to have a better chance of being hired and promoted than those without a degree.
It's not uncommon for police officers to seek opportunities to move up the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and even chief. These are all ways to take on more responsibility and therefore, earn a higher salary. Earning a degree proves you have the drive and commitment to succeed in the field which can help when you apply for a promotion.
Another plus to earning a degree is the training you will receive on the latest law enforcement technology. You may become a more desirable candidate if you're well-versed in this area.
Specialized Career Path
If walking the beat isn't your ultimate career goal, a college degree can help you get to your desired role sooner. Whether you want to work as a detective or in Homeland Security, you'll need an undergraduate education. Programs in forensics, criminal psychology and corrections are just a few areas of study you can choose from.
If you plan to apply for a job with the FBI, you'll be required to have at least a bachelor's degree, although many agents hold a master's degree.
Certain law enforcement fields, such as mental health law and policy and computer crime, typically require a master's degree or higher.
Other Career Options
Even if you're unable to land a police officer job right away, having a college degree can still help you. With a bachelor's or master's in criminal justice, you can also consider these careers:
- Loss prevention
- Social work
- Private security
If you're open to moving to another city or state where police officers are needed, a law enforcement degree can help differentiate you from other candidates.