Law Enforcement Degree

A law enforcement degree helps to prepare students for careers as police officers, detectives, and other law enforcement personnel. Many police departments now require at least 60 credits of college coursework for entry-level police officers. Others require an associate's or a bachelor's degree.

Even if a degree is not required, hiring officers tend to look favorably on applicants with coursework in criminal justice or a degree in law enforcement studies because it gives these candidates a head start on the book work they will experience during police academy training and also demonstrates qualities like initiative, strong work ethic, and critical thinking skills.

CJDS FACT: Municipal budgets for public safety range from 30 to 40% of the overall budget. [Paraphrasing former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr]: “Now is a great time to go back to school for a criminal justice degree. A bulge in hiring in the early '80s is resulting in a wave of retirements 30 years later. Combine that with improvements in the economy and those with degrees should be in great shape to start a law enforcement career.”

Law Enforcement Training and Courses

Most law enforcement degree programs focus on the application of law and due process. Other key aspects include learning about the chain of evidence and detection of materials to support arrests, as well as the proper use of force. With an increased focus on community-oriented policing in many departments, students learning about becoming a law enforcement officer may also take introductory-level sociology courses, media relations classes, and law history courses.

Examples of courses in a law enforcement degree curriculum include:

  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Introduction to Corrections
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Cyber Crime Investigation
  • Introduction to Criminal Investigations
  • English Composition
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Policing in America
  • Modern Policing
  • Investigative Principles
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence and Court Procedure
  • Law Enforcement Operations
  • Victimology
CJDS FACT: According to, a website by managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), “You cannot go wrong with more education. Most departments, regardless of their requirements, give higher pay to recruits with four-year degrees.”

Traditional Law Enforcement Degree Programs

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee logo

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)

The Helen Bader School of Social Welfare of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, which can be applied to a career in law enforcement. Students in this program will study three broad areas of criminal justice: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections, giving graduates a variety of options for a career. Competencies learned will include interpersonal skills such as listening, speaking and writing, and assessing, analyzing, and evaluating. Courses include Correctional Process, Crime and CJ Policy, Police Process, and Social Welfare Research Methods. A field placement course is offered but not required; however, it is strongly encouraged since it gives graduates a real-world look into the career of law enforcement. Students must commit at least eight hours per week to the agency with which they work. UW-Milwaukee also offers a Criminal Justice minor.

Southeast Technical Institute logo

Southeast Technical Institute (Sioux Falls, SD)

Southeast Technical Institute offers an Associate of Applied Science in Law Enforcement Science degree that can be completed in two years of full-time study. The first year of the curriculum emphasizes fundamental law enforcement skills and helps students develop a deeper understanding of the law enforcement system. During the second year, students focus on taking advanced law enforcement courses that offer more specialization. Students who complete the 72-credit program are eligible to sit for the South Dakota Law Enforcement Standards and Training Commission certification exam through a reciprocity agreement. Graduates of the program are prepared to deploy critical thinking, current law enforcement technology, and theory in entry-level positions in law enforcement and private security.

North Hennepin Community College logo

North Hennepin Community College (Brooklyn Park, MN)

North Hennepin Community College awards an Associate of Science in Law Enforcement to students who complete its 68-credit hour program. Students earn a broad understanding of the complex relationships between law, society, and the criminal justice system by taking courses such as Legal Issues in Law Enforcement, Crime Investigation, and the Law Enforcement Integrated Curriculum. The core courses for the program are taught through the school's Law Enforcement Education Center, which assists students in developing practical skills in effective communication, statistics, and professionalism in law enforcement. Program graduates are prepared to enter the law enforcement profession at the entry level at state and local law enforcement agencies. Students may also choose to transfer to a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement at Concordia University or Metropolitan State University.

Online Law Enforcement Degree Programs

Drury University logo

Drury University (Springfield, MO)

Drury University's College of Continuing Professional Studies (CCPS) offers an Associate of Science in Law Enforcement that can be completed traditionally at the college's Springfield campus or completely online. The AS degree at Drury aims to prepare graduates for entry-level jobs in the field of criminal justice. Among the practical skills students will acquire are crime scene investigation, evidence handling and processing, interviews and interrogations, and administrative procedures. A total of 21 to 27 credit hours is required for the AS degree. Courses offered include Basic Peace Officer Training, Fundamentals of Firearm Marksmanship, and Foundations of Law Enforcement Leadership. The Blackboard platform is used for the delivery of the online coursework and for student collaboration. Also available at Drury is an accredited Law Enforcement Academy.

Tiffin University logo

Tiffin University (Tiffin, OH)

Tiffin University (TU) in Ohio offers an accredited Bachelor of Criminal Justice (BCJ) in Law Enforcement online. The BCJ degree with a major in Law Enforcement at TU equips graduates with a foundational and practical education in law, behavioral sciences, and the political process. Students must take 21 credit hours from the Criminal Justice Core Curriculum and 31 credit hours from the Law Enforcement major courses plus General Education Core, Knowledge Skills Core, and Open Elective classes to total a minimum of 122 credit hours for the BCJ; specific courses include Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice, Correctional Thought and Practice, Police and Society, Computers in Law Enforcement, Crime Analysis, and Evidence Processing. Online classes are presented in seven-week terms starting every other month throughout the calendar year. The online law enforcement degree has been accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Law Enforcement Job Description

Typical jobs for law enforcement degree graduates include police and sheriff's patrol officers, criminal investigators, homicide detectives, or FBI agents. Police and sheriff's patrol officers are responsible for identifying, pursuing and arresting suspects and criminals, preparing reports, helping accident victims, and maintaining general order in the community. Police officers should be competent in listening, have strong critical thinking skills, and exercise good judgment. They should have integrity, attention to detail, and self-control. Most law enforcement jobs will be found at the local or state level, but jobs such as FBI agent and US marshal can be found at the federal level. Some law enforcement majors may also choose to work in the private sector, in jobs such as private detective or investigator. For a full list of careers in or related to law enforcement, read our FAQ section.

From the Chief's View: “Policing is a complex avocation. You need to have an incredibly diverse skillset that you will not obtain from the school of hard knocks. Formal education is a necessity. An education in criminal justice helps provide you with the technical and tactical knowledge you need to be successful. The higher you go in the organization the educational demands increase. The education process exposes you to diverse ideas that can broaden your thought processes and give you a better understanding of how what you do relates to the rest of the world.” -Glenn Hoff, Retired Deputy Chief of Police, Rochester Police Department

Related Jobs

In addition to getting hired as a police or sheriff's patrol officer, there are several other related jobs that you can get with a law enforcement degree. Examples of job titles in this field include:

Law Enforcement Salary and Job Outlook

Completing a degree program in law enforcement helps prepare graduates to become police or law enforcement trainees or cadets and complete police academy training. O*NET OnLine reported an annual median wage of $61,050 for police and sheriff's patrol officers as of 2017.1,2 A positive but average job outlook is projected, at 5 to 9% jobs growth expected between 2016 and 2026.1 First-line supervisors of police and detectives are reported to earn a median salary of $87,910 per year, with projected jobs growth of 5 to 9% through 2026.3

Police Career Advice

Additional Resources

  • Top 50 Law Enforcement Blogs: See our top law enforcement blogs to read about what it is like to work as a police officer from current law enforcement professionals.
  • National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO): NAPO, founded in 1978, is a coalition of police associations from all over the US, that represents over 1,000 police units and associations and over 240,000 sworn law enforcement officers.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA): The FLEOA is the largest non-partisan, non-profit professional association that exclusively represents law enforcement officers. The organization offers scholarship opportunities, insurance discounts, and a 24-hour hotline for members.
  • National Sheriff's Association (NSA): The NSA was formed in 1940 to serve sheriffs and affiliates through education, training, and law enforcement information resources. The headquarters is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How long will it take me to complete a law enforcement degree?

Answer: The time it will take you to finish a degree in law enforcement depends on a variety of factors. For example, will you be going to school full-time or part-time? Are you pursuing a certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree, or master's degree? An associate's degree in law enforcement will typically take around two years to complete full-time. A bachelor's degree in law enforcement usually takes four years to complete full-time and a master's degree in law enforcement takes one to two years to complete. Choose a degree type that will best suit your career goals and make sure you can devote the amount of time required to complete the program.

Question: Do I need a law enforcement degree to be a police officer?

Answer: It depends. More and more jobs in the field of law enforcement are requiring some kind of formal education. 35% of O*NET respondents report that most police patrol officers need only a high school diploma to get a job, but many (27%) report that a post-secondary certificate is needed, while 24% report that an associate degree is required for a job as a police officer.1 Clearly, formal education is becoming a more common requirement for those entering law enforcement careers. Check the specific requirements for the law enforcement job you are considering to learn whether or not you will need a degree.

1. O*NET OnLine, Police Patrol Officers:
2. O*NET OnLine, Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs:
3. O*NET OnLine, First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives:

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