In general, a degree in criminal justice is not a prerequisite for a career in law enforcement. Although requirements vary by state standards and local agencies, most law enforcement positions instead require the completion of a law enforcement training program. When a degree is a requirement, criminal justice is not the only program that should be considered when pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Law Enforcement Officer Basic Requirements
For many candidates interested in law enforcement, the goal is to become a police officer. The basic requirements for police officer positions at the state and local levels are to have a valid driver’s license, be a legal resident of the United States, and be at least 21 years of age.
Police officer candidates should also have a solid reputation with no felony or juvenile convictions; while a juvenile conviction cannot legally be held against someone after the age of 18, there is the possibility that the information could damage a candidate’s chances. An adult felony conviction is an automatic disqualification for police officer candidates.
Previous Experience, Traits, and Skills
Previous experience is helpful for entering into the law enforcement field. With a solid work history, candidates can illustrate a strong work ethic, communication skills, and an understanding of basic procedures with previous work experience in positions with local government or agencies that work in the community.
Common skills and traits that are helpful for a law enforcement officer include physical strength, the ability to run long and short distances, quick reflexes, interpersonal communication, mediation, problem solving, courage, collaborative skills, assertiveness, resourcefulness, self-confidence, empathy, and compassion.
Education and Training Requirements
For most law enforcement officer positions, candidates must have either graduated from high school or received a GED. Candidates must also pass examinations after attending a police academy. Some of the training will include courses that cover topics in civil rights, state and local laws, the constitution, investigation, and criminal psychology. In addition, police officer trainees will learn first aid, patrol techniques, self defense, firearm training.
A degree in criminal justice is recommended, but degrees in other fields such as accounting or computer technology can also be applicable.
Examinations are given for coursework, physical fitness, firearm training, background checks, drugs tests, and psychological state. During the interview process, a college degree can earn a candidate additional points.
Other Law Enforcement Positions
While a degree in higher education is not a requirement for most law enforcement officer careers, some law enforcement positions do require a college degree. Higher education can be helpful for promotions to administrative positions and detective, for example, and criminal justice degrees can be helpful for preparing candidates for police officer training.
Additionally, there are some specialized fields within law enforcement that require specific training and higher education degrees. Forensic scientists and DNR agents, for example, require specialized degrees that incorporate both law enforcement and forensic or natural science courses, respectively.
Local and state law enforcement agencies also hire for a variety of other positions from administrative support to information technology professionals. These positions will also require a specialized degree.