July 18, 2017

Law Enforcement Certification

A solid background in law enforcement and criminal justice gives officers and other law enforcement professionals the resources and fundamental skills they need to be successful in whichever branch of law enforcement they wish to enter. Many individuals either start or enhance their law enforcement jobs by completing one or more non-degreed certification programs. These law enforcement certifications help both aspiring officers as well as seasoned professionals attain their educational, personal, and professional goals.


Certification in law enforcement is a formal training step for high school graduates considering entry-level security-type positions. In addition, existing law enforcement professionals who are interested in changing or advancing their law enforcement careers might complete a certificate program in a specific or advanced field of study. At the entry level, for those interested in becoming police officers, a law enforcement certification provides the background education and experience needed in order to enter a full police academy training program. A general criminal justice certification provides individuals with an overview of security as well as the justice and juvenile justice systems, teaching skills in police work and criminal investigations. Other criminal justice certifications provide advanced training to law enforcement professionals who might already have a college degree but who now wish to enter a more specialized field.

Law enforcement certifications open the doors to many employment opportunities. Individuals who possess either a general or a specialized law enforcement or criminal justice certification could have access to better law enforcement or security-type positions, as well as more opportunities for promotion.

What It Is

Many individuals aspiring to enter law enforcement as a police officer obtain their undergraduate police officer certification prior to entering a police academy, although it is not a requirement to do so. Police officer certification is not a degree awarding program, but it will prepare recruits to enter a police academy with basic police training and can give them an advantage over non-certified recruits. Certification courses teach students about government and law enforcement. Students will also learn valuable communication and problem-solving skills. Police officer certification can also help individuals get started in a two- or four-year program in criminal justice.

Law Enforcement Careers Certification Once a recruit obtains the police officer certification, the recruit can then go on to enter a police academy to receive complete and formal police officer training. Upon completion of the academy training, the student must then pass an examination in order to receive state-level certification as a police officer. Some police officers take additional certificate programs, for example in the area of homeland security, in order to learn specialized skills such as disaster management or intelligence analysis.

In contrast to police officers, individuals who wish to start their law enforcement careers as security officers or guards typically will be required to obtain a certification in law enforcement. Certified security officers can work in private and public security jobs and can serve as private patrol officers or as part of an in-house security team. These trainees must successfully complete three steps: attend a security training program, demonstrate law enforcement experience, and pass a certification examination.

The first step to obtaining a certification in law enforcement is to complete a training program that emphasizes both job readiness as well as preparation for the certification examination. The law enforcement certification program is usually completed in 12 to 18 months. Most community colleges and local career schools offer this type of coursework.

The second step to obtaining a law enforcement certification is to have a minimum level of law enforcement job experience. The student gains the necessary law enforcement experience by working as a security guard both during the training program as well as post-graduation from the program. This work experience is required before the individual can take the written examination, and it must be completed under the supervision of a law enforcement professional or certified security guard.

The third and final step in the process to obtain a certification in law enforcement is to successfully complete the written examination. This examination usually takes two to three hours to complete and consists of both essay and multiple-choice questions. In some cases, students may be able to attend an examination preparation class beforehand. Those who have obtained their law enforcement certifications can apply for jobs in the field of security.

Security officers are everywhere: in banks and schools, at hotels and housing facilities, at concerts and events, and more. Many large companies require their security force to be certified. It is important to note that these companies typically promote from within their employee base, so a well-qualified and experienced security officer will also be well prepared for advancement opportunities.

There are many institutions and organizations that offer law enforcement certification, both in the classroom and online. Some cities have even established their own law enforcement certification programs to ensure all trainees receive consistent levels of training. Many law enforcement and criminal justice professionals start or advance their careers by completing law enforcement certification programs.

Types of Certifications

Law enforcement certifications serve to provide both basic and advanced training while developing a student’s knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to a variety of topics in law enforcement. There are several types of law enforcement certifications available that lead to entry into or advancement within a wide range of law enforcement careers.

Basic Peace officer certification is referred to as “Peace Officer Skills Training,” or POST. Law enforcement officials such as police officers and state troopers, detectives, and sheriffs are also known as “peace officers.” These officers carry a badge and handgun and have sworn to uphold the peace and enforce laws. Police academies offer POST programs for aspiring police officers. A typical POST program lasts six to twelve months and covers police procedure, theory and technique, as well as the laws and regulations in the student’s jurisdiction. In addition, the student will take courses in fear and anger management and learn how to balance work and family. Upon successful completion of the POST program, the student receives a POST certificate of completion and becomes eligible to be hired by a law enforcement agency under a probationary employment status. Basic Peace Officers can, with increased levels of work experience and additional training, go on to obtain Advanced Peace Officer and Professional Peace Officer certifications.

Some law enforcement professionals might want to specialize in a certificate program that teaches them how to prevent crime before it occurs. Crime prevention specialist certificate programs teach students how to prevent crime several ways. One way is to help retailers understand how they can thwart robbers and also develop the necessary skills to manage loss prevention. The crime prevention specialist certificate program also teaches students how to educate the community and obtain the public’s support through outreach programs. Coursework includes studying the specific types of crime prevention, for example business or community; coursework also includes planning theory. Graduates of this certificate program will be prepared to apply for jobs as crime prevention officers, criminal investigators, security consultants, and more.

Certified Criminal Justice Professionals (CCJP), also called “Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professionals,” provide effective support services to adult and juvenile drug offenders. This certification includes comprehensive training on addiction and criminal justice and is intended for criminal justice professionals and drug and alcohol counselors. CCJPs provide support that includes assessment, case planning and management, collaborating with treatment, human services and criminal justice providers, and providing counseling and advocacy. Students working toward this certification take courses in addiction, case management and client supervision, counseling, and criminal justice systems and processes, among others. In order to receive this certification, students must complete three years of supervised work experience in addition to the required coursework.

Criminal Justice Certificate programs typically take one year to complete. These programs usually focus on a specific area of study, allowing the student to gain a basic education for starting a new law enforcement career or advancing within his/her existing job. Examples of certificates in criminal justice include Crime Scene Technician, National Security Management, Terrorism, and Criminal Justice.

Other law enforcement certifications include Basic, Advanced, and Professional level certifications for Detention Officer, Dispatcher, and Correctional Officer. Each level of these certifications requires ever-increasing periods of employment, education, and training.

Law enforcement certifications programs teach law enforcement professionals about the criminal justice system, the scientific methods of criminal investigations, interpersonal communication skills, applied psychology, and career-specific skills. A student’s level of prior education and work experience, as well as the student’s desired career path, will determine which certificate program is the most appropriate for him or her.

Prepare for Certification Tests

Many community colleges and career schools offer certification programs for individuals to obtain certification in any one of various law enforcement careers. Because written examinations are part of the certification process, students should make sure their program will prepare them to take the certification examination at the end of the training period.

Students should also find out whether they need to register in advance to take the examination on a particular date or at a specific location. If registration is a requirement, the student should register early so he or she knows the date of the test and can plan work and study schedules accordingly. When possible, schedule the examination shortly after completing the coursework so that the material is still fresh.

To be prepared properly and thoroughly for the certification test, do not wait until a week before the exam to start studying. Keep up with all required classwork. Start or join a study group with classmates where you can pool resources and compare notes. Focus studies on topics the instructor emphasized the most.

Some agencies offer workshops or separate classes to help students prepare for their specific test. Students should take advantage of and enroll in these extra classes early. Like-minded students will be able to ask questions of an informed instructor, who will perhaps provide additional insights and test-taking tips.

Study guides are another aid that might be available to students. Official study guides provide in-depth study material that covers the basic concepts the student is expected to have learned. They also provide sample tests and/or test questions for the student to practice; this way the student will know exactly what to expect the day of the exam.

It is normal for students to feel anxious before an important examination. To ease anxiety, get a good night’s rest the night before the test. Arrive at the test center early the day of the test, making sure you have whatever supplies you need. At the start of the test, skim through each section and determine how much time you can spend on each one; organize your time accordingly, leaving a few minutes at the end of the test to go back and review your answers or respond to any question you might have initially skipped over. It is very important to read and follow all instructions. Remain focused and on task, and you will succeed.