Specialized training and education is required for everyone hoping for a job in law enforcement. Aspiring law enforcement officers can begin their law enforcement training by heading to the police academy directly from high school. Other individuals might want to expand their education and enroll in either a two-year associate’s or four-year bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice or law enforcement to learn about all their options prior to deciding on a specific law enforcement career. Professionals who are already working in law enforcement might want to take additional courses to hone their skills in their current field or further develop themselves in preparation of a promotion. Even seasoned law enforcement professionals must take continued training courses and seminars; ongoing advances in science and technology change the way crimes are investigated and solved, and officers must learn and practice these new technologies.
To be effective, officers, enforcers, and investigators must always stay at least one step ahead of criminals. Continuing education and training helps them do just that. Properly and fully trained officers are confident and well prepared to do their jobs; they meet department or agency standards of performance and professionalism and represent their department admirably.
There are multitudes of law enforcement training options available for those desirous of entering the law enforcement field and for those already in it. Whether your classroom is in a traditional brick-and-mortar school or at an online video session at your home computer, you, the student, will need to decide what is best for you. Research all your options and be proactive about applying and getting accepted into whichever school or program you desire. Only then will you achieve the law enforcement career of your dreams.
Choosing a School
Choosing the right post-secondary school to attend is one of the most important decisions you will make. The law enforcement career you desire will determine the type of certification or degree necessary. Some law enforcement careers require an associate’s degree; others require a bachelor’s degree. The course requirements for your chosen career will impact your choice of school. Many colleges and universities offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in law enforcement. But only you, the student, will know which school is right for you, once you have weighed all the appropriate considerations.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a career school or college. Prioritize them to help you narrow your search. Consider location. Do you prefer an urban or rural location? Another factor is size or enrollment. Are you more comfortable in the setting of a large university, a smaller college campus, or a local career school? To help you decide, you should plan to visit and tour the schools to which you are applying. This is the only way to determine what is right for you.
Class size is usually determined by school size. Public schools and universities, although they might cost an in-state student less to attend, will generally have a larger enrollment and therefore larger class size. These classes might be taught by Teaching Assistants, so you will have less interaction with your professors. Private schools, on the other hand, are usually much smaller than public schools. Class size will also be smaller, which allows for opportunities to interact directly with professors.
Cost, as referenced above, is another important consideration. However, you should not let cost deter you from applying to any school that interests you. Support could be available in the form of scholarships or grants, financial aid, or installment plans for tuition payments. Until you have gone through the entire application and financial aid process, you will not know the exact cost of your education.
One final consideration has to do with the level of specialization you want in your coursework. Do you want your academic focus to be specialized and aimed solely at one area of law enforcement, or do you want a broader curriculum in order to have a more diversified education? Once you have answered these questions, you will be able to narrow down your options and select the school that is right for you.
Applying to School
The application process for college or career school is an important first step in obtaining the law enforcement degree of your choice. Because most law enforcement careers require some level of post-secondary education, you will have to go through the application process at least once. The following tips will help make this process go smoothly and efficiently.
Apply to more than one school. You should apply to several “safe” schools, the ones you know you will be accepted into without a problem. You should also apply to several “stretch” schools, those with stringent, yet realistic, admission requirements for which you are generally qualified. And, apply to several schools that are fairly likely to accept you. In all three cases, you should make sure you actually like the school, as you will end up attending one of them.
Next, make note of all deadlines and adhere to them. There will be deadlines at every step: for the college application, entrance test registrations, financial aid applications, scholarships, etc. Note all deadlines on a calendar, but start early and submit all paperwork and documentation as you prepare it. If you wait until the last day to submit your application, you risk the application not reaching the school by the deadline. For electronic submissions, make sure they, too, are completed well in advance of the deadline date. Remember to review and proofread all applications, whether hand-written or electronic, before submitting them.
Seek help and support. Ask people whose opinion you value to review your entrance essay and critique it from their perspective. Ask those same friends to help you even more by practicing potential interview questions with you. You should request letters of recommendation from teachers, employers, or counselors. Help them help you by providing them everything they need well in advance of the deadline. Remind them of your studies, your hobbies and interests, jobs, and sports in which you participated. Provide a stamped, addressed envelope for each school.
Help yourself. Even if an interview is not required, consider meeting with an admissions officer after you have submitted your application. This will be your opportunity to explain your application, grades, or test scores. It is an excellent time to learn more about the school. Meeting with an admissions officer allows you to exchange information and showcase yourself and your record in person, all of which support your cause of being accepted into the school of your choice.
Obtaining a degree or certification from an accredited school or institution, whether traditional or online, is important. Accreditation exists to ensure institutions meet education standards. Students applying to a college or university program will know that an accredited school will offer a quality education and that their tuition dollars will be well spent.
Schools receive accreditation from accrediting agencies whose primary objective is to maintain and/or improve the standards of educational programs and schools. Schools that work with accrediting agencies are motivated to improve their own standards and programs continually. One type of accreditation is institutional, which addresses the educational standards of the entire college or university. Another type of accreditation is specialized, which examines a specific program or department to ensure it meets industry standards. Accreditation can be at the national level or at the regional level. Nationally accredited institutions are typically more career-oriented, whereas regionally accredited institutions offer areas of study that are more academic in nature.
Students interested in law enforcement careers will want to ensure they attend only accredited schools. In addition to resulting in an education from a school that does not meet educational standards, attending a non-accredited school could result in dire consequences for a student’s career and wallet.
If students start their education at a non-accredited school and decide to continue their education at another school, they will not be able to transfer credits from the non-accredited school to an accredited school because accredited schools accept credits only from other accredited schools.
Students who attend a non-accredited school will not qualify to receive financial aid; they will have to pay the tuition out of their own pocket. And, if in the course of the mandatory background and education check during the hiring process, a hiring police department determines that your degree was conferred from a non-accredited institution, that could be reason enough for the department not to hire you.
To confirm the accreditation status of a particular educational institution, students should check with the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CHEA maintains a database that lists over 7,000 accredited institutions and over 17,000 accredited programs. The schools and programs listed in the CHEA database meet the education standards and offer the quality education you expect to receive for your money; obtaining your law enforcement degree from an accredited institution is one of the best things you can do for your career.
Other Types of Schools
Law enforcement professionals can receive their training from a variety of sources. Many receive training at traditional two- or four-year colleges and universities, where they obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, or a related field. Some law enforcement careers require additional specialized training or certification. All law enforcement professionals, regardless of their chosen career, benefit from new, updated, and relevant information available to them through conferences, continuing education, seminars, and group training events. The professional’s chosen career path will dictate the specialized training he or she receives.
To become a police officer or state trooper, for example, you must attend a police academy to receive specialized training in order to be certified as a law enforcement officer. Each state has established criteria for police training and certification, which can be performed at local, regional, or state-level academies. Aspiring officers will receive training in constitutional and state law, local ordinances, use of firearms, accident investigation procedures, civil rights, and self-defense. You can search for a police academy online or, if you wish to work at the local level, by calling your local police department.
Trainees for local police officer positions are called “recruits”; trainees for state trooper positions are called “cadets.” During training, you will live at an academy for six to eight months and attend rigorous, military-like training. During the day you will receive intense physical training and attend academic classroom sessions; at night you will spend your time studying. You will adhere to strict dress and grooming standards, and your personal conduct will be highly scrutinized during the length of your training. When you successfully complete this training, you will be certified to be a local or state police officer.
There are also specialized training requirements for federal law enforcement careers. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, is an interagency law enforcement training organization that serves over 80 federal agencies. The FLETC headquarters are located in Glynco, Georgia, and there are two additional residential training sites, one in New Mexico and the other in South Carolina. There is one non-residential training facility located in Maryland. FLETC also oversees international law enforcement agencies in Botswana and Thailand and supports training at agencies in Hungary and El Salvador.
Students who attend basic training at one of the residential training facilities will live in a dormitory-like setting and wear a dress or fatigue uniform during all classes and training. Students in advanced training sessions must wear appropriate attire, depending on their course activities; students might be allowed to wear relaxed office attire, or they could be required to wear dress apparel or fatigue uniforms.
These consolidated training sites allow the federal government to emphasize training excellence while providing training as cost-effectively as possible. Students receive professional instruction and practical application that provide them with the skills and abilities needed for their federal law enforcement careers. The FLETC instructor group is composed of training and law enforcement professionals from diverse backgrounds and includes federal officers and investigators who can be on assignment from their parent agency or who might have recently retired. Students can expect to receive instruction based on both senior experience as well as new perspectives presented by those who are fresh from field positions.
FLETC basic training programs include Criminal Investigator, Uniformed Police, and Corrections Officer Training programs. FLETC’s advanced training programs include Seaport Security, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Land Transportation Anti-terrorism, and Critical Infrastructure Protection training programs. FLTEC also offers advanced training in Cyber-Terrorism, Internet Forensics and Investigations, Financial Forensics, International Banking and Money Laundering, and Anti-terrorism Intelligence Awareness training (for state and local agencies), among many other programs.
In addition to formal classroom settings, law enforcement courses and training can be done online or on the job, as part of an in-service training program. Examples of online training courses include Violence on School Campuses, Community Policing, Introduction to Computer Crime, and Perspectives on Terrorism. Online courses can attract many participants to a single session.
On-site law enforcement training is offered by professional training and consulting organizations that offer such training seminars as Investigative Report Writing, Cell Phone and Internet Investigations, and Shooting Incident Reconstruction. On-site training is usually organized for an entire group or department to attend.
Some law enforcement professionals begin their training at a police academy, while others start at a four-year college. This training, however, is only the beginning. The breadth of law enforcement and criminal justice careers and their related training is enormous. Serious professionals will take advantage of the numerous training opportunities that are available to them to ensure they meet all standards of their job and receive refresher training throughout their careers.