At the national, state, city, and even local community levels, people rely on police officers and other types of law enforcement agents to uphold the principles of civic justice and keep the peace. Today, individuals interested in a career in this field have several options of online criminal justice degrees to help prepare them for the demanding, often dangerous, but rewarding work in law enforcement.
Although some individuals can enter the police force having only a high school diploma, the opportunities for advancement and for positions in the more specialized areas of civil service are far greater if the candidate has a college degree. As an example, a person cannot become an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation without a college degree and at least a few years of field work.
Employment Outlook in Criminal Justice
Overall, the growth in employment by 2016 is expected to be 11%, which is the approximate average across all careers.1 But employment prospects in local police departments is expected to be excellent as society becomes more and more security conscious. Although a number of these positions will be available, the competition for jobs at the federal level will be great since they pay more and involve greater specialization. Therefore, applicants with college degrees will have a significant advantage over those who do not. Another factor in hiring is government budgets. Government jobs are contingent upon the budgeted funding made available for them. In other words, in years in which governments have very tight budgets, fewer criminal justice positions are available. Likewise, in years in which government budgets are not as constrained by the economy or other necessary expenses, more hiring in this field can be done.
Police officers made a median salary of approximately $47,500 in May of 2006, but supervisors and police detectives earned a median salary of $69,000, and the police chief could earn as much as $100,000. Federal employees in law enforcement have the advantage of receiving Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) which provides 25% of their income at their “level” added to their base salary because of the large amounts of overtime these individuals must work. For instance, a low-ranking FBI agent could earn a base salary of $48,000 but would actually receive $60,000 because of the extra LEAP pay. A high-ranking supervisor for the FBI might have a base salary of $104,000 but could actually earn $131,000.
Educational Requirements in Criminal Justice
Although a college degree isn’t always a requirement for entry level police jobs, it is necessary for those who want to eventually advance into positions of greater responsibility or move into more specialized areas. Entering a conflict resolution training program in this field can be very useful. Degrees available range from associates degrees in Criminal Justice to bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice Administration or Organizational Security and Management to master’s degrees in Administration of Justice and Security.
Some programs allow students to specialize in specific areas, like Homeland Security, Fire and Emergency Management, Corrections, Forensic Science, Juvenile Justice, and International and Comparative Criminal Justice. Most bachelor’s degree programs can be completed in four years or less, and master’s programs can take just two years. With the wide variety in online education degrees available, those wishing to enter the field with a leg up on the competition have a number of options that will fit their individual needs and interests.