Policing & Investigation Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Info

About this article
What will you learn in a policing and investigation program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
View available schools

Policing and Investigation: Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

For those seeking a career in law enforcement, a high school diploma is the entry-level education, but an associate degree from a pre-professional program may also be required by some employers. Additionally, a bachelor's degree may be necessary, especially for positions at the federal level. Yet education is not the only requirement; policing positions require physical strength and fitness, and they generally require rotating schedules and holiday work that make certain policing happens all day, every day.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that many law enforcement positions would grow at a slower rate than the average for all occupations from 2010-2020. Police officer roles were expected to grow seven percent, correctional officer roles at five percent, and dispatchers at 12%. Further, as part of the public sector, the hiring of police officers is linked with political and governmental decisions and policies (www.bls.gov).

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking to become police officers or fill other law enforcement roles Individuals who seek to become law enforcement officers, and also those seeking to earn their bachelor's degrees to enhance their careers or fulfill requirements for promotion
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Police officer ($54,000)*
- Corrections officer ($39,000)*
- Police dispatcher ($36,000)*
Same as associate, plus:
- Police detective ($72,000)*
- Police supervisor ($78,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full time Four years full time, or two years for those who already hold an associate degree in law enforcement
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 18 courses
- Foreign language requirement or recommendation
Most (or all) of the associate degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 18 more courses
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- U.S. citizenship
- Clean criminal record
- 21 years of age
Same as associate for first-time students; for transfer students, a completed associate degree in policing and investigation or a similar field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate in Policing and Investigation

An associate degree program in policing and investigation prepares individuals to assume entry-level positions in the policing, law enforcement and criminal justice fields. These careers include police patrol officer, corrections officer and probation officer. Education requirements for police patrol officers vary from state to state; however, in most states an associate degree in policing and investigation or a related field such as criminal justice or criminology is sufficient for entry-level positions. A smaller number of states require patrol officers to have a 4-year degree. Prospective policing and investigation degree candidates may decide to first seek an entry-level policing job before continuing their education in pursuit of a bachelor degree in policing and investigation or a related field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate in policing and investigation or similar degree is considered the basic pre-professional requirement for entry into the law enforcement field by some departments
  • These associate-level programs also prepare officer candidates to take the National Police Officer Selection Test (POST), a test which is often used as part of the hiring process
  • Programs may also prepare students for the rigorous testing that will take place in police academy training

Cons

  • Application for some law enforcement positions may require further education beyond the associate degree
  • Since degree programs are generally completed before both POST and police academy training, students will need to commit time and resources before knowing if they will be considered suitable as officers
  • Some law enforcement positions may require extensive background checks, and all positions consider character as part of the career assessment

Courses and Requirements

Associate degrees in policing and investigation familiarize students with the workings of the criminal justice system and prepare them for entry-level roles in law enforcement. The courses offer a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills that encompass both crime prevention and investigation. Coursework may cover such topics as:

  • The criminal justice system
  • Criminal law for police officers
  • Current issues and ethics in police work
  • Interviewing skills
  • Police investigation and forensic science
  • Police procedure and the chain of evidence
  • Understanding crime

Online Degree Options

Students looking to complete their pre-professional associate program online will find some programs available. As these programs are often provided asynchronously, they may be useful for those preparing to change careers while working, or those looking to enhance their current career in law enforcement. Because specific requirements for entry into police academies may vary among jurisdictions, students may want to research specific programs and contact possible future employers to determine their individual requirements.

Stand Out with This Degree

Because significant portions of law enforcement duties require report writing, you may want to use your elective courses to familiarize yourself with computer applications and other technology that may be useful for career development. Additionally, you might take advantage of any internships in areas associated with law enforcement in order to develop hands-on work experience and meet professional mentors. These mentors may be able to help guide your career growth and provide recommendations for the application process.

Bachelor's in Policing and Investigation

Students looking to be more competitive when seeking law enforcement positions, along with mid-career professionals, may choose to complete a bachelor's degree program relating to policing and investigation. Those who have already completed an associate degree elsewhere may find programs available that are specifically designed to complete the second half of a bachelor's degree in two years; these programs sometimes go under the heading '2+2.' Other students looking to complete four years of criminal justice education will need to seek full bachelor's programs.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Mid-career professionals looking to complete a bachelor's degree in order to fulfill promotion requirements may be able to seek education funding from their employers
  • Law enforcement positions at the federal level and in some larger departments may require a bachelor's degree
  • The bachelor's degree programs have more opportunity to train students in the practical aspects of law enforcement and also have the time to instill a more thorough theoretical background

Cons

  • Bachelor's programs require a significant investment of both time and money
  • Students who choose to complete a 4-year program before starting their professional careers miss the opportunity to begin working in the field after completing their first two years
  • Completing a bachelor's degree program as a working professional may be extremely challenging for some students

Courses and Requirements

In addition to the courses offered at the associate level for those completing the first two years of a 4-year program, bachelor's programs examine larger issues associated with policing and investigation in more depth. Additionally, coursework may include broader aspects of law enforcement, such as correctional theory and administration. Some common course topics include the following:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Corrections theory
  • Criminology and crime
  • Delinquency and juvenile justice
  • Departmental budgeting
  • Leadership in law enforcement
  • Social theory and criminal justice

Online Degree Options

Online programs are available, especially for those who have already earned an Associate in Applied Science in the law enforcement field. These online programs are designed to be useful to mid-career professionals who seek the educational credentials that may be required for promotion. Their asynchronous delivery is especially helpful for those working the rotating schedule often associated with law enforcement.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you are seeking to stand out while earning a bachelor's degree in policing and investigation, you might choose additional coursework with an eye to strengthening your applications for competitive positions. Some possible directions might be coursework in a relevant second language, psychology or a physical science such as biology or chemistry. Other options would be to develop technological skills through computer science classes or to take additional law classes.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
      • Associate: Fire Science
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Post University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. in Criminal Justice
  • Marysville, CA

    Yuba College

  • Youngstown, OH

    Youngstown State University

  • Rock Hill, SC

    York Technical College

  • East Hartford, CT

    Goodwin College

  • Wells, ME

    York County Community College

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Criminal Justice
  • AAS in Public Safety and Security
  • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology

Which subject are you interested in?

Post University

  • A.S. in Criminal Justice

Education Level:

Yuba College

Youngstown State University

York Technical College

York County Community College