Becoming a Police Officer: Fields of Study (page 2)

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

Police Studies

A major in what was once called police science but is now more likely to be called police studies is most often designed for students who want to pursue law enforcement careers or for in-service students. Because it is a popular major among in-service students, if you select this major it is very likely that you will interact in the classroom with a large number of experienced officers.

This can be positive and negative. The positive aspects are that you are immersed in the real world of policing through the questions and comments of your classmates. You may learn of job opportunities firsthand from them, and you will most likely receive encouragement in your career choice. A negative aspect is that hearing these experienced officers complain about department policies may dampen your enthusiasm for entering the field. Another negative, particularly if the professor has been a law enforcement professional, may be that you will feel left out of discussions and wonder what the others all know that you are missing. There is no reason, though, to be intimidated by this. The course content is not based only on current-day policing. A police studies major should include courses in police history and in organizational theories and management. Course work will likely also investigate other areas of the criminal justice system, particularly considering how they interact with or are influenced by the police. Since academic and practical applications often differ, you may learn that your in-service classmates bring a narrower perspective to their efforts than you do.

Criminal Justice

Majoring in criminal justice generally will provide you with the chance to look in greater detail than in police studies at the other areas of the criminal justice system. Generally these include local, state, and federal courts; local, state, or federal corrections; and the fields of probation and parole. Placing the police in this broader context will also involve more courses in government and political science.

Because this major is more general than police studies, it may peak your interest to consider careers in the field that you had not previously thought about. Since some of the other criminal justice professions you will learn about require a four-year college degree, you might decide that your education has opened to you areas that at one time seemed beyond your reach. Many of those in the academic community consider the broader base of the criminal justice degree as a stronger preparation for those planning to attend graduate school, perhaps law school or a school of public administration. While this is not a universally accepted viewpoint, there is a strong possibility that a criminal justice program will expose you to at least one social science research methods course, as well as other specialized areas that might not be included in required police studies courses.

Criminal Justice Administration and Planning

Generally not available in two-year colleges, a major in criminal justice administration and planning may be a wise selection for two types of applicants. If you are interested in moving up in rank or working in an administrative position, this degree will help you to see how criminal justice agencies operate on a day-to-day basis. It will provide you with a deeper knowledge of organizational and management theories, as well as an understanding of the planning process.

This major might also be attractive to you if you are interested in a law enforcement career that may not directly involve policing. Many candidates want to be a part of the policing community but are unwilling or unable to make the commitment to attend a police academy and then to work on patrol or on various hours or days of the week. Possibly you already know that a physical condition will make it difficult for you to successfully complete a police department's selection process but you still want to work within law enforcement. Positions in planning, human resources, finance, and a number of areas are filled by civilians in many police and criminal justice agencies. Bringing knowledge of these fields may help you compete for these jobs.

The degree, as its name implies, focuses on planning, policy analysis and implementation, and management theories and practices applied to the criminal justice system. Because it focuses on management issues, this major will also introduce you to theories of leadership and to internal and external ethical issues faced by criminal justice agencies and their employees.

Public Administration

Like the major in criminal justice administration and planning, a major in public administration provides an opportunity to look beyond criminal justice. In this major, course work may focus on decision making and management in all types of public agencies. You will learn how public administration and public management developed and how it differs from private sector management.

It is similar to a major in business administration but focuses on the public sector. The obvious difference between the public and private sectors involves the need to show a profit. But other areas of difference involve the greater likelihood that the public sector will have a civil service-or union-protected workforce and that salaries are determined through collective bargaining. External political issues may play a different role than in private industry administration. Among the topics commonly covered in this major are economic issues and financial and budgetary management, theories of organization and management, and human resource management processes.

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