Becoming a Police Officer: Fields of Study (page 3)
If you have decided that you will need a four-or two-year degree before or during your pursuit of a police officer career, the next step would be to consider what you will study. Many colleges and universities across the country have Criminal Justice degree programs. However, you don't necessarily need to major in one of these programs.
There are many in the field who believe that a well-rounded college education, one that includes courses in accounting, psychology, foreign languages, and courses that will improve your communication and computer skills, makes for the best candidate. You can concentrate your study on any one of these areas and enhance the skills needed for your future career. The Berkeley, CA police department, for example, requires 60 college credits, and specifies that they be in Administration of Justice, Criminology, Police Science, Public Administration, Psychology, Sociology, and/or English.
Just the Facts
College students are expected at some point in their education, generally in the second or third year, to declare what is called a major. This can be defined simply as what you are specializing in and the subject matter you will study in your advanced courses.
All colleges require that a student take a certain number of what are called general education courses. These may be similar to subjects you took in high school such as English, math, government, and history. Others, the liberal arts and humanities, will introduce you to fields such as economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and possibly a foreign language. Within the past decade, a number of colleges have added courses on ethics and on cultural diversity to provide an introduction to living in a diverse society.
If you do decide to get a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, you will probably need 33 credits in your major, which might look like this:
Criminal Justice 101 Introduction to Criminal Justice 3 credits Law 203 Constitutional Law 3 credits Sociology 203 Criminology 3 credits Corrections 201 The Law and Institutional Treatment 3 credits Law 206 The American Judiciary 3 credits Police Science 201 Police Organization and Administration 3 credits Statistics 250 Principles and Methods of Statistics 3 credits Literature 327 Crime and Punishment in Literature 3 credits Philosophy 321 Police Ethics 3 credits Police Science 245 Seminar in Community Policing 3 credits Police Science 401 Seminar in Police Problems 3 credits
For an associate (two-year) degree, majoring in Criminal Justice, you could take courses such as:
CRIJ 1310 Fundamentals of Criminal Law 3 credits CRIJ 1301 Introduction to Criminal Justice 3 credits CRIJ 1306 Courts and Criminal Procedure 3 credits CRIJ 1307 Crime in America 3 credits CJCR 1307 Correctional Systems and Practices 3 credits CJSA 2300 Legal Aspects of Law Enforcement 3 credits
For an associate (two-year) degree, majoring in Criminology, your core course work could include:
CRIM 150 Introduction to the Criminal Justice System 3 credits CRIM 200 Criminology 3 credits CRIM 201 Institutional and Commercial Security 3 credits CRIM 210 Introduction to Corrections 3 credits CRIM 220 Introduction to Law Enforcement 3 credits CRIM 280 The Law of Criminal Justice 3 credits CRIM 285 Introduction to Criminalistics 3 credits CRIM 298 Practicum in Criminal Justice 3 credits
For all degrees, you will probably be required to take the remainder of your credits in courses such as sociology, math, accounting, computers, writing/composition, psychology, government, and philosophy.
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.
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.
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.
Security (or Protection) Management
Security (or protection) management is, like police studies, a degree program that was initially aimed at working professionals who sought a college degree while also preparing for promotional opportunities at their place of employment. Today many students in this major are in-service personnel. Many are mid-or high-ranking officers who are preparing themselves for careers as managers, consultants, or business owners in the private security sector. Until quite recently, the career path into senior level positions in private security was to have worked as a police officer. This is becoming less true today. As the private security industry has matured and moved beyond supervision of uniformed guards, more managers are coming to the field with educational backgrounds in security issues or with professional backgrounds reflecting technical skills.
For this reason, this major is less directly related to policing than many of the others described. But it is a good choice for those who are not sure that the public sector is where they want to work. Generally, requirements for security guards in most parts of the country are low, but that is not true for investigative or administrative positions in private security firms. Many of these, especially the security departments of large corporations, require applicants to have a four-year college degree.
Many of those hoping to be police officers often have a tendency to dismiss private security as a career option. The field, though, is far more complex and more professional than many in policing realize. It is also one of the fastest growing employment areas in the country. In addition to entry level security officers, the numbers of private investigators, property protection personnel, threat analysis specialists, and those with the knowledge to integrate surveillance and computer systems have increased substantially in the past decades.
After September 11, 2001, many companies expanded their security networks and a large number of public agencies realized the need for specialized personnel other than routine, uniformed security officers. One of the major consumers of private security services is the public sector. Through contracting out for services, local, state, and the federal government rely on private security firms for such activities as testing products, protecting embassies around the world, undertaking physical threat and vulnerability analyses, and securing computer networks against fraud and virus attacks. Since the private security industry is even more fractured than policing and because much of it is only minimally regulated, it is difficult to estimate the size of the industry. Those who have tried, though, estimate that there are about 60,000 private security firms that together employ at least three times more private security practitioners than there are public police. Estimates are that as much as $90 billion is spent annually on private security throughout the United States.
If you are entrepreneurial and have thoughts of someday working in the private sector, this major might be of interest to you. If you select this field you will learn the history and current practices of the security industry, review case studies of successful security programs and analyze security vulnerabilities, and consider programs to reduce losses in public institutions and private corporations.
A major in forensic science provides academic and professional training for those who want to work in forensic science laboratories as researchers or administrators, or who are planning to pursue careers as research scientists, teachers, or medical professionals.
Although this is one of the fastest growing majors in the country, it is also one of the least understood. Reflecting the influence of television and movies, many students enroll in the major with the belief that it will prepare them to be crime scene investigators. While some law enforcement agencies do employ civilian crime scene investigators, the majority of departments assign these tasks to those who were police officers and who often hold the designation of detective. Forensic science, as its name indicates, is not about going out to crime scenes at midnight and working with police officers; it entails studying science and then working in a laboratory.
If you select this major you will study chemistry (organic, analytical and physical) biology, physics, and law. Full-service state police agencies, statewide investigative bureaus, and many police departments have forensic labs, making this a growing source of employment in criminal justice. The number of private labs that contract with law enforcement agencies has also increased substantially. Juries have come more and more to expect that forensic evidence will be offered in any case that comes to trial. It is not uncommon to read in local newspapers that a jury returned a not guilty verdict based on the absence of forensic evidence, even if other evidence existed.
This is an exciting and growing field, but it is important that you realize that forensic science requires knowledge of science (including physics) and math (including calculus), requires coursework that involves long hours in a lab, and is not a shortcut to becoming a detective or crime scene investigator.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 200 colleges have created homeland security programs and about 150 others have added programs in emergency management that focus on terrorism-related issues. Not all the programs are two-or four-year degree programs; some offer a four-to six-course (generally 12 to 20 college credits) certificate program. A study in 2005 by the American Association of Community Colleges found that 80% of two-year institutions offered courses in homeland security, although not all offered majors in this area.
Generally, these courses include a historical overview of terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the psychology of terrorists, investigation of terrorism incidents and intelligence gathering, and disaster response.
Many of the students in these courses are, like you, interested in careers in law enforcement, intelligence analysis, and investigations, but many are also in-service professionals seeking to expand their skills for work in the private sector. Other areas for which a degree or a certificate in homeland security might be beneficial include threat and vulnerability analysis, strategic planning, threat mitigation, and incident command and emergency management.
Before selecting a college primarily on the basis of a homeland security program, make sure to determine whether it is a degree program or a subspecialty of a larger program. While either may suit your purpose, if you have determined that you prefer a degree-granting program, you do not want to expend funds for a program that is not what you had anticipated.