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Becoming a Police Officer: Fields of Study (page 4)

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Updated on Dec 2, 2010

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.

Forensic Science

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.

Homeland Security

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.

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