Whether you are an aspiring law enforcement officer or currently employed in a local, state or federal agency, an academic program can help you achieve your goals and grow in your career path. The main question is how to find the right law enforcement program for you. 

The first question to answer is whether on-campus or online programs are better? The answer depends on the personal preferences and specific circumstances of each person but generally if you are already a working professional, it is much better to opt for an online degree. 

Factors in selecting an online law enforcement program  

There are a variety of educational institutions that offer online programs related to law enforcement. Once you have decided on the specialization that you need, there are a few more factors to consider in order to choose which program is the best for you. Here are five things that can be the reason to prefer one program instead of another:  

  • Price 

The budget that you have for your further education and qualification is one of the most important factors in selecting the right program. There are several free online law enforcement courses that can help you get additional knowledge in the field of law, crime, society. You can also search for the most affordable online courses in law enforcement or the best colleges that offer online tuition at reasonable rates. Do not forget to keep quality in mind too. There is no reason to invest time and effort into a low-cost program that has no added value whatsoever.  

  • Duration 

The duration of the online program depends on its type. If we are speaking about a bachelor’s degree, we can summarize that it takes the same time and efforts as an on-campus program. The good news here is that online learning is much more flexible. You can accelerate your program by taking courses during the summer vacation or completing a given course more intensively than usually. Thus, you can get your bachelor’s degree much faster. For those who have more work or family engagements, there is the option to slow down the pace of study. If you decide to just take some qualification courses, they may take just a few weeks or months to complete and still have quite a positive effect on your career development.  

  • Requirements 

Depending on the type of law enforcement program you have selected, there might be different requirements like a previous degree or experience. The good news is that if you want to start an online bachelor’s degree in law enforcement you do not need experience or previous knowledge in the field. You can select the program that best suits your needs and that will help you achieve your career goals.  

  • Financing options 

The good news is that in recent years more and more financing options have become available for online students. Now they can avail themselves of the same possibilities as those attending on-campus programs. There are different federal, state and private grants and loans that can help with the studies. Many agencies also offer some support with tuition fees so make sure to check this option as well.  Note that there are special scholarships for single parents and financial aid for veterans and active military members and reservists.  The increase in the salary that you may receive upon completion of a certain program or degree (bachelor’s, master’s or PhD) should also be taken into account when calculating the investment in education.  

  • Accreditation  

Last but not least, pay attention to whether the course, program or educational institution as a whole that you have selected have any accreditation. There are two types of accreditation awarded to universities – regional and national. The more prestigious schools that offer higher quality of programs and education have regional accreditation. These are non-profit educational institutions that are often state-owned. Programs from such universities are highly valued by law enforcement agencies. National accreditation, on the other hand, is mostly given to for-profit or religious schools. There are some employers who do not recognize certificates or diplomas issued by nationally-accredited institutions. Take this into account prior to enrolling in an online course as it may not bring all the benefits that you might be hoping for.  

TIP: In order to facilitate your choice of an online law enforcement program, it is a good idea to speak with representatives of the agency that you want to work for or by which you are already employed. Each department has specific requirements about the education of their officers and they should be the most important factor in your decision. Besides, you can receive good advice from your colleagues or supervisors with recommendations of a given course or college.  

Various online options for diversifying your law enforcement skills  

Depending on whether you want to earn a graduate, postgraduate degree in law enforcement or you simply want to add some additional qualifications, there are four types of courses that you can study online: 

  1. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) 

These are online classes often created by private companies with the cooperation of certain universities. Quite often they contain recorded professor’s lectures. In most cases MOOCs are free and available to anyone with access to internet and some free time. 

There are several platforms that offer certificates upon completion of a MOOC upon payment. The fee usually varies between $30 and $150 per course. The learner is required to complete a number of assignments and a final exam or project. Coursera and edX are two of the most popular US providers of MOOCs. 

This type of courses is suitable for someone who wants to gain basic knowledge of law enforcement and criminal justice. They also give an insight and a basic level of introduction to more specialized topics such as international criminal law, psychology or criminal justice for example.  

Do keep in mind that such courses may not be recognized as sufficient qualification for joining some agencies and they may not give you a competitive advantage if applying for a position but they will show initiative in wanting to improve your understanding of a particular area of law enforcement.  

2. Free or low-cost online law enforcement courses 

There is a variety of training options and online resources that an aspiring law enforcement officer or someone already in the field can choose from. There are many sites that offer courses on different topics that can be used to enhance the skills and knowledge that you already have. Some for-profit universities also offer such trainings, as do some states. 

When selecting such an option, make sure to check for accreditation and for the benefits this training will give you. The fact that a course is free or low-cost does not necessarily mean that it is of bad or low quality. Simply check the relevance it has for your particular situation in order to avoid investing time and efforts in something that has no particular value for your future goals.  

3. Undergraduate and graduate online certification programs 

Several universities in the USA offer the option for online undergraduate and graduate certification programs related to law enforcement. One example is the graduate certificate in Law Enforcement Administration that is offered by the Arizona State University.  

If you already have experience or a degree in law enforcement, a certificate may be sufficient to give a boost to your career. This depends on the department you are working for. Also good news is that many universities may accept the certificate credit hours and apply them towards a bachelor’s degree, should you decide to pursue one.  

As a whole, the investment in terms of time and money into a certificate is much less compared to that of earning a degree, and can have quite a positive effect on your law enforcement career should you choose the right program. It may give you a competitive advantage when applying for your first job. 

4. Online law enforcement degree programs 

Prior to enrolling into an online degree program, it is necessary to determine whether a bachelor’s degree will be sufficient for the goals you have set in front of yourself or whether you need to pursue a master’s degree or a more specialized law enforcement program. 

The American Public University System offers students the possibility to get an online degree in different disciplines such as criminal justice, homeland security, disaster management or intelligence depending on the experience you have and the needs of the agency you are applying for. 

Prior to selecting the level of your online program, it is good to consider the level of faculty support you are going to receive throughout the studies and whether you will need to attend some on-campus events or not. It is important to research whether the online classes that are offered are live or self-paced. Quite often there is a mixture of both, which is important to know in case you are working while completing your online degree.  

Bonus: How to get hired as a police officer 

While it is true that you can start your career as an entry level police officer without any experience and with some agencies only have a high school diploma, having a law enforcement qualification in the form of a certificate or degree is always a plus when applying for the position. There are two other things that can also give you an advantage: 

  • Completing online courses that can help you prepare for your written exam, polygraph test and oral interviews. Sgt Godoy has prepared a series of Police Exam practice tests to help you prepare for the written exam and pass it with a great result. In addition to that you can also complete the Mastering the Police Interview course to get an insight of the oral board interview and learn a few tips how to present yourself better, while Mastering the polygraph can lower your anxiety prior to sitting the polygraph test.  
  • Becoming POST certified – each state has a Peace Officer Standards and Training or P.O.S.T. Certificate which gives you the right to be a police officer. The new secret to getting quickly hired by a law enforcement agency is to become POST certified on your own. This means to attend the Police Academy on your own and to graduate successfully from it. Being POST certified means that the agency that hires you will save a significant amount of money and time as it does not have to put you through a full Police academy training. You will still undergo some training, specific for the given agency though.  

It is also very important to be aware of the common disqualifiers and what can stop you from becoming a police officer 

The overall conclusion is that investing in your education increases your chances of both becoming a law enforcement officer and advancing in your career if you are already part of the system. Many state and federal agencies require specific education in order for you to get hired and you can see this in the job openings posted agencies. Choosing an online law enforcement program gives you more flexibility while studying without diminishing the quality of the education you are going to receive. It is a good idea to consult the agency you are interesting in working for, or that you are currently working with prior to enrolling in an online course as their representatives can give you valuable advice on which program is better for your career development.  

You can use our Criminal Justice Degree Finder Tool in order to find the schools and programs that are the most suitable for your current needs and goals.