9 Law Enforcement Careers To Consider

When considering a career in law enforcement, police work is often the first role that comes to mind. However, the field comprises various careers dedicated to upholding public safety and order in communities, businesses and government agencies.

If you want to start a career in law enforcement, you can choose from a selection of positions dedicated to protecting and serving your community. In this article, we explore nine careers in law enforcement, along with their salaries and education requirements.

Read on to discover which profession aligns with your interests and goals.

Degree Finder

What Is Law Enforcement?

Law enforcement encompasses agencies, officers and other individuals who enforce laws and regulations, ensure public safety and maintain order through the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system includes three subsystems: police, courts and corrections.

Police work on the frontlines to enforce the law and promote community safety. Courts ensure anyone charged with a crime receives a fair trial and verdict. Corrections systems incarcerate individuals or place them on parole and rehabilitate those who have committed crimes.

Why Should You Get a Degree?

Most law enforcement agencies mandate a high school diploma or GED certificate as the minimum requirement for hiring, per the minimum requirements set by their respective states. However, other agencies may require education above their state’s minimum requirement for certain positions. While not all law enforcement jobs require a college degree, there are advantages to earning a degree for your law enforcement career.

Better Pay

According to a report by the National Policing Institute (NPI), which includes survey data from 958 law enforcement agencies, nearly one-third of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. pay higher salaries to police officers with bachelor’s degrees.

Career Advancement Options

Earning a degree may qualify you for career advancement. A degree is common for individuals in CEO positions in law enforcement, such as chiefs and sheriffs. For example, about 32% of law enforcement CEOs have master’s degrees, around 28% have bachelor’s degrees and about 17% have high school educations, NPI reports.

Other Advantages

According to NPI, about 61% of respondents perceive that college-educated officers are better report writers, and about 46% perceive that they are more adept at using technology. The majority of respondents believe that these perceptions provide genuine benefits.

Majors for Law Enforcement Professionals

Criminal Justice

A criminal justice degree teaches you the fundamentals of our criminal justice system, covering topics ranging from criminal investigations to courtroom proceedings to the juvenile justice system. This degree is a great option for various law enforcement careers, particularly those involving work within the court system.

Criminal justice degrees are offered at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

Criminology

A criminology degree explores the study of criminal behavior, crime patterns and victimization. With this degree, students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to understand the motives behind criminal activity. This degree prepares you to work in several areas, including corrections facilities, policy or social justice reform and victim services.

Criminology degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

Forensic Science

A forensic science degree focuses on the scientific research elements of law enforcement. Students learn how to investigate a crime scene, collect DNA and other evidence and preserve physical evidence. This degree is ideal for jobs in crime scene investigation or laboratory research.

Forensic science programs offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Homeland Security

A homeland security degree teaches the fundamentals of protecting our country’s communities, infrastructure and people from terrorism, natural disasters, public safety incidents and other catastrophic events. This degree can prepare you for a career in public and private agencies, like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland security programs offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Law

A law degree teaches legal subjects, including torts, contracts, criminal and civil procedure and administrative law. Some programs offer specializations such as immigration law, family law, business law or criminal law. A law degree prepares you for careers, including attorneys, paralegals, judges, lobbying, compliance and immigration.

Law programs offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, while legal study programs are available at the associate level.

Political Science

A political science degree focuses on international relations, public administration and political science concepts and prepares you to work in the private or public sectors. This is a good degree if you want to work in international business, law, journalism, public service, or local or federal government jobs.

Political science programs offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Psychology

A psychology degree explores the human mind and behavior. This includes understanding experiential learning and psychological theories. This degree is a great option for law enforcement jobs that involve understanding individuals, their behaviors and motivations.

Psychology programs offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Careers in Law Enforcement to Consider

The below salary data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale and Glassdoor.

Animal Control Officer

Median Annual Salary: $39,320
Required Education: High school diploma or GED certificate, plus on-the-job training; bachelor’s degree or certification from the National Animal Care and Control Association required for certain positions involving chemical immobilization or euthanasia
Job Overview: Animal control officers enforce the laws that ensure the safety and humane treatment of animals. They may respond to calls or investigate reports of animal cruelty, distressed or dangerous animals, or public safety incidents involving animals and people.

Correctional Officer

Median Annual Salary: $49,610
Required Education: High school diploma or GED certificate; bachelor’s degree sometimes required
Job Overview: Correctional officers ensure public safety by guarding prisoners in correctional facilities or during transit. They also supervise people in police custody and search facilities or people for contraband or other potential violations.

DEA Agent

Average Annual Salary: Approximately $40,000 to $63,700
Required Education: Bachelor’s degree for DEA agent jobs; master’s or JD degree sometimes required
Job Overview: DEA agents are law enforcement officers who work in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office of the U.S. Department of Justice. They gather data for drug investigations, seize drugs or assets of cartels or drug dealers, conduct surveillance and arrest individuals involved in illegal drug activities.

Detective

Median Annual Salary: $86,280
Required Education: High school diploma or GED; bachelor’s degree sometimes required; agency’s training academy often required
Job Overview: Detectives investigate criminal activities, such as homicides, assaults, fraud or robberies. They may monitor suspects, conduct surveillance or participate in police raids or arrests. Some detectives are plainclothes officers, while others wear uniforms.

FBI Agent

Average Annual Salary: Approximately $68,300
Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: FBI agents work on criminal cases involving federal laws. They conduct investigations and pursue suspects involved in financial crimes, illegal drug activity, Medicare fraud or crimes that cross state lines.

Fish and Game Warden

Median Annual Salary: $59,500
Required Education: Bachelor’s degree; associate degree with relevant experience sometimes accepted
Job Overview: Game wardens enforce laws related to fish and game activities. Depending on the unique needs of each state, they may also be responsible for boating and hunting safety programs, oil spill prevention, commercial fishing, K-9 handling, watershed enforcement, wildlife trafficking or other activities.

Police Officer

Median Annual Salary: $65,790
Required Education: High school diploma or GED certificate, plus graduation from a police training academy
Job Overview: Police officers work within communities to prevent crime and enforce laws and ordinances. Depending on the job, this may include patrolling areas, investigating reported incidents, responding to traffic accidents, directing traffic, pursuing and arresting suspects, testifying in court, writing reports or issuing summonses.

Secret Service Agent

Median Annual Salary: Approximately $108,000
Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: Secret Service agents protect officials in government positions, including foreign and domestic individuals. Other duties may include investigating criminal activities related to cybersecurity, financial crimes or national threats.

Transit and Railroad Police Officer

Median Annual Salary: $69,150
Required Education: High school diploma or GED certificate
Job Overview: Transit and railroad police officers enforce laws and ensure safety for people using public transportation systems. Depending on the position, this may include rail systems, bus networks, Port Authorities and other community transit systems.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Law Enforcement Careers


Do law enforcement jobs pay well?

Yes, some law enforcement jobs pay well. For instance, Secret Service agents earn a median annual salary of around $108,000, according to Glassdoor—significantly higher than the national median salary for all occupations.


What is the best law enforcement job to have?

The best job in law enforcement is the one that fits your career goals. Whether you prefer working with transit infrastructure, animals and the outdoors, high-level government officials or within your community, you can find a fulfilling law enforcement job that suits your skills and interests.


Is a law enforcement career worth it?

Whether a law enforcement career is worth it depends on your career aspirations and goals. If you seek a career that allows you to use your skills, offers continuous learning opportunities, enables you to help others and provides a stable income, a career in law enforcement may be worthwhile for you.


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