What is Law Enforcement?
Law enforcement changed after September 11, 2001. Today, law enforcement personnel have a lot more training and equipment in order for them to be able to enforce the law and protect national security. Law enforcement officers are responsible for ensuring that crimes are not committed and, if a crime does take place, they, along with criminal forensic analysts, investigate the crime scene.
In general, several different types of law enforcement officer will work together and interact with the public. They enforce laws from the local level, going all the way up to the federal level. If you complete a justice degree program and earn your law enforcement degree, you may enter one of a variety of criminal justice careers, depending on your interests. With the hands-on experience you gain, you may also be able to begin protecting your community.
Law enforcement officers arrive at their careers in one of several ways. They may go to community college, complete one of several distance education programs, or attend one of the many universities offering a criminal justice degree before completing police officer or peace officer training.
Alabama’s needs for protecting its citizens and industries are unique to the state and they have created their own laws that govern how their law enforcement agencies function. This makes its security requirements different than they might be in neighboring Georgia, Tennessee, or Mississippi. This means that law enforcement degree programs offered by Alabama colleges and universities are likely to be structured differently from bordering states, with a greater focus on whatever their rules and needs specify.
Out of the 31 schools that offer criminal justice programs, seven offer online criminal justice degree programs, nine offer associate degrees, 20 offer bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, and eight offer master’s or doctoral programs. In 2018, one school was ranked in the Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges. In the same year, three schools in Alabama were ranked in U.S. News Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs. And, in 2018, two schools made the rankings in College Factual’s Best Criminal Justice and Corrections Colleges.
Law Enforcement Education in Alabama
The term ‘law enforcement professional’ includes a range of specialties including uniformed officers, support positions, and investigators. Law enforcement professionals work in each one of these roles locally, as well as at the state and federal levels. Police officers and detectives occupy the largest number of positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports more than 795,000 police working in the U.S. Of these officers, 80% are locally employed, 10% are employed in state police agencies, and 6% are employed in federal agencies.
Investigators advance into this position from the level of police officer; they work on the evidence collected at every crime scene and may interview witnesses or suspects. Uniformed officers are seen as the generalists in law enforcement. They patrol communities and transit as well as responding to calls for assistance. You’ll find police officers, deputy sheriff, state trooper, and border patrol agents within this level. Support positions include fingerprint technicians, evidence technicians, crime lab techs, investigative assistants, crime scene analysts, and many more.
Associate Degree in Law Enforcement (AS)
Students in community college law enforcement degree programs in Alabama will be prepared for an entry-level position in the field of law enforcement. These positions might include police officers, corrections officers, and probation officers. If you are more interested in criminology, investigation, forensics, or a role in criminal justice management, you should continue in school and earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice or another, closely related field.
At this level, you might expect to see coursework such as Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Policing, Correctional Systems and Practices, Criminal Investigations, Criminal Behavior, Criminal Law, Correctional Counseling and Law, Courts and Criminal Procedures, and Social justice.
Other degree options to consider are corrections, criminology, legal studies, forensic accounting, law, forensics, computer programming and technology, engineering, and linguistics and foreign languages. All of these degrees have the possibility of preparing you for a unique career in assisting law enforcement at some level.Read More on University HQ
Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement (BS)
A four-year (or two years after earning an associate degree) in Criminology or Criminal Justice can broaden your choice of careers within law enforcement. In this program, you’ll spend more time focused on the research and theory so important to investigating and preventing criminal behavior. At some universities, some of these courses are held in a flexible online format. In those situations, they are often taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus, and they provide the same quality degree you would earn on-campus as well.
In this degree, you may take classes such as Law and Society, Judicial Process, and Corrections. You’ll also enroll in classes intended to help you enhance your writing and communication skills, because you may end up writing reports that could become a part of a legal document for a criminal trial.
After being an undergraduate student and graduating, you’ll be ready to compete for a job in fields such as legal and investigative services, private or corporate security, compliance and intelligence analysis, and a variety of law enforcement careers. Required courses focus on various aspects of criminal justice.Read More on University HQ
Master's Degree in Law Enforcement (MS or MC)
Earning a master’s degree from a school’s Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice can allow you to greatly expand your job opportunities. Graduate students who earn their master’s in this field have the credentials they need to advance to the highest position in a federal agency, private company, or a state law enforcement organization. You’ll also be able to write and publish articles in both national and international professional journals.
Consider this: after earning a degree at this level, you may find a position working as the deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service, chief of police in an Alabama city, at the FBI as a management and program analyst, as a judge for an Alabama municipal court, as a cybersecurity systems analyst, or in other opportunities. Only master’s graduates with the right qualifications may be hired for these positions.Read More on University HQ
PhD Degree in Law Enforcement (PhD)
While you may not be able to find a PhD in criminology, this is a good time for you to opt for a closely related degree program, such as law. A professional JD (juris doctorate) degree means that you could rise to the highest levels of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in general.
This professional degree allows you to develop the knowledge and skills you need to work in a legal specialty. If you have already earned a master’s degree in criminal justice and corrections, you’ve already developed the skills you need and you also carried out research in one specific area.
Deciding to enter a doctorate program is a major decision. You should talk to other professionals who already a doctorate degree in the field and ask them what it is like. Also, review more than one graduate school; you need to find one that has the program that will best support your intended future career goals. If you earn a doctoral degree, you may be accepted to work in one of the highest-ranking social science programs or law schools.
Become a Law Enforcement Professional in Alabama
From the local to the state level, you could qualify for any law enforcement position as long as you complete the employment qualifications. You may become a trooper trainee by earning your high school diploma or GED certificate. Of course, other requirements are included. You must hold a driver’s license from Alabama, be a U.S. citizen, and pass a pre-employment physical assessment. You may prefer working in an office environment; if so, you could begin as a police communications officer. A high school diploma and one year of responsible office administration experience are required for this position. Both of these positions are good entry-level opportunities that will help you to get into a higher position with more responsibility. For instance, earning a college degree may be required of higher-level law enforcement positions.
If you’re more interested in federal law enforcement employment and you want to stay in Alabama, these fields may be of interest to you: public administration, crime scene investigation, public safety, emergency management, law, police science, homeland security, or forensic science. Begin by learning about each agency’s prerequisites; these may include a bachelor’s degree or higher.
If you like being on the water, you may choose a position with the U.S. Coast Guard. Other federal agencies include ATFE, ICE, and DEA. Another federal career field you might consider is Customs and Border Protection or CBP. The U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Marshals Service Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force may also have positions that are of interest to you.
You may qualify to work for a city, county, or state law enforcement agency as well. These include the Alabama State Port Authority, Alabama Highway Patrol, Alabama Fish and Game Enforcement, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Alabama State Parks Ranger Service, Alabama Attorney General’s Office, Alabama Department of Corrections, and the Alabama Department of Conservation. You may choose to work for a county sheriff’s department or a city police department somewhere in Alabama. Some schools have degree programs such as “Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services”. There are a huge variety of positions that can take you above and beyond working as a police officer in your hometown. Make sure you consider all your options.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Law Enforcement
Talladega College graduated 24 students majoring in the Legal and Law degree program in a recent year. Each student was equipped with the knowledge they needed to accept an entry-level position in a law enforcement office.
Alabama A&M University, located in Normal, Alabama, has a small student body of around 6,200. The university educated and graduated 82 criminal justice students who earned their bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement in a recent year, a program housed within the Legal and Law Department.
Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama has a student body of just over 3,000. This smaller university is a private, not-for-profit institution affiliated with the Church of Christ. As small as the university is, it graduated 257 Legal and Law graduates in a recent year; 2 students earned associate degrees, 78 earned their bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, 112 earned their master’s in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement, and 57 receiving their Juris Doctorate in Law.
Troy University, with a student population of over 16,400, graduated 323 Legal and Law graduates in 2019. In the Criminal Justice degree program, 230 students earned their bachelor’s degree. In the Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement major, 92 students earned their master’s degree. And one student earned their certificate in Criminal Justice.
Columbia Southern University is a large, private, for-profit university which educates undergraduate and graduate students. In 2019, it awarded 52 master’s degrees to its graduate students. The university offers two law enforcement degree programs for interested students.
University of South Alabama, in Mobile, Alabama is one of the larger public universities in the state. In its law enforcement degree program, the university awarded 37 bachelor’s degrees to students in a recent year.
Careers for Law Enforcement Graduates
- Crime Scene Technician/Investigator:
Crime scene technicians, crime scene investigators and forensic science technicians all work with the police to investigate crime scenes. They gather the smallest pieces of evidence, not knowing how important each one may be. They write reports explaining their findings—these may become a part of the court record in a criminal hearing. Academic programs should teach skills like math, science, and critical thinking to their students.
- Patrol/Police Officer:
Patrol officers protect a community and maintain order. In carrying out their duties, they enforce the law. They will patrol an assigned area, prevent illegal activity, and ensure citizens are safe. Certificate programs may help students learn the skills they need for this profession. Police officers may also work with the public and introduce new ways to reduce the likelihood of crime. They also enforce local, state, and federal laws with legitimate use of force. Justice degree programs teach students the skills they need for this position, but students must also complete an extra training course offered by the state.
This position is often the goal of many police officers who want to advance higher in the ranks of their precinct. You may be able to stay with a case beginning with the initial investigation through to the conviction or acquittal in court. At times, you may be given more than one case at a time. Having a sense of empathy helps you to connect to the family, letting them know you care about them.
- Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement/Forensic Science Professor:
If you left the police or an active law enforcement sector, you may decide to work in a university classroom. You could teach classes in law enforcement administration, criminal justice, and corrections. In this type of position, you’ll prepare your and deliver these to students; possibly both undergraduate and graduate students. Your knowledge may result in prospective students joining this degree program and/or allow you to perform research into particular subjects in the field.
- Lab Forensics/Analysts for Ballistics - DNA - Toxicology - Documents, etc.:
If you work as a crime laboratory analyst, you’ll work mostly in the lab. Even though television shows depict crime lab analysts working in the field at crime scenes, in reality it isn’t as common. Crime scene technicians are the ones collecting evidence, taking photos, and examining crime scenes, looking for anything unusual. It’s your responsibility to analyze the evidence collected.
- Cyber Security - Digital and Computer Forensics Analyst:
In this field, also known as computer or digital forensics, you’ll investigate digital data which has been collected for criminal cases. You may also search hard drives, looking for both hidden and deleted files. An undergraduate degree in cyber security allows you to enter this field as long as you have the required qualifications.
- FBI/CIA/DEA/TSA/ATF/DHS/DoD/NSA/ICE Agent:
To work in a federal agency, you will receive even more rigorous and specialized training. You may protect the President and Vice President of the United States, investigate terrorist attacks, investigate cyber-crime, carry out federal criminal investigations, or perform internal investigations of both Army and civilian personnel.
- Court Bailiff:
In this position, you would be a law enforcement officer of the court system. Their main role is to keep order and security in the courtroom and help the judge. Educational requirements include a GED, high school diploma, or a two- to four-year degree. If you choose to enter this position, you’ll complete your training at an academy—this will take several months.
- Correctional Officer:
One of the least visible law enforcement careers is the corrections officer. Their job lies within a jail or prison and it is truly important. They and their fellow COs help to maintain order inside the facility so that prisoners and officers both stay safe. You’ll need a high school diploma or GED in order to get started.
- Probation/Parole Officer:
As a probation officer, you might help convicts who have been given probation to stay on the right side of the law, as well as keeping an eye out for signs of recidivism. These specialists coordinate services to their needs including counseling, anger management for convicts convicted of domestic violence, or substance abuse treatment for drug addictions.
Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths