February 27, 2018
Having achieved one goal of entering into a law enforcement profession, many personnel in the field next look to advance their careers and their ability to make a positive impact in their respective communities. Earning a criminal justice degree is an achievement that often comes with additional benefits but brings up another question: I have my bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Now what?
Joseph Medina had been passed up for a promotion multiple times. Frustrated, he approached his sergeant who suggested he do something to better himself in order to stand out to his employers, the Boston School Police Department. He did just that by earning an online criminal justice degree to boost his resume.
Medina earned his associate degree in criminal justice last October and was recently promoted to citywide mobile sergeant. Now he's taking aim at a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
"I attribute my education with my promotion and have seen, firsthand, the continued career opportunities that are now attainable as a result of earning my degree," he said.
David Lemieux earned his bachelor's degree in police administration and operations in December, an achievement he said came with a raise from his current employer, the Portland Police Department in Maine.
"Portland has an agency of approximately 150 police officers; I chose criminal justice in police operations to advance through the ranks as I gain experience," he said. "One of the reasons why I chose Portland was because of the room for advancement."
Of course, earning a degree while working full time comes with its own difficulties, and Lemieux said he needed to find a program that meshed with his work schedule, which typically involves second- and third-shift hours. A traditional on-campus schedule wasn't an option if he wanted to sleep, so he turned to an online criminal justice program, which he said offered the best value in terms of time, flexibility and price.
"It was a little bit of a challenge figuring out how to plan my work, personal time and school work," he said.
Lemieux said he forced himself to break his weekly work into manageable chunks in order to meet assignment deadlines.
"Every instructor had a vast array of knowledge; they got back to you within 24-48 hours on a question that you might have," he said. "The instructors know that life happens and were able to work with you if an incident came up."
For those not currently working in law enforcement and those seeking a new career path in the field, there's plenty of opportunity. Published data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting division shows there were nearly 1 million full-time law enforcement employees in 2016. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly 3.4 million total jobs in protective service occupations and a 7% job growth rate among police officers and detectives between 2016 and 2026.
Those who aren't already employed or who are considering the next step for their careers can use their criminal justice degrees to gain entree into a number of fields including, according to Criminal Justice Degree Schools, the following:
Others may decide to continue their education and earn a master's degree to help them in a specialized field such as advanced counterterrorism or public safety administration.
"After taking a couple of months off, I am going to continue my education and pursue my master's degree in criminal justice and police operation," said Lemieux.
Having achieved his goal of earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, Lemieux said he has a newfound confidence in his job duties.
"My affidavits have significantly improved," said Lemieux. "This was because of the projects and milestones we had to complete in each course. My instructors were able to provide me the proper feedback of how to obtain references and put them in a (proper) format. (My criminal justice degree) has also provided me with the knowledge in constitutional law to conduct proper police community involvement."
Similarly, Medina said there have been many practical benefits in addition to his promotion and obvious monetary gain.
"I feel that through my education I learned more about the other agencies that I interact with, such as the court system and the corrections system," he said. "I also learned a great deal about how a lot of the principles and tactics utilized in modern policing came to be."
Most important, said Medina, is the impact he's experienced at home.
"The promotion has enabled me to better provide for me and my son," he said, "and my earning of my degree has made my son realize the importance of education and has motivated him to want to go to college."
Pete Davies is a marketing and communications director in higher education. Follow him on Twitter @daviespete or connect on LinkedIn.
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