Online Master's Programs in Law Enforcement

For a professional employed in a criminal justice field, earning a master's in law enforcement online can clear a pathway into better paying and more challenging positions, without interrupting work or family responsibilities. While some schools offer freestanding law enforcement master's programs, a student may also choose a master of criminal justice degree that features law enforcement as a specialization within the curriculum.

A master of law enforcement degree provides a competitive advantage to both professionals seeking promotions and to those planning to move into state and federal agencies. A graduate who holds an MS or MA in law enforcement can earn more than a bachelor's degree-holder, along with acquiring the advanced skills needed to enter professional roles beyond law enforcement in fields like emergency management and homeland security.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Law Enforcement Program?

Students enrolled in master's in law enforcement online programs enjoy the same rigorous curriculum as traditional campus-based programs, while benefiting from the convenience and flexibility offered by distance learning. Online law enforcement master's programs prepare students for the same kinds of career advancement opportunities as brick-and-mortar programs.

Although degree requirements and course offerings differ by school, law enforcement master's programs offer similar foundational courses that emphasize criminal justice systems, organizational theories, public policy and law, methods, and practical applications. A master of law enforcement degree teaches leadership and critical thinking skills, provides an understanding of the legal and regulatory environment in law enforcement, and overviews best practices for criminal justice administration and management.

Some programs offer concentrations that provide students with specialized training in high-demand fields such as emergency management, cybercrime, corrections, and homeland security. Required capstone projects and internships integrate the knowledge and skills learned in coursework with practical applications in various law enforcement settings.

What Courses Are Offered in a Master's in Law Enforcement Program?

Despite program variations, a master of law enforcement degree introduces learners to criminal justice systems and administration, organizational theories and policies, management principles and practices, and ethics. Many programs offer courses similar to those described below.

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    Law Enforcement Administration: This course applies organizational management theories and practices to the administration of law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities. Students can explore criminal justice management, operational command leadership, and public safety policy, along with legal and regulatory responsibilities. The course also addresses community relations, labor relations, and contemporary trends faced by law enforcement administrators.
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    Research Methods for the Study of Law Enforcement: A thorough understanding of research methods and statistical analysis helps students assess the effectiveness of law enforcement and criminal justice policies. This course introduces scientific research approaches, quantitative and qualitative methodologies, and their most appropriate applications. Enrollees can learn how to analyze and critique published research and case studies.
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    Ethics and Law Enforcement: This course explores the competing value systems and ethical challenges confronting law enforcement professionals. Coursework covers philosophical and legal foundations, theories, and the methods of ethics as they apply to criminal justice and law enforcement administration and practice. Degree-seekers can analyze case studies that illustrate philosophical and practical dilemmas that challenge personal and professional ethical perspectives.
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    Diversity and Law Enforcement: This course examines how law enforcement administration and practice reflect racial, ethnic, gender, and economic inequality in American society. Topics include disparities in arrest and sentencing, demographics of correctional populations, racial profiling and biased-based policing, and police-community relations. Students can learn effective and culturally competent techniques for working with diverse populations.
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    Terrorism and Homeland Security: This examination of domestic and international terrorism and homeland security focuses on identifying threats, risk analysis, and strategies for responses and prevention. The course emphasizes the preparedness of local, federal, and international law enforcement agencies; the importance of coordination among agencies; and developing and implementing action plans.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Completing a master's in law enforcement online will typically involve a capstone experience during the last term of study. This capstone commonly takes the form of a research project or policy evaluation that requires each enrollee to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in their coursework. Students sometimes prepare portfolios of representative assignments and projects completed in previous semesters for presentation and evaluation.

Some programs feature a thesis option, providing degree-seekers with the chance to develop and carry out an independent research project. Internships and field experiences can give students real-world professional experience in a law enforcement setting.

How Much Can I Make With a Career in Law Enforcement

While a master's in law enforcement does not automatically guarantee a hefty salary, master degree-holders typically earn more than law enforcement professionals with only bachelor's degrees or associate diplomas. Years of experience, geographic location, and the projected demand for certain occupations all impact salary rates. This table provides general salary and job growth information for some common careers pursued by master's-level graduates.

Criminal Investigators and Special Agents

Working in local, state, and federal agencies, these law enforcement professionals investigate alleged criminal violations, conduct interviews and surveillance, collect evidence, and prepare written reports of their findings. Depending on their positions and agency, they may investigate financial fraud, hate crimes, organized crime, kidnapping, political corruption, and other violations of state or federal statutes.

Median Annual Salary: $81,920

Job Growth 2018-2028: 2-3%

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors develop procedures and action plans for responding to natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten public safety. They coordinate with government agencies, law enforcement, and nonprofit organizations to assess and respond to emergencies and disasters to minimize risk to people and manage damage to property.

Median Annual Salary: $74,420

Job Growth 2018-2028: 5%

Police and Detectives

Police officers and detectives work in law enforcement agencies responding to reports of criminal activities. Depending on the jurisdiction, their duties include collecting and analyzing evidence, conducting interviews and surveillance, obtaining warrants, and making arrests. Many law enforcement agencies require graduate-level training as a qualification for promotion into supervisory roles or advancement in rank.

Median Annual Salary: $63,380

Job Growth 2018-2028: 5%

Online Master's in Law Enforcement Program Accreditation

Prospective students should always check the accreditation status of the school they plan to attend. Vocational and for-profit schools often acquire national accreditation, while regionally accredited schools meet more rigorous academic standards. There is no specialized accreditation for law enforcement master's programs, although the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences grants programmatic accreditation to some graduate criminal justice degrees. Because ACJS accredits very few master's programs, students seeking master of law enforcement degrees should focus on selecting regionally accredited schools.

How to Pay for a Master's in Law Enforcement Degree

Degree-seekers exploring how to pay for graduate school should explore all possible funding options. Many students apply for federal or private bank loans. Distance learners should also investigate their eligibility for need-based and merit-based grants and employer-sponsored tuition remission programs.

  • Employer Tuition Reimbursement: Many companies encourage their employees to obtain work-related training by offering tuition reimbursement. Most agreements require employees to work for a specific period after completing their degrees. If employees leave, they may have to repay the amount of the award.
  • Federal Loans: Graduate and undergraduate students should both begin their search for financial assistance by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application determines eligibility for low-interest loans, such as Stafford loans and Graduate PLUS loans, that do not require repayment until six months after graduation.
  • Financial Aid for Active Military, Veterans, and Dependents: In keeping with the GI Bill®, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs coordinates with schools across the country to offer reduced tuition, grants, and credits toward the degree for military experience. Active-duty personnel, veterans, spouses, and children should explore their eligibility for these and other military benefits.

Scholarships for Master's in Law Enforcement Students

American Criminal Justice Association Lambda Alpha Epsilon Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Restricted to members of the Lambda Alpha Epsilon Honor Society, this award provides funding to graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in law/legal services, criminal justice/law, or social science degree programs. Each candidate must have earned a 3.0 GPA in their last two terms of coursework.

Amount: $100-$400

Apply for Scholarship

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Open to graduate and undergraduate students, this award assists students interested in career paths investigating fraud. Each candidate must be enrolled in a criminal justice, law enforcement, or business-focused program at an accredited school.

Amount: $1,000-$10,000

Apply for Scholarship

Association of State Correctional Administrators Susan M. Hunter Correctional Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship assists the children of current, retired, or deceased corrections employees of any state or federal department of corrections affiliated with ASCA. Graduate students must maintain full-time enrollment in accredited corrections or criminal justice-related programs.

Amount: $1,500

Apply for Scholarship

Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association Scholarship

Who Can Apply: HAPCOA offers this award to undergraduate or graduate students from Hispanic backgrounds planning to enter careers in law enforcement or criminal justice professions. Each applicant must submit evidence of a 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $2,500

Apply for Scholarship

Women in Federal Law Enforcement Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The WIFLE Foundation sponsors this scholarship program to encourage talented students to enter law enforcement careers. Undergraduate and graduate students may apply for this award, with attention given to their academic potential, record of achievement, and commitment to service.

Amount: $2,500

Apply for Scholarship

Professional Organizations and Resources

Students interested in law enforcement and criminal justice administration should become familiar with educational resources, legal assistance, career guidance, and other services provided by professional associations, labor organizations, and advocacy groups.

  • Federal Criminal Investigators Association

    FCIA promotes professionalism and the development of federal criminal investigators by providing educational resources, legislative information, and job listings. The association advocates on behalf of its membership by lobbying lawmakers on issues of concern to the profession.

  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association

    Representing 25,000 law enforcement officers in 65 agencies, FLEOA offers legal assistance for its members and engages in legislative advocacy on behalf of federal law enforcement professionals. The association also administers a scholarship program for the children of FLEOA members.

  • Fraternal Order of Police

    As the largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, FOP works to improve the working conditions of law enforcement officers through education, community involvement, legislation, and employee representation. Members may apply for legal defense assistance, insurance and banking offers, and tuition assistance opportunities.

  • International Police Association

    Serving 400,000 current and retired police officers in over 60 different countries, IPA promotes global and cultural friendships and cooperation and collegiality among its members. The association offers police training programs and sponsors an international learning and development exchange.

  • National Association of Police Organizations

    NAPO, a coalition of police unions and associations, advances the interests of police officers through legislative advocacy, political mobilization, and educational initiatives. The organization provides legal assistance for its members and sponsors an annual Top Cop award.