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Promotions: The Courses that Count

Promotions: The Courses that Count

Richard Weinblatt

You’ve decided to go back to college. You figured how to pay for it (or have your agency do so). You’ve set up a place in your home to study for exams and do papers. But here’s the question that many people ask…what should you study? Picking a major has never been harder than it is now. With the explosion of online and private institutions of higher education, aspiring and current law enforcers have more choices than ever. That includes the many choices of majors or areas of study.

College in this day and age of complicated policing in a democratic society makes for a good move. In the words of my good friend and retired South Brunswick, NJ, Police chief Fred Thompson, “Education does not make a bad cop good, but it makes a good cop better.” Similarly, the choice of a major does not make a bad cop good, but the right major can position you to do your job even better or get your foot in the door at your dream department.

The key is determining what your goal is with that educational endeavor. Is the goal promotion or is it the furtherance of an area that is integrated into policing such as counseling? Do you want to be the man (or woman) in the corner suite, or are you looking to be the best patrol officer you can be?

Promotion Path

Many students view education as just a piece of paper that is their ticket to the gold on the collar. But an education is more than that. A good education (stress good as in quality) will enhance an officer’s skills and talents. Better written and verbal communications skills are but two of many benefits derived from an education.

But of course, an education, particularly an advanced graduate education doesn’t hurt your chances of promotion (in most places). Many agencies have established minimum educational credentials for promotion. The higher up the food chain, the more letters (college degrees) will probably need to follow your name.

Those looking toward the executive suite would be smart to major in an area that shows police command staff that you possess the tools to do a managerial post. Aspirations to the police chief post require this even more as proof to the hiring city manager that the candidate has the skills to do the complex job.

Degrees (especially a master’s degree) in business administration, public administration, or public affairs are especially suited for those envisioning a career path that moves up in the organization. My master’s degree is in public administration with a specialization in criminal justice. That served me well in my successful application for a police chief’s post as the hiring city manager had a master’s degree in public administration also.

Allied Area

If you are looking to expand or enhance your credentials in an area allied with law enforcement, the right major can help you make that happen. I know officers that demonstrated a knack for talking to people in their role as cops and wanted to pursue that on a higher level. They attained degrees in social work, counseling, and psychology. Some have even opened up part-time counseling practices and are honing their craft.

A newer area for officers is forensic cyber crime and computers. A few years back, only a handful of agencies had anyone who understood computers, let alone had the requisite knowledge to spearhead a computer based crime investigation. Nowadays, however, more and more law enforcers are earning computer-based degree credentials and are comfortable dealing in the cyber world.

With the growing diversification of the communities that are served by law enforcement agencies, officers responding to calls for police services are seeing a huge increase in the number of languages and divergent cultures. Degrees that offer immersion in foreign languages and their cultures are attractive as they offer officers a path to meet that modern policing challenge.

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Certain rare languages may have more cache than others given a particular agency’s needs. For example, some agencies in the Central Florida region are very interested in those who speak Creole. Others, especially in the intelligence areas, are very interested in those people who can communicate in Arabic languages from the Middle East. Still others, such as those in the Pacific Northwest, are pursuing people who can speak Korean and other Pacific Rim languages.

With the rise of white-collar crime, some law enforcement organizations are very interested in those who have a credentialed forensic accounting background. Like cyber crime expertise, accounting is not a common degree that police recruiters and administrators encounter.

Whatever your choice, the most important thing is just to do it. The bosses at headquarters will recognize you as a person who has chosen a task and stuck with it to completion. They will have more confidence that you will take on new or additional responsibilities in the same manner.

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