Entry level law enforcement jobs are available to police academy graduates, but for aspiring officers looking to advance in their future career, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice could be a more ideal starting point.

The Missouri Southern Criminal Justice Department currently offers two majors, four minors, and seven certificates to law enforcement students.

“Without prior education, an officer’s career begins with the police academy, which typically lasts about six months,” said Marcos Encarnacion, Missouri Southern freshman criminal justice major and Joplin Police Department detention officer.

Like many criminal justice students, Encarnacion believes there is a clear advantage in earning a degree before entering the field.

“With my education, I have a better opportunity to excel within my career. Instead of starting off as a patrol officer without a degree, I can move into something like a detective position more quickly,” said Encarnacion.

According to private California college Woodbury University, the rate of promotion is higher for officers with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice than for those without. In Encarnacion’s opinion, the advantages lie not only within compensation and position in the force, but in crucial field knowledge as well.

“At its core, the criminal justice program teaches us is how policing in society has changed throughout the years, what respectful policing is, and when quick decision-making is necessary, or if it should sometimes be avoided,” said Encarnacion.

A study published by Journal of Business Management and Economics shows that college educated police officers are generally more successful in applying creative problem-solving skills while on duty, which leads to a lower tendency to use aggressive force in situations where it may not be required.

For students like Encarnacion, a full-time course schedule does not eliminate the opportunity for useful hands-on experience within the law enforcement career path. He also works evening shifts as a detention officer for the Joplin Police Department.

“As a detention officer, my main responsibilities are to book and release inmates. When an inmate comes in with an officer, it is my job to make sure they are recorded into our system, and to supervise them when they are detained," said Encarnacion. "Every 30 minutes, we need to make sure they are not doing anything to harm themselves or others."

Officers who have college backgrounds might prioritize advancement opportunities and efficiency over sticking to routine procedures alone.

“College-educated officers were more likely than other officers to stop drivers for less serious violations, perform consent searches, and make arrests on discretionary grounds,” said an article published by Criminal Justice Policy Review. "These results are consistent with those of prior research indicating that college-educated officers are more achievement-oriented and eager for advancement based on the traditional performance criteria of stops, searches, and arrests.”

As a growing number of law enforcement officers are earning their degrees, criminal justice students are looking for ways to stand out as prospects in their field. You can check out all the opportunities Missouri Southern’s criminal justice program offers at http://www.mssu.edu/academics/arts-sciences/criminal-justice-administration.

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