A violent crime occurs every 26.2 seconds in America. Property crime takes place every 4.4 seconds. If these FBI crime clock statistics are anything to go by, it shows that crime never sleeps. The local, state and federal governments are always in need of stand-up individuals who are able, ready, and willing to defend its citizens.

If you’re thinking about pursuing this line of work, here are the answers to some of the top questions about a career in law enforcement.

What Are the Top Paid Criminal Justice Careers?

The criminal justice system has several career possibilities in each of its three main areas of operation. So, whether you want to get into corrections jobs, the courts, or law enforcement, the possibilities are virtually endless. Here’s a list of the best paying law enforcement careers that are worth pursuing:

High Paying Law Enforcement Careers and Salaries

These are the top law enforcement careers and salaries ranked from highest to lowest.

  • First-line supervisors of police officers and detectives – $81,200/year
  • Criminal investigators and detectives – $75,700/year
  • First-line supervisors of correctional officers – $58,700/year
  • Railroad and transit police – $58,500/year
  • Sheriff’s patrol and police officers – $56,260/year
  • Fish and game wardens – $55,600/year
  • Correctional treatment specialists and probation officers – $52,100/year
  • First-line supervisors of other protective service personnel – $48,600/year
  • Private investigators and detectives – $48,600/year
  • Correctional officers – $43,300/year
law enforcement salary

On a general scale, here are the high paying criminal justice careers, and their respective salaries also ranked from highest to lowest.

  • General Counsel – $160,400/year
  • Lawyer – $119,200/year
  • Judges and Hearing Officers – $115,500/year
  • Prison Warden – $83,200/year
  • Criminal investigators and detectives – $75,700/year
  • FBI Agent – $65,300/year
  • U.S. Marshal – $62,400/year
  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators – $60,600/year
  • First-Line Supervisor/Manager of Corrections Officers – $58,700/year
  • Senior Corrections Officer – $43,400/year

Why Choose Law Enforcement as a Career

There aren’t very many jobs out there that allow you to work in the service of others and still earn a living while at it. This is perhaps one of the major benefits of law enforcement career choices. They give you the best of both worlds.

If you envision yourself in this line of work, chances are you have a deep passion for and are committed to the law, justice, and protecting the systems that exist to uphold law and order in society. If you’re on the fence about it and are wondering: Is a career in law enforcement right for me? Am I cut out for it? Don’t worry – you’re in good company.

Why choose law enforcement as a career? Here are a couple of compelling reasons.

1. You’ll Save Lives

That’s right. Not all heroes wear capes. However, the modern-day superheroes wear uniforms, and thanks to them, millions of people get to live to see another day. In case you missed it, police officers are the superheroes we’re referring to here.

Getting into law enforcement means you join an elite group of professionals, including firefighters, doctors, and EMTs, whose primary purpose is to save lives – quite literally. Even when you don’t directly rescue someone from a near-death experience, you’ll get fulfillment knowing that you’re engaged in meaningful work that has a real impact on people’s lives.

2. Your Job Will Never Be Boring

The one thing you can be certain of is that your work life as a law enforcement officer will never be boring. Every new day brings with it different situations that are guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping. Even the slow days have the potential to be interesting and exciting. You just never know what will come up.

You need to be able to accurately analyze a situation and determine the best course of action to take even in high-pressure environments. It’s certainly a far cry from your run-of-the-mill paper-pushing 9-to-5 desk job.

exciting police work

3. It Has a High Earning Potential

Investing in your education to move out of that minimum wage-earning bracket may seem like an impossible undertaking at first. But, if you’re stuck in a job that’s going nowhere real fast, you need to slam on the breaks and think about the bigger picture here.

Sure, it might cost a little more to get into the best colleges for law enforcement careers, but if you think about it, that’s an investment that you’ll recoup in a minimal amount of time. Entry-level law enforcement careers, for instance, pay on average, $47,500/year. As you move further up the career ladder, you can expect to earn well over $75,000/year.

A bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice typically ranges anywhere between $10,000 and $32,000. If you compare this to the average annual wage you will earn, it’s a no-brainer. So, research on the best degrees for law enforcement careers, invest and reap the rewards in a short amount of time.

4. There’s Room for Career Growth

Unlike many other professions, law enforcement agencies are structured in such a way that there’s a hierarchical chain of command with several levels of authority. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to work your way up, advancing through the ranks and even become the head of the police department.

Higher levels of authority bring with them a host of benefits, higher pay, and added responsibilities that are great for raising your profile. This system provides the perfect way to challenge yourself and reap the fruits of your labor.

advancement in law enforcement careers

5. You Can Work in Different Parts of the Country

If you and your family needed to pick up and move to a different state altogether, you don’t have to worry about the possibility of losing your job. Law enforcement officers are needed in every part of the nation – from the big cities to the small towns.

Granted, the different states and agencies may have slightly different requirements, but all in all, the education requisites are typically the same across the board. This makes it easy to transition and continue working.

How to Get a Career in Law Enforcement

Although formal education is not necessary to become a police officer, some law enforcement agencies, particularly those at a federal level, only consider candidates who have earned a degree. Nonetheless, while it is not necessary at local- or state-level agencies, the lack of it will impede your chances of rising through the ranks.

Here are the steps you need to take to get into law enforcement.

Step 1: Get a High School Diploma or GED

For most police officers, a high school diploma or a GED is the minimum formal education requirement to get into law enforcement. However, candidates with post-secondary education in the form of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree have the edge over the candidates without.

education requirements for law enforcement
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Step 2: Meet the Other Minimum Application Criteria

To apply, you need to be a US citizen aged at least 18 or 21 depending on the state you’re in. Your criminal record also needs to be clean in addition to having a valid driver’s license with a clean driving record.

Step 3: Pass the Law Enforcement Entrance Exam (LEE)

Before aspiring officers are admitted into the police academy, they need to pass the LEE. LEEs differ from state to state.

Step 4: Complete the Police Academy Training Program

This is the most important training that applicants undergo before they can be sworn in as police officers. The training takes six months to complete and covers a wide range of topics, including criminal statutes, traffic laws, search and seizure, firearm training, and physical conditioning.

police academy training

Step 5: Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Once you’re employed by the police department, focus on doing your job well, scoring highly on the written promotion exam, and get additional skills and training that could work in your favor to advance through the ranks.

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