Professionals in the field of criminal justice need the right combination of personal skills and rigorous training to perform their jobs well. This applies to police officers, who are among the most visible law enforcement and public safety workers. Much of a police officer's training is specialized and a high school diploma may be enough to start the process.
Each police department has the opportunity to set its own standards for hiring officers. In general, a high school diploma or equivalency degree is the most basic level at which a department will hire new officers. Some departments, especially those with a high number of job applicants or with a higher government affiliation such as at the state or federal level, require officers to have master's degrees in criminal justice or a similar major. It is primarily local departments that accept cops with no more formal education than a high school diploma.
New cops need specialized training through a police academy before going to work in their communities. This training is the same whether recruits have high school diplomas or more advanced degrees. Police academy training combines classroom education in subjects such as ballistics, police procedure, criminal law and forensics with hands-on experience in the form of drills, procedure scenarios and general physical education. Prospective cops with high school diplomas should have enough general knowledge to complete police academy coursework.
Other forms of experience and training may allow a cop to take a certain position without education beyond a high school diploma. This is the case in federal jobs or private security jobs where military experience is a requirement or stands in for nonmilitary police experience requirements. Because military appointments require a high school diploma or equivalency degree, the same basic educational standard applies to this alternative route to becoming a police officer.
Advancing and Specializing
A high school diploma may not be enough for a police officer to specialize in certain areas of police work or advance through the ranks. While field experience and service time allow a cop to receive promotions and pay increases, some of the most desirable police jobs, including high-paying jobs in federal agencies, require master's degrees in specific fields such as forensics, computer science, law or a foreign language. Federal police jobs have variable requirements based on an applicant's education level, and while experience can remove or reduce the need for formal education, a higher degree is useful for securing the best jobs at a younger age.