Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

Comparing Programs: What Criminal Justice Degree is Right For You?

A look at some of the most popular graduate level degree programs for law enforcement professionals, from a law enforcement and public safety degree to a forensic science degree

af you are a police officer or currently work in law enforcement and are considering the benefits of advancing your career, you may be thinking of returning to school for a graduate degree. But what degree makes sense for you? Today there are many more options than just the traditional criminal justice degree. Universities understand that students have varying goals and career ambitions, which is why there are so many degree options now available to those in law enforcement. Before selecting your higher education path, be sure to explore the options to see which criminal justice degree will be most helpful to your specific career goals.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice

A master of science in criminal justice is, in most cases, an extension of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, focusing on research methods, statistics, criminology and project management. Criminal justice programs emphasize criminology and theory over leadership skills. Core course examples include:

  • Crime Causation, Prevention and Control
  • Design and Analysis in Criminal Justice Research
  • Criminal Justice Management
  • Research Methods

While studying criminal justice has been the traditional avenue for those who want to go into law enforcement or rise through the ranks, most curricula have not changed over the past two decades. In today’s evolving law enforcement landscape, where leadership and management skills are in high demand, the traditional criminal justice degree is losing its luster.

Master of Science in Forensic Science

A master’s in forensic science is typically intended for those who want to work in leadership positions as forensic scientists or criminologists within crime laboratories — analyzing fingerprints, blood samples and evidential material — or for those who wish to work in a closely related scientific field. Courses tend to focus on scientific techniques and methods, homicide scene investigation, evidence analysis, and concepts and research methods in forensic science.

Core course examples include:

  • Biological Evidence and Serology
  • Forensic DNA Analysis
  • Applied Statistics for Data Analysis
  • Genetics/Bioinformatics

Many students who receive their master’s in forensic science go on to pursue a doctoral degree.

Master of Science in Public Safety Administration

The objective of a degree in public safety administration is typically to prepare law enforcement professionals for managerial roles in firehouses, police departments, emergency medical departments or other public safety organizations. This degree offers a broader look at the field by focusing on public safety in general as opposed to just the law enforcement segment and concentrates heavily on the skills required to manage – such as training, development, HR, and administration.

Core course examples include:

  • Public Safety Administration and Management
  • Public Safety Training – Management and Development
  • Public Safety Law and Civil Liability
  • Multicultural Diversity
  • Human Resources Management

Those with a master’s in public safety administration typically find jobs in emergency management, environmental protection, or go on to work for the Department of Homeland Security. Because this degree is so broad it can be applied to a number of positions within these sectors, from an air marshal or policy analyst to a corporate security officer or a pollution control technician.

Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

A master of science in law enforcement and public safety leadership is a more modern degree that was born from an industry need for strategic law enforcement leaders equipped to deal with issues facing today’s criminal justice professionals, including police-community relations.

This degree offers an interdisciplinary approach that includes management, communication and conflict resolution, emphasizing tangible skill building and the immediate application of these skills to contemporary law enforcement and public safety issues.

Core course examples include:

  • Organizational Leadership
  • Budget and Finance for Law Enforcement Leaders
  • Community Engagement
  • Public Safety Law
  • Conflict Resolution and Decision Making

Those with a master of science in law enforcement and public safety leadership are typically in (or aspiring to) command-level positions in local, state and federal agencies.

University of San Diego offers an innovative Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership program that is conducted completely online. The multifaceted law enforcement degree examines leadership, management, organizational theory, critical issues, community assessment, budget and finance, public safety law, conflict resolution and additional criminal justice topics in a format that allows for collaboration with other law enforcement professionals from agencies around the country. Classes start three times a year in September, April and January, and students progress through the program by taking one class at a time.


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