The Key Components That Set a Degree in Law Enforcement Leadership Apart

As the world and issues facing law enforcement personnel have changed over the years, many educational institutions have failed to keep up. What was taught 20 years ago in traditional criminal justice degree programs is, in most cases, still being taught today. But it’s outdated. And it’s not just the education that is outdated, it’s many of the police organizations themselves. According to a National Institute of Justice article titled, Police Leadership Challenges in a Changing World, “there is still a widespread tendency to adhere to outdated and ineffective management practices. For example, even the way a department’s overall effectiveness is traditionally measured and tracked — typically some aspect of response time or fulfillment of calls for service — lacks relevance to current expectations of and for police.”

This lag in both law enforcement education and workplace practices coupled with an entire generation of baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and technological advances over the past decade, has created a tremendous opportunity for current and up and coming law enforcement professionals to drive change and improve the system. But in order to create this change and be most effective, law enforcement professionals need to be adequately prepared with the leadership skills that are most needed today: law, finance, communication, technology, conflict resolution and community engagement. They need more than just a traditional criminal justice degree. They need education that will focus on current issues and offer applicable, real world, 21st century skills.

What Makes a Degree in Law Enforcement Leadership Different From A Criminal Justice Degree?

Contemporary law enforcement is complex and requires a diverse skill set, which many law enforcement professionals never received in their primary training education, often due to outdated curriculums. Based on two years of research with law enforcement and public safety leadership and experts at the University of San Diego, it was determined that many of the skills taught in criminal justice degree programs today were relevant 20 years ago but have failed to keep up with the evolving industry and world.

A degree in law enforcement and public safety takes a criminal justice education a step further by taking into account the pressing issues of today such as media’s focus on police brutality and community relations. A strong program in law enforcement will focus on ethics and integrity with conflict resolution and evidence driven decision making as key components.

Leadership and Technology


Additionally, according to, as well as many industry experts, there is a looming leadership crisis in the law enforcement industry. With the baby boomer generation entering retirement, law enforcement leadership positions are opening up more and more frequently and often times being filled by officers without any formal training in management and leadership.

Traditional criminal justice programs and police academies do not teach leadership skills but rather focus on “reducing and solving crime with little training devoted to effective leadership,” according to The Police Chief magazine. Furthermore, law enforcement education has failed to keep up with the rapid advancement in policing technology. The lack of formal training has left departments with ill-equipped leaders who find it difficult to develop and manage a team, not to mention effectively utilize the cutting-edge technology available to officers today.

Community Relations and Mental Health

law enforcement leadership

In addition to technological advances, trends in law enforcement today deal largely with police community relations, regulation and mental health issues to name a few. Often times many of these issues are inter-related and presented to officers who were never trained to respond to such situations or individuals. As a recent Washington Post article said, “Criminal justice experts say police are often ill-equipped to respond to such individuals [mentally ill] — and that the encounters too often end in needless violence. ‘This a national crisis,’ said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization devoted to improving policing. ‘We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.’”

For those that aspire to leadership positions, forward thinking, understanding current trends and being able to think differently in order to create solutions is are vitally important. By honing and developing critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills – all objectives of a strong law enforcement master’s program – law enforcement professionals are better prepared to react appropriately in any given situation, without using undue force or wielding extreme displays of power.

By focusing on what is relevant today and providing skills education in management, leadership, communication, conflict resolution, budgeting and organizational leadership, a law enforcement and public safety degree is an invaluable tool for field professionals during a time of transition and opportunity.

The University of San Diego offers a Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership that is offered completely online. This 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. If you are ready to take the next step in your public safety career, contact us to speak with a University of San Diego admissions advisor today.


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