From responding to traffic accidents to interrogating suspects, law enforcement officers interact with people – often on one of the worst days of their lives.
Being able to communicate clearly and effectively in stressful situations is vital. Police officers need to remain calm, maintain composure and perform the duties at hand. Having a better understanding of why people think and act a certain way can help officers listen and respond appropriately to a crisis situation.
For those in criminal justice, studying psychology can provide more than how to become an effective communicator. The discipline can also provide hard and soft skills applicable to a career in law enforcement.
Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and human behavior, including unconscious and conscious thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. For criminal justice professionals, studying psychology could provide valuable insight into people’s motivations, mental state and drivers for certain behavior – including criminal acts.
A BA in Applied Psychology focuses on providing psychological principles to solve problems. In law enforcement, officers work in a variety of departments and may have specialized duties that require working with specific populations including children, people with mental illnesses and even inmates in the prison system.
- School resource officers can benefit from earning a BA in Applied Psychology with a Concentration in Child Advocacy by studying child development, child advocacy and other critical issues including domestic violence, delinquency and crime prevention.
- By earning a BA in Applied Psychology with a Concentration in Forensic Psychology, detectives and other investigators study the psychological aspects of human behavior and how it applies to the criminal justice system.
Valued Skills for Law Enforcement
Knowing how to understand individual and group behavior is just one of several workplace skills students gain while earning a degree in psychology, according to a conference presentation by psychology professor Jane Halonen.
Earning a degree in psychology can provide current and future police officers competencies and knowledge needed to develop and sharpen critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, other skills, as explained by Halonen, include:
- Evaluating the legitimacy of claims about behavior
- Knowing how learning and memory function
- Having insight into problematic behaviors
- Managing difficult situations and high-stress environments
- Starting and executing projects with limited information or experience
- Exhibiting persistence in challenging circumstances
Overall, psychology students obtain a broad set of competencies that enable professionals to work in a team, remain flexible, conduct research and apply knowledge in real-world settings.
Earning a Higher Education Degree
While completing police academy training and criminal justice courses prepare officers for this profession, studying applied psychology can provide additional in-depth knowledge of human emotions and behavior. Additionally, earning a degree can set you apart in an industry that is starting to favor secondary education.
Fellsmere Police Chief and Florida Tech Criminal Justice professor Keith Touchberry believes college helps prepare future officers for real-world situations:
“There are many dedicated officers who serve proudly and with distinction with only a high school diploma or GED. Having said that, the numerous studies done on this topic overwhelming support higher education for officers with endless list of reasons why. I believe college-educated officers enhance the status of our profession overall. I also think most people want to know that their officers have the ability to think critically and solve complex problems, and college prepares them for that.”
The Next Step: How to Become a Police Officer
Education requirements vary depending on the agency’s requirements; however, they generally range from a high school diploma to a college degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To pursue a career as a police officer, candidates must have the educational requirements needed to enter an agency’s training academy. In addition to graduating from the academy, candidates must meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications, the BLS states.
Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation typically requires investigators and detectives to hold a bachelor’s degree.
For more information about career opportunities in law enforcement, start with the following resources.