Public Administration Jobs in Law Enforcement

by Laura Reynolds

In hundreds of small departments, law enforcement officers traditionally rose through the ranks to executive leadership positions. No more. The complexity of threats to public safety and availability of education beyond the police academy and two- or four-year degrees in criminal justice have made it easy for big city departments to find administrators suited to specific positions -- and for small departments to shorten the learning curve.

Education Options

While many vocational schools and junior colleges provide training leading to associate degrees, the number of colleges with bachelor’s programs has grown. Colleges also now offer a master's of public administration in law enforcement or public safety, master's of science degrees in public safety leadership or emergency management, or MBAs in public safety leadership, to name a few. Some schools even offer law enforcement administration programs at the doctorate level. Some schools accept active military service from applicants in lieu of a bachelor's degree.

Room at the Top

Many chief executives in law enforcement are police chiefs, but public safety directors bear ultimate administrative responsibility for law enforcement along with other emergency services such as fire departments and paramedic services. Whether chief or director, the chief administrator either creates or supervises the development of budgets, procedures, policies and training programs. In small departments, the chief supervises day-to-day operations, while in larger departments, the chief delegates supervision to middle managers -- captains, lieutenants, watch commanders -- who might share in planning and disciplinary tasks. The chief executive also serves as department representative to the legislative and executive branches of the local or state government of which the department is part. She might also work with a police and fire commission on personnel issues.

Specialized Administrators

Assistant or divisional chiefs also take administrative responsibility in statewide or large city departments. Typical divisions include traffic enforcement, training or public transit. Within their division, they supervise personnel, establish procedure and administer budgets. Other department administrators might supervise dispatch, records managements, procurement, forensics or information technology infrastructure.

Federal Law Enforcement

Administrators function in federal law enforcement as well as state and local levels. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has legal, operations, crime lab and academy administrators. The Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance has dozens of programs, from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center to the Volunteers in Police Service, all with their own administrative staff. Each branch of the military has a law enforcement unit such as shore patrol and military police with executive officers.

More Choices

Courts, jails and prisons all have law enforcement units with administrators who set schedules, manage and evaluate employees. Nongovernmental chiefs manage security forces in colleges, businesses, shopping malls and hospital campuses -- any organization large enough to require its own security force. Security chiefs handle budgets and supervision, hiring and firing and other administrative tasks. They also might train and arrange for licensing for personnel who carry weapons.

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.

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