law enforcement vs criminal justice degrees

Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement: What is the Difference?

Law enforcement and criminal justice professionals are some of the most essential people today, within our neighborhoods and across the greater nation. These are the officers that keep us safe, the minds that solve crime, and the rulers of the court. If you have a deep sense of justice and feel committed to your community, you may be considering a law enforcement or criminal justice career.

Before you dive in, however, you may be wondering if there is a difference between these two terms: criminal justice vs. law enforcement. You may have found, in your research, that there are college programs and job titles with varying names and curriculums. As a leading criminal justice school in Connecticut, we’re here to breakdown the two for you.

Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement Overview

As its name implies, criminal justice means the delivery of justice to those who have committed crimes. It involves preventing and detecting crimes, as well as identifying, detaining, charging, and rehabilitating criminals. That said, “criminal justice” is an overarching system designed to mitigate crime in America — and there are several different branches within it. Those include:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Courts or Judicial System
  • Corrections

Law enforcement is an essential piece of the criminal justice system. Law enforcement, much like it sounds, means enforcing laws and maintaining order to keep the greater public safe. Law enforcement agencies, such as police departments, have the core responsibility of safeguarding their communities, inflicting the law (at the local, state, or federal level), and arresting or reproving those who go against it. Law enforcement officers operate within their communities, and are on the frontline of public service. They work directly with people, in a variety of scenarios. In contrast, Court and Corrections professionals work more closely with criminals and other members of the Criminal Justice System.

Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement Careers

Because criminal justice is such a broad field, there are many career opportunities within it. When you study criminal justice, you can pursue a career working with criminals (corrections), catching criminals (law enforcement), or delivering justice in the court of law (judicial system). Some of the most exciting criminal justice careers today include:

  • Federal Agents, such as an FBI, CIA, or DEA Agent
  • Homeland Security Agents
  • Private and Personal Security Agents
  • Correctional Officers
  • Probation Officers
  • Forensic Technicians and Criminal Investigators
  • Immigrations or Customs Agent
  • Police Officers
  • Private Detectives
  • Paralegals
  • Bailiffs

As you may have gathered, some of the above careers fall within the law enforcement sector of the U.S. Criminal Justice System. If you are aspiring to pursue a career in law enforcement specifically, you may consider some of these popular job titles:

  • Police Officer – Police Officers typically operate at the local level, working for a city or town department. Some police officers, however, have special geographic jurisdiction and serve other forces, such as working for public school districts or transportation systems.
  • Deputy Sheriff – A Deputy Sheriff is similar to a Police Officer, but works at the county level. Sheriffs are usually elected officials.
  • State Trooper – State Troopers are State Police Officers who are often found patrolling state highways, enforcing driving laws, and arresting criminals at the state-level.
  • Drug Enforcement AgentDEA Agents are employed at the federal level, to prevent illegal drug trafficking and crime in America.
  • Border Patrol Agent – Border or Customs Patrol Agents are responsible for monitoring the U.S. borders and enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
  • Fish and Game Warden – Fish and Game Wardens work outdoors — in forest preserves, public waterways, national parks, and more — to ensure that the wildlife, natural habitats, and visitors are all kept safe.
  • Security Guard – Security guards can be employed at organizations both small and large, and also by individuals. Security guards are responsible for protecting certain people or property.

Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement Degrees

Some schools offer law enforcement degrees, while others offer a broader criminal justice education. The curriculums will vary by program and school. Generally speaking, however, a law enforcement degree will prepare you for a specialized law enforcement career, such as the ones listed above. Coursework will be highly career-focused, covering topics such as Criminal Law and Crime Scene Investigation.

A criminal justice degree, on the other hand, typically will cover law enforcement and beyond. Criminal justice programs educate students on the broader Justice System in America, and dive into the depths of criminal justice as it applies to a variety of career paths. For example, at Goodwin University, our criminal justice courses cover a range of topics, including (but not limited to):

  • Investigative Report Writing
  • Criminal Procedures
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Forensic Science
  • Computer Crimes and Security
  • Personal and Physical Security

Whether you are considering a career in corrections or law enforcement, it’s safe to say that a criminal justice degree can get you there. Goodwin’s associate degree in Criminal Justice prepares students for careers in law enforcement, security, emergency response, and criminal investigation. Our bachelor’s degree in Public Safety also prepares students for advanced law enforcement roles. Both programs are taught by law enforcement professionals such as police commanders, detectives, state troopers, military veterans, attorneys, and other experts. Their experience will give you insight into the realities of policing, corrections, and courts — knowledge that you will not find in any textbook, and knowledge that most people don’t get until they’re on the force.

Interested in learning more about the law enforcement and criminal justice programs at Goodwin University? Visit us online or call 800-889-3282 to learn more about becoming a protector.