What to know about careers in law enforcement management

August 22, 2019 · 5 min read · By ASU Online
Serving the community in law enforcement is a goal of many professionals. If that sounds like you, take note of the many opportunities in local law enforcement.

The criminal justice field oversees critical public safety functions on a local and national level — with involvement in all aspects of criminal proceedings from initial investigation to sentencing. This industry offers a number of rewarding career paths that serve public and private interests. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to make an impact in criminal justice.

Are you in, or have you ever considered, a career in local law enforcement but aren’t sure how accessible management opportunities are in the field? Serving your community as a leader in a police officer, investigator or detective role is an admirable career choice, and with some on-the-job experience and the right educational background, you could find yourself eligible for promotion to a variety of management opportunities.

There are multiple management positions with varying responsibilities in local law enforcement. For a quick brush up, here are a few possibilities:

  • A supervisor oversees and coordinates the activities of the local police force, including both police officers and detectives.
  • With a number of responsibilities in a police department, lieutenants usually serve as the shift supervisors and handle scheduling, oversee the booking and holding of arrested people and assist with ongoing investigations. They may conduct daily staff briefings and be responsible for reviewing statistics related to their precinct.
  • Typically requiring the most professional experience for eligibility, a police chief is the highest rank one can obtain in a police department. This position gives general direction to the department, focusing on reducing crime in a specified area. They establish policies and procedures and set goals for their department while also ensuring all police officers are maintaining optimal performances.
Law enforcement students at a conference.

With such a varied list of management roles included in local law enforcement, a solid combination of work experience and education may be vital for success. On-the-job experience varies based on the position. For example, a police chief will need substantial experience, and lieutenants are already police officers themselves. Each of the above roles typically requires some level of higher education in a related field. Therefore, getting an advanced degree in criminal justice may increase eligibility. An online master’s degree in criminal justice from Arizona State University allows you to study crime within a larger context, building a foundation in criminal justice that can help support your career path toward management in local law enforcement.


A typical day in the life of local law enforcement management

A typical day for these law enforcement leaders varies based on the specific role but all will include managing processes, procedures and, in some cases, people. The number of direct reports varies by position, starting with lower-level management roles like supervisor, then rising up to lieutenant and eventually police chief, with other leadership roles in between.

A lieutenant is typically focused on the day-to-day operations of the station. They make schedules, oversee procedures and maintain operations. The day may start with a general briefing to share current information and bring the on-duty officers up-to-speed with recent activity. Then they might prioritize weapons, firearms and training activities. On a larger scale, lieutenants keep their fingers on the pulse of their precinct, recognizing chances for improvement as well as situations where officers may need professional guidance.

Focused on the bigger operational picture, police chiefs can be found organizing events, establishing new policies and goals, assigning hours and evaluating police officer performances, monitoring the budget or working with public relations. While most of a police chief’s job is administrative in nature, they are able to be out in the field and do carry a weapon. When a crime happens, a police chief must be able to gather officers quickly to address the situation, so he or she must be accessible.


A closer look at the professional landscape for local law enforcement management

Experience is crucial when planning a career path in law enforcement management. A possible path would be to start as a police officer or deputy sheriff. From there, move on to supervisor and then to lieutenant and later, police chief. Median salaries for these roles reflect this type of movement, with numbers starting in the lower $40,000 and rising to close to $80,000. Below are the salary ranges reported by Payscale that can be earned for these roles. Several factors, such as experience and city, can be major determinants in salaries for these positions.

  • Deputy sheriff: $30,000 to $72,000
  • Lieutenant: $49,000 to $123,000
  • Police chief: $39,000 to $127,000

Becoming a manager in local law enforcement

With so much attention placed on professional experience throughout this career path, it’s important you develop a certain skill set to be successful at each stage. These core qualities can prove helpful regardless of your position in local law enforcement:

  • Communicative
  • Socially perceptive
  • Able to think critically and make decisions
  • Personable
  • Calm under pressure
  • Organized
  • A leader


Combining refined skills in the areas above with the online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice offered at Arizona State University can help you get noticed throughout your career in local law enforcement, possibly improving eligibility for promotion.


Ready to learn more about your potential career in local law enforcement management?

Pursuing a career in criminal justice can bring you into a community of fellow police officers, supervisors, correctional officers, federal agents and many more professionals. It may also start you on a professional journey that could lead to a management position. No matter which career path in criminal justice interests you, you can learn more about expanding your qualifications in online criminal justice master’s program from Arizona State University. This advanced degree explores the core tenets of criminal justice applicable throughout the ranks in local law enforcement.



A law enforcement officer speaks at a press conference.


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