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A guide to law enforcement leadership training and graduate degree programs

Training is available for everyone from new sergeants to experienced chiefs and sheriffs


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Most people who promote from a line to a supervisory or administrative role in a law enforcement organization freely admit that the transition from officer or deputy to sergeant or lieutenant is jarring, second only to the change from private citizen to cop. Even so, many states do not require newly appointed or prospective police leaders to complete a leadership training course. This is why various training providers have created police leadership programs.

The list compiled here is not exhaustive but does cover most of the leadership and management programs offered nationally. Some states, notably California, offer other police leadership training courses such as the Command College and the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute to officers in that state. For everyone else, and for those who seek more leadership training, here are some resources to investigate.

FBI National Academy

The FBI National Academy (NA) is one of the oldest police leadership programs in the world. It started in 1935 on the recommendation of the Wickersham Commission to help standardize and professionalize police organizations in the United States. Since then, thousands of law enforcement middle managers and top executives have completed the 10-week course, held in residence at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. Each NA session also includes up to 35 international students and police administrators from foreign countries. A typical session includes 265 officers.

NA graduates are eligible to join the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA), an organization formed to facilitate networking, training and cooperation among NA graduates and the police organizations they work for. The FBINAA holds its own annual training conference and regional meetings offering training sessions.

Each session of the NA offers a list of courses that can vary from one session to the next. The courses might include intelligence theory, communications, forensic science, or law, among many others. Participants should have completed at least 60 semester hours of college-level credit prior to enrollment. The more advanced NA courses may qualify for academic graduate school credit through the University of Virginia.

The NA requires all students to participate in a physical fitness program that culminates in a fitness challenge titled “The Yellow Brick Road.” The Yellow Brick Road is an obstacle course of 6.1 miles, constructed by the U.S. Marine Corps (the FBI Academy is co-located at Marine Corps Base Quantico) through a hilly, wooded portion of the base. The Marines placed yellow bricks along the course to guide the participants and give the course its name. Those who complete the course successfully are awarded an actual yellow brick by the FBI staff. Yellow bricks are frequently seen displayed in the offices of police executives as a testament to their achievement. Many graduates regard their NA experience as the most rewarding of their police careers.

The FBI does not charge a fee for enrollment in the NA course, but each participant’s employer has to agree to grant them the paid time away from the agency and pay travel costs. Participants must have at least five years of full-time, continuous experience with a duly constituted law enforcement agency, be at least 25 years old, and have attained the rank of lieutenant or equivalent. They must be in excellent physical condition. The FBI may require a medical examination, at the applicant’s expense, to confirm this. Applications are made to the FBI field office nearest to the participant’s agency.

Leadership in Police Organizations

Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO) is a three-week course presented on-site under the auspices of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This classroom program uses video, role-playing and case studies to teach various behavioral science theories to bring about positive change in law enforcement agencies.

The course is tailored to accommodate 36 students. Although it’s three weeks long, the course is usually spaced out over three months, with participants meeting one week at a time at hotel ballrooms, training academies, or other venues suitable for the classroom layout of six tables for six participants each. Costs vary with location and venue type but usually comes in at around $450, plus the purchase of three LPO books for each participant.

The IACP also offers a “Faculty Development Workshop” (FDW) for agencies who wish to qualify their own instructors to teach the course. Prospective trainers must first complete the regular LPO course, then attend the two-week train-the-trainer FDW under the tutelage of IACP instructors. On completion of the FDW, each new trainer will present at least one of the week-long sessions of a regular LPO course under the mentorship of an IACP trainer.

Supervisor Leadership Institute and Command Leadership Institute

The Supervisor and Command Leadership Institutes (SLI and CLI) are separate courses offered by the aforementioned FBINAA. These are 4½ day courses offered at different sites around the country. A list of scheduled courses is available on the course web pages linked above.

The SLI is intended for sergeants or other first-line supervisors and middle managers who wish to improve or supplement their leadership skills. The course reviews the leadership characteristics of individuals, mentoring, fostering career and personal development of subordinates, risk management, and other topics.

The CLI is structured similarly to the SLI but is intended to prepare participants for senior executive posts. Topics covered include establishing and maintaining credibility, dealing with problem employees, and bringing about positive change in law enforcement organizations. Both sworn and non-sworn personnel may enroll in these courses, and FBINAA membership is not required.

Both courses carry a fee of $695, which includes all workbooks and other teaching materials. The fee does not include travel, meals, or lodging expenses.

Law Enforcement Supervisors Leadership Training Program

The Law Enforcement Supervisors Leadership Training Program (LESLTP) is offered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC). Some sessions are held at the primary FLETC facility in Glynco, Georgia. Other sessions may be held at other FLETC facilities or at non-federal venues, such as Salt Lake City, Utah.

LESLTP is an eight-day course for supervisors and prospective supervisors at all levels. It focuses on “human capital development disciplines” and emphasizes communications, understanding, conflict management and other personnel management skills. Participants learn about the DISC (Dominance, Inducement/Influence, Submission/Steadiness, Compliance) behavioral assessment tool and how to employ it in a law enforcement culture.

Other topics included in the LESLTP include public speaking, wellness, conflict management, ethical and moral behavior, and leading to bring about change. Both sworn and non-sworn employees of law enforcement organizations may enroll in the course.

There is no fee charged to attend the LESLTP course, but participation may incur travel and lodging expenses if the venue is something other than a FLETC facility. Specific course details are available here.

High-Density Drug Trafficking Area Leadership Programs

The training programs page from the Los Angeles High-Density Drug Trafficking Area (LA HIDTA) lists dozens of courses in topical areas ranging from firearms repair and maintenance to undercover rescue operations. Scattered among these offerings are several leadership courses, such as Leading High Adventure Assignments, Authentic Leadership for Women in Law Enforcement and Leading with Influence. Most of the courses are presented by private training companies that have furnished the listings to LA HIDTA for convenience.

The listed courses vary in format. The “Leading High Adventure Assignments” course is via video on demand, so it can be completed without leaving your desk. The “Leadership for Women” course is virtual, conducted online but in a live-streaming format so all participants are taking the course at the same time, but still remotely. “Leading with Influence” is in the more traditional live classroom format, requiring travel to the course venue.

The LA HIDTA training center page has convenient links to filter courses held in specific California counties, by subject area, and courses that are offered at no charge. The page is updated frequently.

Most courses are certified for credit from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (CA POST), but may or may not be used for meeting annual training requirements in other states. Fees for the courses vary considerably. The video on-demand course was $40, but the other two leadership courses have tuitions of $200-$250.

Southern Police Institute

The Southern Police Institute is part of the University of Louisville (Kentucky). It has been in operation since 1951 and is often compared to and considered to be an alternative to the FBI National Academy. The SPI recently graduated its 145th class from the Administrative Officers Course (AOC).

The AOC is a 12-week, 480-hour in-residence course tailored for officers who have or are about to attain middle management rank. Topics covered include problem-solving, administrative law and ethical issues, among others. Participants can receive 15 hours of undergraduate or 12 hours of graduate credit, depending on their level of academic achievement at the time of enrollment.

Because of the length of the program, there is a one-week recess after the sixth week of residency to allow the participant to return home and attend to any personal or professional details that might go wanting while they are away. Estimated costs of the program are $7325-$7340, which includes tuition, housing, supplies, parking and application fees, but does not include meals.

As with the FBINAA, there is a Southern Police Institute Alumni Association with an annual conference, training courses and networking opportunities.

Center for Homeland Defense and Security Master’s Degree Program

The advent of the internet as a near-standard public utility has encouraged the development of distance learning courses leading to (usually) accredited academic degrees. The programs can still be costly, especially if enrolled with a for-profit university. A refreshing departure from this trend is the master’s degree program through the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The program is offered tuition-free to officials employed by local, state, tribal, territorial and federal agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also covers books, travel and lodging expenses for students accepted and enrolled in the program.

This master’s program splits coursework between in-person and web-based instruction. Students need to commit to 18 months of involvement, during which they will attend classes in person at the Postgraduate School or at the Bolger Center outside of Washington, DC for two weeks each quarter. The program culminates with the authoring of a thesis to be defended before the program faculty.

Students must be full-time employees of a public agency and have homeland security experience and responsibilities. Students must also have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0-grade point average from a regionally accredited institution recognized by the Postgraduate School.

National Sheriffs’ Association Leadership Programs

The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) offers several leadership courses through its affiliated National Command and Staff College. Courses include:

  • The Developing Leader
  • Tactical Leadership
  • Command and Staff Leadership for Corrections
  • The Chief Executive Leadership

Some courses are all online, some require one or two weeks in residency, and some are a combination of both formats. They vary from one to five weeks in duration.

Active Attack Event Response Leadership

This course is referenced through the training portal for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, otherwise known as COPS. It has a narrow focus on the management of active shooters and similar incidents local law enforcement agencies may encounter. The 4-hour online course is free for all participants. An exam at the end of the course may be attempted three times. Those completing the exam successfully will receive a certificate. Texas officers can qualify for four hours of TCOLE credit on successful completion.

University-based degree programs

The following listings are all master’s degree programs at various universities. In researching degree programs, pay close attention to the accreditation claimed by any school you consider. Most degree-granting institutions are regionally accredited, meaning their degree programs are endorsed by one of seven regional accrediting boards recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Degrees from these schools are accepted for credit by other accredited colleges. If you obtain a degree from a regionally accredited college and later decide to pursue an advanced degree, such as a juris doctor, you will receive credit for your previous work.

A few less scrupulous schools, especially those offering all-online degree programs or that offer significant academic credit for life or work experience, claim to be “nationally accredited” or accredited by some other board not affiliated with the CHEA. They will happily take your money and grant you a nice-looking diploma, but your degree will be worthless for further academic advancement.

Of the degree-granting institutions listed below, CSU is nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). The DEAC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a recognized agency and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The other institutions listed are regionally accredited.

Charter Oak State College: Masters in organizational effectiveness & leadership

Charter Oak is a public online college based in Connecticut offering a master of science in organizational effectiveness and leadership. The program allows students seeking an advanced degree to assess their own personal leadership style, critically examine organizational challenges and analyze the various aspects of organizational interactions at all levels (individual, group and organizational) to gain the professional competencies to effectively lead others and bring about change.

Charter Oak currently offers a graduate one-rate tuition discount where all graduate students, regardless of state or country of residence automatically qualify for the in-state rate of $516 per credit hour. There are also student services and technology fees.

Columbia Southern University: Criminal justice, homeland security and public administration

Columbia Southern University (CSU) is a private all-online school based in Orange Beach, Alabama. It offers degrees ranging from associate to doctoral programs. Of interest to law enforcement officers are its programs in criminal justice, homeland security, and public administration.

A typical graduate program requires 36 credits to graduate. Tuition is $335 per credit. CSU’s “Lifepace Learning” format provides unusual freedom in enrollment and course completion, with students able to enroll and begin courses at any time. Courses have no set start or completion dates.

National University: Master’s in criminal justice leadership

National University is a private non-profit college with both in-person and online course options. National University was founded by a U.S. Navy captain and caters to members of the military. It has multiple offices and classrooms, mostly sited near military installations in Southern California.

National University offers a master’s program in criminal justice leadership. Classes are four weeks long, and the degree program can be completed within a year with 54 quarter units required for the degree. National University will accept up to 13.5 credits for work completed at another school. A tuition calculator on the website estimates the cost for the master’s degree at $23,868, although that figure could be lowered by transferring credits already completed, a 25% “public safety scholarship,” or eligibility for a Workforce Education Solutions Partnership.

Pennsylvania State University (PennState): Master’s in criminal justice policy and administration

PennState offers a master’s program in criminal justice policy and administration. The degree requires the completion of 30 credits at $950 per credit. For students having a master’s degree as an eventual goal but who have not yet finished their bachelor’s degree, they have an “integrated ungraduated/graduate program” that can see the completion of both degrees in five years.

University of Cincinnati: Master of Science in Criminal Justice

The University of Cincinnati (UC) is a public university offering a 100% online graduate program in criminal justice. Scheduling is flexible, with six enrollment periods offered each year. There are three concentration fields: criminal behavior, law enforcement and crime prevention, and corrections and offender rehabilitation.

Program costs are estimated at $7601 per semester for students outside of Ohio and $7451 for in-state students. This is for full-time students who can complete the program in a year. Books are not included in this estimate. FOP members are eligible for a 20% tuition discount.

University of San Diego: Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

This five-semester graduate program offered by the University of San Diego addresses organizational leadership, budgeting and grant writing, dispute and conflict resolution, and data fluency, among other topics.

The program is all online, so no travel or in-person course attendance is required. Students who have completed the FBI National Academy, FBI LEEDA courses, the Sherman Block SLI or the California Command College may be credited for work completed under those auspices. Tuition for this program is $649 per credit, with 31 credits required to complete the degree.

University of Southern California/Bovard College: Master of Science in criminal justice

USC offers an all-online master of science in criminal justice. There are one- and two-year tracks leading toward the degree. USC does not require completion of the Graduate Record Exam for entry into this program. They do require a résumé, two to three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and transcripts for all undergraduate work. There is a $90 application fee.

USC estimates the cost for completion of the entire degree program to be $53,256. Each semester credit hour is $2137. USC is a private college, so residency is not a factor for calculating tuition.

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Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.