If you ask most law enforcement professionals, they will tell you that salary was not their main career motivation. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t high-paying jobs in law enforcement. So is law enforcement a good career? If you believe in protecting others, upholding the law, and want an exciting career, then the answer is “yes”. In addition to the honor and duty of being an officer, there are many high paying jobs in law enforcement.
As there are a multitude of different positions within the law enforcement field, in both civilian and federal agencies, high paying law enforcement jobs are partially dependent upon your rank, time in service, the location where you work, overtime pay, and any other incentives offered by the agency. Education and experience are the primary factors in salary, so earning a master’s degree can be key to higher pay.
Jobs are presented according to average salary, based on current Payscale data.
1. Judges and Magistrates
Judges and magistrates preside over court hearings and make final decisions based on the facts of each case. In order to be hired as a judge or magistrate, most states require that the candidate have at least a Bachelor’s degree and a modest amount of experience. Contrary to what most people believe, not all judges have law degrees. Most do have some degree of legal training, however. In many counties, judges and magistrates are elected along with other city officials.
Reputable judges and magistrates are in high demand, even in small to moderate size communities that often share a judge or magistrate. The average pay for a judge or magistrate with moderate experience is around $170,000 per year. The more experience and education a judge has, the more money they will make on a year to year basis. In small communities, judges and magistrates will make less money and will more than likely be asked to travel and take on juris duties in more than one community.
2. General Counsel
A person seeking a general counsel position will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in political science, psychology, economics, and possibly even law. In order to be hired as general counsel, the candidate will have to be certified. Attorneys must sit for the bar exam in their state of record if they want to be considered for a general counsel position. The duties of a general counsel involve working with corporate heads during contract negotiations, reviewing mergers, and overseeing many different legal activities. A general counsel can find work in almost every industry.
A person acting as general counsel can earn as much as $153,000 per year on average. When it comes to the overall demand for general counsels, there is a modest demand in larger metropolitan areas. General counsels can find work in almost every industry. Some areas pay more than others, but the demand is there. The more experience a general counsel earns, the more they will earn over the course of their careers.
3. FBI Agent
In order to become an FBI agent, there are several requirements that must be meant. To apply, the candidate must have at least two years of experience and a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. If a candidate has a Masters’ degree or higher, only one year of experience is needed. Applicants must have a driver’s license and a least six months of experience driving a car. FBI agents solve crimes, protect the public at large, and enforce the law on a federal level.
The demand for FBI agents is high, much like with any other type of law enforcement. There are FBI offices in every state so it is plausible that a person can find work relatively close to their homes. The average pay for an FBI agent with a modest amount of experience can expect to earn at least $138,000 per year. A career as an FBI agent can be extremely rewarding, especially if you like to solve crimes and work to protect others and establish a safe environment.
4. Criminal Lawyer
In order to become a criminal lawyer, a candidate needs to meet several requirements. A candidate must have earned at least a Juris Doctor degree and have passed the bar exam in their home state. Once the bar exam has been passed, a state license must be obtained. Once a lawyer has passed the bar, continuing education courses will need to be completed each year to maintain the license and keep it in good standing. A criminal lawyer uses his or her legal skills to represent individuals who have been charged with a crime. It is their job to reach a just and fair conclusion to the case.
Criminal lawyers are in demand in almost every state. From small communities to large metropolitan cities, the services of qualified criminal lawyers are always in demand. Depending on the location and the cost of living in the area, the average pay for a criminal lawyer can range from $95,000 to $100,000 per year. The more experience a criminal lawyer has, the more they will earn. Their performance in the courtroom is also a contributing factor in how much a criminal lawyer can make over time.
5. Prison Warden
Prison wardens are not just law enforcement officers. They are also managers as well. A primary requirement for being hired as a prison warden is having Bachelor’s degree in criminology, social work or criminal justice. It’s also beneficial to have some type of degree in business management. A corrections management degree is even better. The job duties of a prison warden include managing both the business aspect as well as the corrections aspect of the prison so that it functions smoothly on a day to day basis.
The average pay for a prison warden is approximately $85,000 to $90,000 per year. The job market for prison warden jobs is steady. While there are many prisons across the country, the turnover rate when it comes to wardens is low. The key to being hired as a prison warden is to apply for an entry or mid-management level job and work your way up through he ranks. This will provide you with the experience you need, if and when, the warden job ever becomes available.
6. First Line Supervisor
As a first line supervisor, a person’s first goal is to get to know and understand the workers they oversee. As a supervisor, it is their responsibility to pay close attention to how their employees work. They must be able to motivate their employees and keep them on track and working efficiently. The only real requirement that needs to be met in order to become a first line supervisor is a high school diploma or GED. While an Associate’s degree in some type of management or critical thinking degree program is preferable, it isn’t necessary.
The average yearly salary of a first line supervisor is approximately $74,000. In this type of career, the more experience a person has, the higher their earning potential will be. First line supervisors who are very good at what they do can find themselves in line for promotions and opportunities for advancement that include more responsibilities and higher pay. Going back to school and earning a degree may open up management opportunities.
7. Border Patrol Agent
Border patrol agents have one primary goal and that is to keep America’s borders as secure as possible. Agents aren’t required to hold any type of degree, but it is recommended that having a bachelor’s degree in homeland security or at least criminal justice. It is also beneficial to have some type of work experience, either in law enforcement or as a security guard. Work experience combined with education provides the skills a border agent needs to be successful.
Border patrol agents must live along the borders of either Mexico or Canada. The job outlook for border patrol agents is good if you live close enough to the borders to be able to apply and commit to the job. Border patrol agents can expect to make $65,000 to $70,000 per year, depending on the candidates’ education and experience. The more experience an agent earns, the more likely they are to become eligible for promotions and pay raises.
8. Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators act as negotiators between two or more parties in an attempt to resolve a variety of different conflicts. While a law degree may be required in some areas, most only require a Bachelor’s degree in political science, social work, public policy, or business management. Certifications and licensing may add credibility, increasing job opportunities and boosting the chances for increased wages on a regular basis.
Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators can find work in almost any location in the country. Individuals who work in this field and have a reputation for offering quality service to each of their clients can expect to earn as much as $64,000 per year on average. The more experience a person gains, the more they will make. Many people who work in this field, often choose to open their own business and work for themselves instead of remaining as part of a team of negotiators.
In order to work as a detective, the only educational requirement is a high school diploma or a GED. Many departments prefer that their detectives earn a Bachelor’s degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. The hands on training that a law enforcement officer receives is extremely beneficial if they want to change positions and take on the role of detective. A detective’s primary responsibilities include investigating crimes, monitoring criminal behavior, and interviewing suspects.
$57,000 is the average yearly pay for a detective with moderate experience and the minimal amount of college education. The more education a person receives in addition to the experience they earn while they are on the job, are the keys to success for someone pursuing a career as a detective. Detectives with a positive reputation for being diligent and dedicated to their jobs are in high demand. With the right attitude, experience, and education, the detective can land the job they are looking for.
10. Probation Officers and Correction Treatment Specialists
Probation officers and correction treatment specialists work with inmates and newly released individuals to provide them with the resources they need to get back on track once they leave jail or prison. A Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or psychology is required for either one of these careers. In some cases, written and oral exams must be passed as well as psychological evaluations. Returning to school to further their degree is a great idea to pave the way to higher pay rates and management opportunities.
The average yearly pay for probation officers and correction treatment specialists can range from $53,000 to $56,000 depending on their level of education and the amount of experience they bring to the table. The demand for the new hires in these positions is high in metropolitan areas and low in smaller communities. While there is a need for probation officers in small communities, it is not as significant as in larger communities.
Is Law Enforcement a Good Career Choice?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- The national average wage for a police officer in the United States is $67,600
- Employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
- These are the top 5 states for high paying law enforcement jobs:
- California average police officer wages: $105,220
- Alaska average police officer wages: $87,870
- New Jersey average police officer wages: $86,840
- Washington average police officer wages: $80,200
- Hawaii average police officer wages: $78,720
Each location and organization provide its own unique benefit packages to accompany your salary. Additionally, working in law enforcement sets you on a career path that can be taken all the way to retirement.
In the civilian sector of law enforcement, you may work any of these positions at the city, county, or state level:
- Police Officer
- Sheriff’s Patrol Officer
(Occupational Outlook Handbook)
Other high paying careers in law enforcement are available in agencies at the Federal Level:
- Federal Bureau of Investigations
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
- Transportation Security Administration
- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
- National Park Service
What is the highest paying job in law enforcement?
The Chief of Police is the top position in civilian law enforcement. The Chief of Police has the highest paying job in law enforcement for the civilian sector, making between $96,000 and $160,000 a year (In Salary). Just below the Chief is the Deputy Chief of Police, with a salary of up to $138,000 a year (In Salary).
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports that a federal law enforcement officer position at the GS-15 step 10 can earn a base salary of $142,180 a year, and in the Washington-Baltimore-Maryland region, a base salary of $170,800 a year.
The highest paying law enforcement job would be working in an executive-level role in a federal law enforcement agency. So, what is the highest paying law enforcement job? According to Executive Order 13901, posted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who earns an annual salary of $197,300.
How Do I Make More in a Law Enforcement Career?
As with any career, your rise will be equal to the effort you put in. Initially, you will need to put in enough time on the job before becoming eligible to seek a promotion. To begin the path to high paying careers in law enforcement, it is advisable to complete college degree programs through an accredited university. Every University has different offerings, but at a minimum, you should pursue a program in law enforcement, criminal justice, management, leadership, intelligence, or any others that are directly applicable to the position you are trying to obtain.
Managerial training and Post-Graduate degrees will greatly assist with moving up into the highest paying law enforcement careers of Detective, Captain, Commander, and Police Chief. As this is an extremely competitive position, it is suggested that you further your education by obtaining an advanced college degree (University of San Diego).
The requirement to have a degree varies depending upon the organization where you work and the position you are seeking. Each department will be able to provide you with the required level of training to apply. However, regardless of the requirement, increasing your knowledge base can only serve to improve your performance on the job and the opportunity to advance in your career.
Additionally, there may be incentive programs offered by your employers such as tuition assistance or reimbursement in order to give you opportunities to advance further into high-paying law enforcement careers (National University).
Do Federal Law Enforcement Jobs Pay Better?
Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, show that law enforcement positions employed by the federal government are the highest paying law enforcement agencies:
- Federal Government law enforcement positions – average annual pay of $88,060
- State Government law enforcement positions – average annual pay of $68,610
- Local Government law enforcement positions – average annual pay of $63,410
There are a number of variables that determine the rate of pay for both civilian and federal departments alike, even for high-paying law enforcement careers. Your education, prior experience, the amount of time working in your current position, job performance, geographic location, and more.
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