Be honest, how many Law & Order and CSI reruns do you watch each week? Turn your obsession into a career. Along with patrol officers cruising their beats, Criminal Justice includes the people behind the scenes who investigate cases, collect evidence, interview witnesses and analyze forensic information.These crime-fighters are employed by state and local governments, as well as private firms. Detectives, police officers, highway patrolmen, prison guards, probation officers, forensic scientists and security personnel are just a few of the jobs included in this exciting field.
• Protection and security are recession-proof; a large chunk of governmental funds will always be budgeted for security and law enforcement
• America’s prison population is growing, creating a need for security professionals to oversee inmates, parolees and probationers
Show Me the Money!
The types of careers in this field are incredibly varied, and because so, the salaries are very different as well. Pay also varies by region, experience and type of employer. Patrol Officers earn an average of $55,000, Police Chiefs and those in higher ranks are paid on average $78,000, and Detectives and Criminal Investigators make $66,000 per year. Correctional Officers $43,000, while Security Guards pocket $26,000. Forensic Scientists, who spend most of their extensive schooling in science class, earn an average of $71,000 per year. [Bureau of Labor Statistics: www.bls.gov]
A Day in the Life
• Maintain patrols on "beat," respond to 911 calls, and make necessary arrests
• Pull drivers over for speeding, driving recklessly or drunk, or committing a moving violation
• Complete paperwork detailing tickets, arrests and crimes and investigations
• Fingerprint, take mug shots, conduct cavity searches, distribute uniforms and assign holding cells to new inmates
• Escort inmates to and from cells and common areas, and arrange daily schedules that include work assignments, family visits, and counseling appointments
• Check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, weapons, drugs, fire hazards, and any evidence of violations
• Inspect mail for contraband, and search and accompany visitors
• Create and maintain records about conduct and rehabilitation of inmates
• Collect, examine, test, and analyze tissue samples, chemical substances, physical materials, and ballistics evidence
• Interpret lab findings and test results to identify and classify evidence collected at crime scenes
• Reconstruct a crime scene to determine relationships among pieces of evidence
• Prepare reports or presentations of findings, investigative methods, or lab techniques
• Provide expert witness in legal proceedings and during criminal trials by classifying physical evidence found at the scene of a crime
• Manage their caseload by overseeing individuals who have been placed on probation
• Seek the cooperation of community organizations or rehab programs to help their assigned probationers
• Find jobs for probationers and oversee their compliance with court-ordered drug and alcohol testing
• Review the criminal backgrounds of offenders and submit sentencing recommendations to court
This field offers a variety of workplaces – police stations, crime labs, prisons and jails, federal buildings, private businesses and local neighborhoods
Training, Degrees or Licensure
Associates degree programs typically require two years, and students who complete their certification are able to go directly into the field. Bachelors degrees offer more comprehensive training in this field, and graduates are able to step into more advanced jobs at a higher pay rate.
Movin’ On Up
Many use their Criminal Justice education as a stepping stone to additional training, such as the Police Academy or a bachelor’s degree. Oftentimes, if a candidate is in the process of applying for further training, he or she can work during the application and testing period. Continuing education is required for police officers and detectives; many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to earn a degree in criminal justice, justice administration or public administration, and pay higher salaries to those who earn such degrees.
Traits For Success
Candidates are expected to be in shape, be willing to follow instructions, think critically, show determination, be able to think on their feet, and enjoy challenges. An eye for detail, patience, a friendly and encouraging demeanor, and clear communication skills help too.
Did You Know?
“Copper” became a nickname for police officers because the first police badges were made of copper. Ultimately, the expression was shortened to “cop.”