Deciding that you want to work in criminal justice opens many different doors to related careers. You can become a police officer and find a very personally rewarding career in helping people protect themselves, their families, and their property, or you can help investigate cases as a detective. Then there are other careers where you could either help solve crimes as an investigator, or help determine what causes people to become criminals in the first place with a career as a criminologist. Here are descriptions of these and a few others to help you decide which particular career in criminal justice is right for you.
Often being the first contact with an official from the government when there is a problem or crisis, police officers are important members of the network in most cities that are specifically appointed to help citizens on a daily basis. Police officers first go through extensive training particular to the location they desire, engaging in both academic classes and physical training, including self defense.
Academic classes include subjects such as legal rights of individuals, laws pertinent to most types of situations police officers are requested by the public for, such as domestic violence to theft and robberies. Physical training includes endurance, self-defense activities, and strengthening activities. Target practice and gun safety are also taught to those attending police academies.
Those individuals who are under the mandatory age, typically 21, can enroll in cadet training. Cadets in most locations partake in paperwork, which teaches them how that particular office or precinct works, and classes that teach the basics of law enforcement, including constitutional law and local laws and ordinances that affect how police officers should interact with the public.
If you want to become a police officer, read our in depth guide here.
Becoming a bounty hunter may seem like a really cool career because of how it is portrayed in reality TV shows, but what these shows won’t show viewers is the actual work involved in pursuing those who have skipped on their bail and failed to show up for their court date. Most states do not require licensing, and only a few prohibit a bounty hunter from making an actual arrest themselves, when a fugitive is finally found.
Tracking someone who is fleeing justice and has skipped on their bail and bond can be difficult to do, and no class can teach you how to know which cases are going to be easy and which ones are going to be difficult. Bounty hunting can also be dangerous, as some criminals may be violent, and associate with other individuals who will provide them with ‘security’ and help them resist being taken in by a bounty hunter.
Because few states require licensing of bounty hunters, there are few places that offer classes or courses in this field. Many bounty hunters start out by helping established bounty hunters find fugitives, from the initial picking up of the documentation from the bondsmen who had originally posted the fugitive’s bond, to researching the fugitive’s activities, which helps determine the current location, or possible locations, to the actual apprehension of the individual fugitive.
FBI Special Agent
Working in the field for the Federal Bureau of Investigations is sometimes much like working as a police officer in a county or city locale, but most other times, it is much different. Becoming an FBI special agent requires many more background checks, and also extensive drug testing, interviewing and also lie detector tests that all must be passed. Special agents work to ensure national security for all citizens within the US, and working against threats that arise from other countries. Countering terrorism and major criminal activity is one way to ensure the strength and freedom of the US continues.
While completing the 21 week long course required to become a special agent, participants are paid, and are also given a room on campus at one of two locations on the eastern side of the US. After completing the 21 week long course, new agents are placed in one of 56 stations around the country. During this placement, pay increases, but work weeks are expected to average 50 hours. During the first two years, a veteran agent will continue the new agent’s education with real-world activities, putting what was learned in the classroom into action.
After the first two to three years, agents are assigned to a regional office. These offices are one of several different divisions, including the Cyber Division, in which internet activities are investigated when children are being sexually exploited, hackers from other countries, or sometimes domestically, pose threats to other government agencies or major corporations, and internet fraud. Other divisions include the Counterterrorism Division, which thwarts terrorist attacks on the US, both of individuals and of groups, and disseminates information to other agencies when needed.
The Central Intelligence Agency also needs new agents in an ongoing basis. A five year contract is required by the agency for their Security Protective Services division. Other divisions include cyber security, computer programming and intelligence, architecture and engineering, medical services, among others. The CIA is extremely diverse and serves the citizens of the US in many ways, often without citizens remaining unaware of the services rendered by CIA agents.
Becoming an agent with the CIA requires obtaining more in-depth education and knowledge regarding law enforcement and criminology than the FBI requires, but the pay is much higher. The CIA requests that applicants not allow others to indiscriminately know of their intent to apply with the agency as other individuals may not respect the best interests of the applicant.
Those accepted into the program will undergo 12 weeks of training in Glynco, Georgia, and then an additional five weeks. The second set of classes includes HAZMAT training, first aid, criminal law, search and seizure, psychology and several other areas.
Private investigators typically need to be licensed in the state they work in. These are individuals who often work in preventing crime, especially non-violent crime, where individuals are engaging in fraud and other non-violent activities that can economically harm the victim, but may find themselves working for individuals wanting to know more about a romantic partner or spouse’s activities and whereabouts.
Unless working for another person’s agency, pay can be sporadic and intermittent at times, with income wholly dependent on clients needing services. There are many attorneys who hire or otherwise retain the services of private investigators, and this can help keep pay more regular. If you end up engaging in private investigator work on a part time basis while employed elsewhere, you should always make sure your activities don’t violate any contracts you have with your employer, and also does not violate any private communication policies.
Becoming a security guard can be one of the easiest ways to enter into the criminal justice field. Many states do require security guards to be licensed, but the process requires only a high school diploma or GED. College courses are seldom required, although some agencies require client-specific training to be completed.
Some security guards work in casinos, where they use surveillance cameras and audio devices to ensure patrons are not cheating, and also to ensure their safety. Most, however, work in retail stores, office buildings and municipal and county government office buildings. Major responsibilities include ensuring security devices are in place and operational, responding to emergencies and calling for assistance from government entities as needed, including police and medical personnel, and providing protection for assets of their employer as well as other people in the area they are working in.
While the security guard career field has the lowest pay rate of all the criminal justice careers listed here, it also has the least stringent requirements to enter the field, and the least responsibility. When a crime occurs, security guards are usually unable to make an actual arrest, although they are allowed to hold people until police officers arrive, as long as force is not needed to do this.
After either completing extensive college or university coursework, or several years on a police force, becoming a detective is a criminal justice career that many find they enjoy immensely, both professionally and on a personal level. Helping sort out the unseen facts of a criminal investigation often provides vital clues to what are sometimes high-profile criminal investigations. Detectives, while understanding the police officer’s job duties, know what to look for that is often overlooked by other members of a police department.
Detectives can sometimes find themselves in dangerous situations, but not as often as police officers do. This is because they are not the ones who respond when an emergency call is made to 9-1-1 but are only called when the crime’s perpetrator is unknown to police. Conducting interviews, looking through documents found at the crime scene, examining data found on different electronic devices and other activities are part of a detective’s job.
Border Patrol Agent
Border Patrol Agents assist in keeping US borders secure. The screening process is extremely strict, and applicants must be able to speak Spanish, be under the age of 40 unless they have prior federal law enforcement experience, and must have no financial problems such as large, outstanding debts owed.
Border patrol agents are stationed at one of four different stations along the US-Mexican border. The agents must undergo a 58 day course before being stationed. During this course, their Spanish is assessed, but if need be an additional 40 days to learn Spanish will be required.
Uniforms are required, but an allowance is given yearly to purchase items required. Housing is only provided, along with meals, during training sessions. Living at one of the small cities around a border patrol station can feel like living in another country, where you and your family members are the minority. This is because of the number of immigrants living in the area.
Criminologists use information gained through sociological and psychological studies to combine the knowledge about communities and individual persons to see what can cause an individual become a criminal. Different stressors, coupled with various backgrounds from childhood, can indicate who will or will not engage in criminal activity and to what degree.
Criminologists work with different areas of law enforcement, including corrections and the judicial system, helping determine which methods work both for deterring criminals and reducing crime, and also what helps to rehabilitate criminals already convicted. Other aspects of criminology can include determining which aspects should be used to determine which levels of security an inmate needs, and how a convict’s interview should be rated during parole board hearings.
Criminologists work with all age groups, including juveniles, and often help guide policy makers regarding regulations within schools, affecting millions of students and their families every day. Developing new theories is another aspect of a career in criminology. These new theories help guide many different areas of life in the US, in addition to the school systems and correctional institution regulations. Helping investigators solve crimes, watching medical examiners perform autopsies, and creating profiles of wanted criminals are a few more of the many activities a criminologist may be called to do.
Here is a fantastic video on the subject that should help you as well:
Deciding What Criminal Justice Career is Right for You is Essential to Beginning Your Career Path
The criminal justice careers that are with city, state and federal agencies are not available to those with criminal convictions, past drug use with the last year, or domestic violence convictions, even if misdemeanor convictions. Working for yourself, as either a private investigator or bounty hunter, can open up doors to those who are unqualified for the governmental-based positions. Many believe that those individuals who made mistakes in the past and want to make a clean slate for themselves by pursuing a career in criminal justice have personal background experience that can make it easier for them to discern current criminals’ behavioral clues better than those individuals who only have a textbook education.