Become a criminal justice professional

Become a criminal justice professional

Even though you can't find time for friends, family or homework, you watch every episode possible of "CSI" and "Law & Order." If only you could score a job in criminal justice, you, too, would be out on every crime scene, interviewing suspects and solving the case, right? Maybe not.

But there are more job opportunities in criminal justice than the high-profile careers that TV dramas portray.

Typical day
Criminal justice professionals might work in local, state or federal law enforcement as police and detectives. They could work to analyze crime statistics or evidence.

There are jobs as parole officers, juvenile court supervisors, corrections officers. You could work with young people on delinquency, as a security agent or a policy developer. Policy researchers could find themselves explaining crime statistics, such as the implications of a drug being heavily used in a particular area. Or study criminal justice, then head to law school to become an attorney.

Education, skills
Study criminal justice in college you’ll learn how to gather, analyze and disseminate information to solve criminal justice problems. Criminal justice students take crime prevention classes in addition to courses in diversity understanding, crime analysis, leadership, abnormal psychology, criminal investigation, social problems and more.

Do you have a knack for computers and numbers? Consider concentrating in crime analysis, which works to predict, prevent and control crime using analysis, computers and criminological theory.

However you use your criminal justice degree, Dr. Neil Moore, a professor in criminal justice at Indiana Tech, says communication skills will be a big part of your job.

“I tell students that, if you can not speak or write to a wide variety of people, you cannot do this work effectively,” says Moore, who was a police officer in Fort Wayne, Ind., for 22 years and police chief for 10. “We expect police officers to interact with a wide variety of people, from a banker to a homeless person. You have to be able to talk to everyone you encounter in any given day.”

You’ll also need to be adept at solving problems and be willing to learn about people. And be prepared to be able to handle what Moore calls the “acute and cumulative” effects of witnessing crime—from seeing a horrible act (acute) to sustaining the stress of the job (cumulative).

Is it for you?
People who go into criminal justice must be willing to work hard and want to make a difference. And making a difference is a rewarding part of the work.

“You actually have a chance to help people almost of a daily basis,” Moore says. “From the patrol officer to the attorney to the corrections officer in a prison who tries to make sure no one has instruments to cause harm, you do have the capability to help people.”

Vital stats
National average salary:
$45,210 (police and sheriff's patrol officers)
Education: Earn an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Take classes in crime prevention, investigation and analysis.
Typical day: Work for a security or police agency, investigator, policy researcher or go on to law school.
Pursue if: You want to protect others. You have excellent communication skills. You can talk to anyone you encounter.

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