Criminal Justice and Public Safety

If you're called to serve and protect others, you might consider a career in criminal justice and public safety. To learn more about academic requirements and occupational opportunities for patrol and police officers, criminal investigators and private detectives, read on.

Are Criminal Justice and Public Safety for Me?

Career Overview

Criminal justice and public safety professionals are often the first on the scene of a crime or natural disaster. In addition to community policing and crime prevention activities, they may anticipate and develop contingency plans for emergency situations. Criminal justice professionals can be employed by local and federal law enforcement agencies, where their investigations might range from misdemeanors to white-collar and organized crimes. They may also work as detectives or in correctional facilities, or specialize in drug enforcement or homeland security.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), minimal to no change in employment was expected for corrections and probation officers nationwide from 2012-2022. By comparison, the BLS predicted a 5% growth in employment for police officers and detectives during the same period, which is still slower than average. From 2012-2022, employment of private detectives and investigators was expected to increase by 11% nationwide.

As reported by the BLS in May 2013, the median annual salary for corrections and probation officers was $48,440, while criminal investigators and detectives earned $76,730. As of May 2013, the median annual wage for a police or sheriff's patrol officer was $56,130 (').

How Can I Work in Criminal Justice and Public Safety?

Educational Requirements

Educational requirements for criminal justice and public safety professionals can vary according to the position. For instance, aspiring patrol officers need a high school diploma. Additional requirements include passing drug and physical fitness tests and a clean criminal record. Most local law enforcement agencies send applicants to a police academy, including those with a degree, where they learn to shoot, investigate crimes and acquire other job-related skills.

If you want to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or become a correctional or probation officer, you must have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, public safety or a related field. Earning a bachelor's degree can also help patrol officers in a police department advance to a position as a sheriff or detective. If you're interested in stopping white-collar crime, which involves investigating corporate fraud and preventing identity theft, you'll need a minimum of a master's degree in a related field of study. Many homeland security positions require a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

Undergraduate Curriculum

In general, a criminal justice curriculum will cover topics in local policing, ethics in law enforcement, court procedures and evidence gathering. In an associate's degree program in criminal justice, you may study basic law enforcement principles and learn about the roles played by different law enforcement professionals in public safety.

If you pursue a bachelor's degree program in the same or a similar field of study, you'll find out how to analyze criminal behavior and detect patterns that could lead to identifying the perpetrator. You'll also study how the justice system works and examine methods for controlling crime.

Graduate Curriculum

Graduate programs may lead to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Criminal Justice or doctoral degree. In general, these are research-oriented courses of study that explore ways to change the criminal justice system and prevent crime. Typically, professionals enrolled in a graduate criminal justice program have a background in business and prior experience in law enforcement. Regardless off the degree level, many programs require that students complete an internship.

Other Requirements

In many cases, working for a government agency in public safety or homeland security requires prior experience in criminal justice. Private detectives and investigators also need experience in criminal justice, as well as the ability to use a computer to gather and process information.

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