Criminal Justice Careers

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - July 30, 2018
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Reading Time: 5 minutes

This article discusses the key aspects of a criminal justice career. You will get a better understanding of what criminal justice professionals do, where they work, job duties, how to become one, typical career paths, specialties and more.

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What We Do

Criminal justice is the system in which criminals and crimes are discovered, detained, tried and punished. Professionals who study criminal justice learn about the various components of the criminal justice system and go to work in some part of the system, most often in law enforcement-related careers at the state, local or federal levels.

The areas of the criminal justice system where you can work are:

  • Law enforcement: This is the most visible aspect of the criminal justice system. Police officers are usually the first contact that the criminal has with the system. Many criminal justice students become police officers, sheriffs, etc.
  • Courts system: This part of the system consists of attorneys, judges, juries and other related staff. The innocence or guilt of the person is determined in a court of law.
  • Corrections system: This is the part of the criminal justice system where the person receives a sentence and punishment.

Job Duties

The duties that you will have in a criminal justice career will vary depending upon the exact occupation you have. The most common occupation in the criminal justice field is police officer, with these following duties:

  • Respond to public emergency and nonemergency calls
  • Patrol assigned parts of the county, city or town as directed by supervisors
  • Do traffic stops and give out traffic tickets for infractions
  • Search for warrants and vehicle records when doing traffic stops
  • Collect evidence from crime scenes
  • Observe potentially criminal activities from suspects
  • Write reports of crimes and fill out state, county or local forms
  • Prepare criminal cases and testify in court

Where We Work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, police and detectives had about 807,000 jobs in the US in 2016. Employment in the field was in the following areas:

  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers: 684,000
  • Detectives and criminal investigators: 110,900
  • Fish and game wardens: 7000
  • Transit and railroad police: 4900

The largest percentage of police and detectives worked in these areas:

  • Local government, not including education and hospitals: 78%
  • State government, not including education and hospitals: 11%
  • Federal government: 7%
  • Educational services: 3%

Cities with the best salaries and jobs available for police officers include:

  • Trenton NJ
  • New York NY
  • Miami FL
  • Los Angeles CA
  • Atlantic City NJ
  • Chicago IL
  • Brockton MA
  • Champaign IL
  • Ocean City NJ

How to Become

To get a start in a criminal justice career, you have a few options. Police officers typically have a high school diploma and then receive several months of training through their local police force. However, some police officers and detectives may have a college degree, such as a bachelor of science in criminal justice. For those who want to eventually work in management and administration at a higher level and pay grade, it is usually necessary to have a master of science in criminal justice.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports that employment for police and detectives will rise by 7% by 2026, which is about as fast as average compared to other occupations. While a strong need for public safety is expected to cause a rise in the number of police officers, demand for employment is typically driven by the specific location. Some state local budgets may see a decrease in funding for police officers.

According to BLS, the median salary for police officers and detectives is $62,900, with the bottom 10% earning $35,700 and the top 10% earning more than $100,000 per year. Median wages for different types of police officers were:

  • Detectives and criminal investigators: $79,900
  • Transit and railroad police: $70,200
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol offers: $61,000
  • Fish and game wardens: $56,400

Salaries in various industries were as follows:

  • Federal government: $84,600
  • State government: $65,800
  • Local government: $61,300
  • Educational services: $52,000

Criminal Justice Career Paths

Some of the most common career paths in the criminal justice field besides general police officer are:

  • Detective and criminal investigator: Can be uniformed or plainclothes police officers who collect facts and evidence to make criminal cases. They are responsible for doing interviews, examining records, observing suspect activities, and handling raids and arrests. Most detectives work a specific type of crime, such as homicide.
  • Fish and game warden: Responsible for enforcing fishing, hunting and boating laws. They patrol hunting and fishing areas, do search and rescue, and investigate complaints and accidents.
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officer: The most common type of police, they have general law enforcement responsibilities in cities, towns and counties across the country.
  • Transit and railroad police: Conduct patrols of railroad yards and transit stations.
  • Correctional officer: Responsible for the oversight of those who have been arrested and are waiting for trial, or have been sentenced to prison or jail.
  • Bailiff: Also called a marshal or court officer, they are responsible for maintaining order and safety in a courtroom.
  • Probation officer: Provide supervision to people who are on probation rather than being sent to prison. They ensure that the person is not a danger to the community and helps them with their rehabilitation.
  • Parole officer: Works with those who have been released from jail or prison and are on parole so that they can re-enter society successfully and no longer commit crimes.
  • Emergency management director: Prepares procedures and plans to respond to natural disasters and various other emergencies. They also lead the emergency response both during and after the emergency, and work with public safety officials, nonprofit organizations and elected officials.
  • State highway patrol: These may be called state troopers or highway patrol officers. They are responsible for arresting criminals and patrolling state and federal highways to enforce laws and regulations.
  • US border patrol agents: Protect thousand of miles of international land and water boundaries in the US.
  • Security guard: Patrol and protect various types of properties against theft and vandalism

Education Requirements

The level of education that you need in the criminal justice field depends upon the occupation. To become a police officer, you do not have to have a college degree for many local police departments, but others may require at least an associate’s and possibly a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. To be an emergency management director, however, it is common to have a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.

Training and Certifications

Many of the occupations in the criminal justice field involve specialized training outside of a regular college setting. Police officers receive several months of training at a police academy run the state or county in which you plan to work.

There are a variety of criminal justice certifications you can earn in various careers in the field to make yourself more marketable. One of the first certifications to consider is the Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology certification. This is for the person who wants to get an entry level position in criminal justice out of high school or with limited criminal justice education.

Another to consider later in your career is the Certified Criminal Justice Professional (CCJP) certification. It is intended for the criminal justice worker who is going to work with drug offenders.

The third type of certification to consider is the Professional Peace Officer (POST) certification. It is designed for people who are intending to work in law enforcement at the local or state level.

The fourth criminal justice certification to consider is the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential that is made for those with a criminal justice background who want to become a paralegal.


Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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