Experts Explain Everything You Need to Know About Careers in Criminal Justice

The Rasmussen College Career Chat series devoted its July edition to careers in criminal justice. The live event was held on Monday, July 28, and was hosted by Tamryn Hennessy, vice president of career services at Rasmussen College.

Hennessy was joined by Rockford Police Department investigator Matt Krantz, School of Justice Studies dean Dr. Currie Myers and career services advisor Jessica Koltz. These experts discussed everything you need to know about pursuing a career in criminal justice, from the education and skills needed to job advice and opportunities.

You can view the full footage of the event below. We also broke down the main discussion points into easily digestible tidbits and provided a time stamp for each section. Simply click on the time stamp to jump to that portion of the video.

Here’s an overview of what you missed:

What types of positions are available in the criminal justice field? (3:16)

Officer Krantz has spent 14 years working within the criminal justice field and has a wide range of experience in different positions. Dr. Currie Myers has an extensive background in the field as well. At different points of his career Myers has served as a Kansas state trooper, a Kansas Bureau of Investigation special agent, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent and sheriff of Johnson County in Kansas.

The two men provide a detailed description of the types of criminal justice careers available to graduates. Here are some of the examples they included:

  • Patrol officers: These officers patrol the streets, enforce laws and protect the lives and property of the citizens. They typically work in 8-, 10- or 12-hour shifts which span 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—including holidays.
  • Correctional officers: These officers oversee prison inmates until they complete their required court sentence. They also transport inmates to and from court appearances.
  • Detectives: These professionals gather facts, collect evidence and conduct interviews needed to solve criminal cases. Detective will follow a case from the beginning to the end, from the initial evidence to the arrests to the court convictions.

What is a typical week like for a patrol officer? (4:46)

The truth is that there is no such thing as a “typical week” in the life of a law enforcement officer. Krantz explains that the work of a police officer is both physically and mentally demanding and they have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses among all occupations.

The vehicle an officer is assigned to also serves as his or her office, meaning a majority of their shift is spent there. Officers respond to crimes in progress and people who need assistance—both emergency calls and non-emergency calls. Aside from 911 calls, you are constantly on the lookout for signs of criminal activity.

The work of a police officer can be exciting and get your adrenaline running, but it’s not always as glamorous as it seems on TV. What you may not realize is there is a lot of tedious behind-the-scenes work that must be done as well. Krantz explains that reports must be filed for every call he responds to, which could take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours depending on the situation. He says that in a 10-hour shift you can expect a minimum of four hours to be spent on paperwork at the station.

Many of the reports you submit will eventually end up in court, which means you will also be spending time in the courtroom. Officers who work overnight shifts will likely be required to attend court proceedings while they are off-duty, which is compensated.

What is the outlook for careers in criminal justice? (13:31)

While criminal justice job opportunities do fluctuate based on economic conditions, Myers explains that criminal activity will always remain. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics currently predicts a five percent growth in police and sheriff patrol positions and an 11 percent growth in private detective and investigator positions through the next decade.

Myers goes on to highlight the top states for police officer jobs, which are as follows:

States with most job openings:

  • Texas
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Illinois

States with highest earning potential:

  • New Jersey
  • California
  • Alaska
  • New York
  • Washington

What skills are employers seeking in criminal justice candidates? (15:53)

Myers explains the skills and qualities that are needed to succeed in the criminal justice field—some of which are natural and some learned. Here are a few important ones he highlighted:

1. Critical thinking skills

Police officers must have extraordinary cognitive abilities because they are required to think on their feet in high pressure situations. Being able to adapt quickly and predict the consequences of certain actions is critical to success in this field.

2. Ethical leadership

Law enforcement professionals are faced with ethical dilemmas every day, so upholding moral principles is imperative. Violating these ethical codes may result in losing your credibility in a courtroom, losing your job or even being charged with a criminal offense.

3. Verbal and non-verbal communication

Professionals in this field are often put in situations where they must speak publicly or brief individuals about the status of a particular case. Non-verbal communication skills are needed to read the body language of suspects and witnesses. It’s also critical to have great writing skills. Your report may become vital evidence in a case 10 years later so it’s important that you’re writing was clear and concise.

4. High physical fitness level

There are several law enforcement candidates who have impeccable knowledge and received perfect grades but don’t meet the physical requirements of the job. These are physically demanding careers and for safety reasons it’s mandatory to maintain a high fitness level.

How can a criminal justice candidate stand out to potential employers? (18:39)

There’s a lot of competition out there for law enforcement jobs. You may be one of 500 applicants for a handful of positions so anything you can do to set yourself apart is important, according to Myers. Here are a few factors that he says can help you stand out from the pack:

  • Earning a criminal justice degree
  • Being proficient in another language
  • Having volunteer experience
  • Building a network of professionals in the industry

What should you look for when choosing a criminal justice degree program? (21:10)

There are many criminal justice degree programs out there but choosing a quality program can greatly improve your future career opportunities. Myers highlights five important questions you should ask when choosing a program.

  • Is the program is accredited?
  • Does the program meet the POST requirements for your state?
  • Do the instructors have professional experience?
  • Does the curriculum incorporate hands-on instruction?
  • Is the program convenient for your busy life?

Want to know more?

Careers in criminal justice are the perfect option for individuals who enjoy helping others and aren’t afraid of a little risk. This career overview has provided you with everything you need to know to get started on the path to your new career.

Check out the full Career Chat footage above to get a more in-depth look at the criminal justice field.

If you’re convinced that you’re cut out for a criminal justice career, learn how a degree in criminal justice can prime you for success in the field!

About the author

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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