It is a sign of our times that there is a heightened interest in careers in criminal justice that coincides with a growing need for criminal justice professionals. The unfortunate events of September 11, 2001 has resulted in much greater awareness of our vulnerability as a free society while television shows such as “Forensics Files” and “CSI” have presented new insights into the science of solving crimes. Both of these factors are prompting individuals to explore career possibilities in criminal justice and the necessary educational requirements to launch a successful career.
In order for citizens of the United States to remain secure within our own borders, it requires a massive organizational effort that results in homeland security efforts that take place at the national, state and local levels. These efforts do not focus exclusively on terrorist threats but also address the security implications of natural disasters and medical emergencies. Systems and procedures must be in place to respond aggressively and maintain order should an event take place or circumstances develop that threaten the health and safety of our communities. The scope of these efforts has resulted in the need for trained professionals at the level of first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs, etc.) to experts on emergency management to analysts and investigators. Departments within the government that require trained individuals in criminal justice and homeland security include:
o U.S. Department of Homeland Security
o Federal Bureau of Investigations
o Central Intelligence Agency
o U.S. Department of Labor
o U.S. Department of State
o Federal Emergency Management Agency
o U.S. Coast Guard
o U.S. Secret Service
In addition there are many positions within state and local government that require people with special skills and training to support homeland security efforts. These include investigators, analysts, IT specialists, telecommunications experts, biochemists and auditors to name just a few. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the many positions that exist within corporate and non-profit organizations.
Crime Scene Investigation
Television has a way of compressing timelines and glamorizing every aspect of even the grittiest crime and police dramas. Even the most complicated crimes can be wrapped up in about an hour and most (but not all) of the time the good guys win. But in recent years the emphasis has shifted from the hard-nosed detective and the passionate prosecutor to the men and women who identify, collect and analyze the evidence that is used to build a solid case against criminals. And that evidence is not relegated to just blood spatter and bodily fluids. Criminal evidence can be collected from the hard drive of a computer or the financial records of a defendant as well as a speck of dust or a microscopic fiber. So, as you can see, the education and skills required for CSI positions may be broad at some levels but, for the most part are highly specialized.
There are some common personality traits of a crime scene investigator no matter what level of an investigation they participate in. Most are very focused, highly organized, quite analytical and pay excruciating attention to detail. Training may include psychology courses or ballistics testing depending on the area of interest of the investigator. Some CSI specialists thrive on the human element of the investigation while others are energized by the application of scientific principles to solve a crime. Either way, it takes a team of well-trained experts to put all of the pieces of a crime scene puzzle together to bring criminals to justice.
Education and Training
Institutions of higher learning throughout the nation have added degree programs and courses of study that are structured to assist aspiring and existing members of the criminal justice profession to advance their careers or become more specialized. Programs focused on criminal justice are available at colleges and universities as well as career and technical schools. There are various degree offerings including Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate programs. To accommodate working individuals, many of these schools offer criminal justice degrees online as well as on campus. While certain specialized areas will require lab training and classroom training, many of the courses can be taken at home.
The opportunities are numerous and homeland security and crime scene investigation are just two of the many professional paths within the criminal justice system.