Criminal justice careers have remained a relative bright spot in the overall weak economy. The hiring picture in this category varies a good deal, however, depending on whether you’re looking at the federal, state or local level.
The federal government continues to have a need for law enforcement personnel, though it’s a bit unclear what Uncle Sam’s hiring budget will be going forward. Republicans are currently pushing for a 10% spending cut across the board, while the president’s most recent proposal called for moderate spending growth. At present, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service predicts that while the overall federal work force is likely to shrink this year, there will be hiring growth in law enforcement positions at the massive Homeland Security Department. Over the long haul, issues of immigration, terrorism and international law seem likely to keep the market for FBI Agents, Forensic Analysts, Federal Marshals and Customs Agents stronger than many other career categories.
State & Local Situation
At the state and local level, anecdotal evidence seems to show that, while the job market isn’t red hot, it at least firming up. Ever since the economic meltdown of 2008, states, counties and localities have had to make budget cuts due to massive defecits. But cutting police jobs is always controversial. A recent example occurred in our own area of Nassau County, NY, this year. Because of Nassau’s terrible fiscal condition, the county executive proposed closing a number of county police precincts. But after a firestorm of criticism rose up, the plan was shelved.
A look at local news reports across the country shows that many police departments are digging their heels in this year and insisting that, after three years of ongoing budget cuts, they absolutely can’t provide adequate protection without hiring some new officers. The result of that debate will be different in each town, city and state, but it suggests that there will be opportunities out there if you’re willing to expand your job search geographically. It’s important to avoid getting discouraged as you seek employment. Where one town may not be hiring any police officers in 2012, another nearby may have the budget to hire several. County and state police forces, likewise, will all have different hiring situations depending on their budgets. The one thing that’s clear is that the overall need for law enforcement personnel has certainly not diminished.
Criminal justice careers in the courts for bailiffs, court clerks, victim advocates and other job titles are also still widely available, since the courts remain busy. Law firms, which have suffered tremendously in the recession, seem to be treading water, as their business is impacted not just by the economy, but by technological advances that cut down on the need for lawyers. In the big picture, it still looks as though criminal justice, like healthcare, remains a more recession-proof career category than many others.
A Degree Is Key
A slower economy has given courts, police forces and law firms an opportunity to be more picky about who they hire. That’s made it more important to have a degree to make yourself an attractive job candidate. Even before the recession, though, degrees were becoming more and more important due to a growing need for criminal justice experts who have an up-to-date understanding of technology. In the last two years, even more people have gone back to school for specialized training because of the tough job market. That’s created a kind of self-fullfilling prophecy, where law enforcement employers expect every applicant to have a criminal justice degree.
The skills needed for this type of career have certainly increased. Both the police and the criminals they pursue have gotten smarter about using the internet, wireless and other cutting-edge technologies. And while a police officer, a paralegal, court officer or attorney will always need strong interpersonal skills, the way information is used and shared in all these specialties is changing rapidly. It’s created a new world of legal issues, investigative techniques and online communication needs that a law expert from just 10 years ago wouldn’t recognize.
The Long Term
Besides getting you hired into a first entry level job, an associates or bachelors degree can give you more choices as you move forward in a criminal justice career. College-level study provides you with a background in the “big picture” issues of what causes criminal behavior and how our society can control and prevent it. Down the road, having a background that includes law, public administration and urban issues, political science, psychology, sociology and even philosophy can help you move into a more senior position, whether you work in the courts, law enforcement or in a federal law agency.
All criminal justice careers can offer more than a paycheck. Many officers and agents pursue this type of work because they get tremendous personal satisfaction from helping to keep the public safe. A few key attributes that are important in the criminal justice field include being physically fit (in law enforcement jobs), being able to make calm, informed decisions under pressure, an ability to handle people, having a sense of responsibility and being able to show self-restraint. It’s important to keep in mind that members of the public depend on criminal justice experts to do the right thing in tough or even frightening circumstances.
Salaries you can earn in law enforcement or criminal justice careers vary widely. Government agencies in particular have many pay grades you can move up to based on experience or advanced study. The salaries for many of these positions have remained roughly the same since we began doing this annual update two years ago. Here’s a list of criminal justice careers and the duties that go with them, as well as average salaries for jobs in law practice, police work, corrections, court jobs and public or private security:
PUBLIC SECURITY & ENFORCEMENT: Federal Jobs
Work for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, an agency of the U.S. Treasury. Regulate possession and use of alcohol tobacco and firearms, and sometimes conduct searches or even raids of businesses suspected of illegal transactions.
Salary Range: $33,000. – $42,000.
Job is mainly focused on checking luggage and shipping items being brought into the U.S. by visitors. Customs agents may sometimes arrest and question a suspect. Work is often done in airport environments.
Salary range: $38,000 – $49,000.
Marshals work for the Justice Department, and do everything from protect judges and witnesses to being in charge of assets seized under criminal investigations. This job can sometimes put you in very stressful and dangerous situations.
Salary Range: Junior positions pay $36,000 or more, while experienced marshals who reach what’s called “GS II Grade” earn $46,000. It’s possible to earn more depending on where the Marshal is stationed and cost of living raises.
Employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA agents work to enforce laws that govern the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. A bachelor degree, preferably in criminal justice, is a requirement for this job. DEA agents often conduct surveillance of drug agents in dangerous areas and do criminal investigations. After being hired, new agents also receive specialized training at the DEA’s academy on Quantico, Virginia.
Salary Range: $49,000 – $92,000.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations are at the higher end of federal law enforcement. FBI agents investigate crimes in a wide variety of categories from white collar crime to terrorism, fraud, organized crime and even cyber security. Agents often travel to interview suspects, and work with other enforcement agencies. This can be an intense job, which can involve working in dangerous situations. A criminal justice degree is virtually a must to be hired by the FBI.
Salary Range: Agents in their first few years with the FBI can earn from $43,000. to 69,000. and can earn raises after they graduate from the agency’s training program.
Private Security Guard
This job category covers everything from being a building guard to running a large security force for a mall or a large company. Higher paying jobs will require an associates or bachelors degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. Surveillance techniques are a key part of private security, along with a knowledge of terrorism, business security and corrections. Private security guards may carry weapons.
Salary Range: A wide range from $17,000. to as high as $41,000 in starting positions, to a good deal more for security directors for large corporations or individual security guards for high net worth individuals or celebrities. Private security specialists in the banking and financial category are among the most highly compensated.
Many private detectives are self-employed, which means that their earnings depend on their ability to build up a clientele.
Salary Range: Entry level jobs in this area pay around $25,000, though some private detectives earn about $74,000.
A bailiff is charged with maintaining order in a courtroom. That means monitoring the members of the jury, the prisoners and the defendants in trials that last for more than one day, where there are a wide variety of restrictions on what all these parties can do. This can involved everything from making sure jurors get to their hotel from checking the courtroom for bombs. Job candidates need to be well spoken, calm and organized.
Salary Range: Anywhere from about $18,000. to well over $65,000.
Court clerks work on all the administrative jobs in the court – proofreading documents, mailing letters and helping to schedule appointments and hearings. This position does not necessarily require a criminal justice degree.
Salary Range: National range is from $22,000. to about $52,000. for more experienced court clerks.
Probation officers are employees of a court system generally, who oversee the activities of a “client,” a person on parole, and communicate about it with lawyers, judges, employees and even family members. It’s a specialty that many candidates go into after getting some previous experience in corrections or psychology.
Salary Range: Entry level jobs pay an average of 30,000., while advanced probation officers and supervisors who oversee large departments can earn closer to $80,000., if they have significant experience.
Work in prisons and detention centers, and are sometimes in charge of transporting prisoners to court. In the prison environment, corrections officers oversee all aspects of the prisoner’s lives. The work environment is tough. An associates in criminal justice degree is helpful in gaining an entry level job here.
Salary Range: About $26,000. nationally for entry level jobs; with more experienced correction officers earning more than $67,000.
POLICE / LAW ENFORCEMENT CAREERS
Crime Scene Investigator
A specialty that involves evaluating crime scenes and doing reports that help the police decide which suspects to seek out and interview and other follow up activities. Crime scene investigators need to have a very high level understanding of proper procedures in investigating a crime scene, as they can have a big effect on the court case that follows any crime. Many candidates are already police officers who get training to advance into this specialty, though it is possible to go directly into it with a criminal justice degree.
Salary Range: $38,000. to over $100,000., depending on whether you work for a small or large police organization.
Forensic scientists work in crime labs and normally have a fairly settled, 40 hour-a-week schedule. They conduct analysis of DNA, bullets, hair samples, weapons and other evidence involved in crimes. Employment is either from federal or city police organizations.
Salary Range: Entry level jobs pay about $32,000., while salaries for more senior scientists can top $80,000.
Police officers work across a wide variety of local, regional and federal departments. Although it’s still possible to be hired as an officer in a small town police department with only a high school diploma and a training program certificate, the better paying jobs in large departments usually require an associates or even a bachelors degree. In addition to doing patrols, arresting criminals, interviewing witnesses and other basic police jobs, police officers need to work with lawyers and enforcement officials in other agencies.
Salary Range: Depending on the department and the locality, salaries can vary all the way from about $31,000. for a new recruit to over $83,000. for a supervisor or other high level police officer.
In addition to a bachelor degree, you’ll need to go to law school and pass a bar exam to practice as an attorney. Not all lawyers have a criminal justice degree. Many, in fact, take a broader liberal arts course of study in college like English or Sociology. Almost all lawyers practice in a particular specialty like personal damages, divorce law, patent & trademark law, real estate, contracts or tax law. Each of these requires a different type of skill set. Generally, though, it’s true that the litigators who argue cases in court (which could include criminal cases or divorces) tend to be more charismatic than the lawyers who work in research-heavy specialties like patents & trademarks.
Salary Range: Run in a very wide range. Entry level lawyers in a big practice may earn $50,000. or more, while some “star” attorneys earn more than a million dollars per year. Nationally, average earnings for lawyers range from $54,000. to $165,000. Criminal law is a natural career path for someone with a bachelor in criminal justice.
A paralegal will research cases to help prepare a lawyer to argue a case in court, file appropriate motions or write a brief. Many paralegals are bachelors degree holders who are working in a law firm for a time before going into law school, while others simply plan to have a career as a paralegal. It’s possible to get this job without a criminal justice degree, but most firms like to hire candidates who have at least an associate’s degree. Salary Range: From $29,000 for an entry level paralegal to over $74,000 for a private firm or federal department paralegal.
Salary information sources ATF Agents: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives Paralegals: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Customs Agents: U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Marshals: U.S. Marshals Service DEA Agents: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration FBI Agents: Federal Bureau of Investigation Private Security Guards: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Private Detectives: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Bailiffs: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Court Clerks: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Probation Officers: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Corrections Officers: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Crime Scene Investigators: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Forensic Scientists: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Police Officers: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Attornies: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics