Criminal justice is a big area that offers two main career paths. The first is law enforcement, which includes jobs in local, city and state police departments, private security companies and federal agencies. The second path runs through the court system, where you can be anything from a paralegal to a probation officer and, eventually, even a lawyer.
Law enforcement is a unique career that often attracts men and women who don’t want a typical office job. Some people see law enforcement as a kind of calling: it’s not unusual for a police officer to say that he’s got the job he’s wanted since he was a little kid.
A key to success in the field is to want to help people and improve the community. “I am a K-9 officer…Cesar is my K-9 and we enjoy getting drugs off the street or a DUI,” says Officer Brent McDowell, quoted on policerecruiter.com. “They say that with every DUI you get, you save the lives of four people. So if I can save four people by taking the drunk or the drug addict off the street, then I feel I am doing my job and I can sleep well when I can get home.” The job can offer certain types of satisfaction you won’t find in most businesses.
Police departments today are looking for officers who can treat everyone with dignity, regardless of their appearance, their ethnic background or their social station. Depending on whether you work in a quiet suburb or a major city, the job can, at times, be dangerous. Police officers need to be comfortable taking charge of a situation, show calm leadership, and be able to handle crisis situations without panicking.
Criminal Record Obstacles
To go from having a criminal justice degree to getting an actual law enforcement job, it’s also important that you be in good physical condition and, probably more than anything else, that you have a respect for the law. As a candidate for a police position, it’s important that you are not a user of illicit drugs or have any other criminal record. While having smoked a joint a few times in college probably won’t disqualify you from many police jobs, having been a drug dealer will almost certainly shut you out. Many departments will ask you to take a drug, medical and/or psychological fitness test before being hired, and you will be in a bad position if you refuse to take them.
Many police jobs actually have a relatively predicable 40 hour work week. It’s a career which, more than ever before, requires a good education for advancement.
The Court System
Many students use an associates degree in criminal justice to get a job as a paralegal, which they see mainly a first step toward not just working in the court system, but possibly going to law school. If you want to eventually become a criminal lawyer or even a judge, it’s key to develop good writing skills and study the law in depth. Law school is an expensive proposition and it’s tough to pass the bar exam in just about all states, but it can be a very lucrative career. There are, however, lots of jobs in the court system you can get without ever going to law school, and many of them are very stable, don’t require work beyond a 9-5 schedule, and pay well with good benefits. If you have a basic associate of applied science or associate of arts degree, you will be considered a good candidate to work as a court clerk, court reporter, legal aid worker, bailiff, or bail bondsman, to name a few. It’s a career path that can offer you many different opportunities if you’re the type of person who is interested by the workings of court system and you prefer administrative and case work to actually pursing criminals.