Law enforcement and criminal justice careers usually fall into one of three areas of the U.S. criminal justice system: law enforcement, the court system, and the corrections system. These careers are focused on preventing, prosecuting, and punishing crime.
Law enforcement and criminal justice careers usually fall into one of three areas of the U.S. criminal justice system: law enforcement, the court system, and the corrections system. These careers are focused on preventing, prosecuting, and punishing crime. Jobs range from police officers to court stenographers to prison wardens.
Opportunities for law enforcement and criminal justice careers exist at the federal, state and local levels. Federal jobs are the highest paying, but more than 50% of them are based in Florida, Texas, California, and the District of Columbia, so they may require you to relocate. People working in federal law enforcement are charged with ensuring the country’s safety, as well as with investigating federal offenses and large corporate crimes.
Federal criminal justice employees run our federal court and prison systems.
Employing almost 130,000 people in the fields of law enforcement and criminal justice, the Department of Justice is comprised of several agencies, including:
|DOJ Division||Sample Job Types|
|Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms,and Explosives
||Special Agent, IndustryOperations Investigators
|Drug Enforcement Administration
||Special Agent, Diversion Investigator
|Federal Bureau of Investigation
||Special Agent, Investigative Specialist, Surveillance Specialist
|Federal Bureau of Prisons
||Correctional Officer, Correctional Program Officer, Prison Warden
|Office of the United States Attorneys
||Law Enforcement Coordination Specialist, Legal Assistant, Paralegal
|US Parole Commission
State jobs are the second highest paying, followed with jobs with the local government. State and local law enforcement officers are charged with maintaining the peace and investigating both white-collar crime and crimes against people. They’re also responsible for policing our roads and highways.
The United States courts employ many people both at the federal and state levels, including probation officers, court reporters, case administrators, and legal secretaries.
Who is Best Suited?
Law enforcement and criminal justice jobs require people have many of the same types of characteristics, such as:
- Interpersonal communications skills
- Ability stay calm under pressure
- Commitment to helping people
- Ability to deal with difficult people
Physical and mental fitness is also important for law enforcement work. In addition, police officers must be at least 21 years of age. Federal special agent positions also have minimum age requirements.
Types of Jobs Available
There are three basic areas of work in the law enforcement and criminal justice fields:
Career Prospects and Outlook
- Law enforcement careers focus on crime prevention and investigation. At the local level and state level, police officers protect communities from crime, investigate crimes, and arrest suspects. At the federal level, agents with the FBI, DEA, ICE, border patrol and US Marshals are also tasked with preventing and investigation crime.
- The U.S. court system’s primary purpose is to determine whether suspected criminals are guilty or innocent. A variety of criminal justice professionals, in addition to lawyers and judges, work for the state and federal court system, including bailiffs, court reporters, and paralegals.
- The U.S. corrections system enforces sentences mandated by the courts, including incarceration, probation or parole. Most sentences are designed to both punish and rehabilitate criminals. Among the careers in corrections are prison warden, prison guard, probation officer, and parole officer.
The outlook for law enforcement jobs is generally positive, with more growth expected at the local level while more competition for jobs is likely at the federal level. Law enforcement jobs in general are expected to grow by 7% by 2020, a rate slower than the average for all occupations. Jobs with local departments usually pay lower salaries and have high turnover rates, which opens up opportunities. State and federal positions typically pay more and are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bilingual candidates with a bachelor’s degree and law enforcement or military experience, particularly investigative experience, will be highly sought after at the federal level.
Because responsibilities differ among law enforcement and criminal justice jobs, salaries do as well. Here is a sampling of jobs in the two areas, their salaries and career prospects:
Police patrol officers protect life and property in our communities, and serve as our first line of defense against crime. They pursue and arrest suspected criminals, enforce traffic laws, and respond to emergency calls. Police work can be a dangerous, though rewarding career. In 2010, 663,900 police and sheriff’s patrol officers worked in the U.S., earning a median salary of $54,550. Employment opportunities are expected to grow by 7% by 2020, a rate slower than the average for all occupations.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Detectives and investigators look into crime violations at the local, state and federal levels. They aim to prevent or solve crimes. The median pay for the 109,230 people employed as criminal investigators in 2012 was $77860. The highest salaries are offered in the metropolitan areas of NY, San Francisco, DC; Brunswick, GA, and Anchorage, AK.
State troopers ensure that drivers are following state vehicular laws and regulations, with the goal of promoting safety. They may also be called to respond to civil disorders and prevent disturbances and riots. They document evidence, work with detectives, and testify in court. Because they are often first responders to the scene of car accidents, they sometimes administer first aid and emergency equipment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes state troopers under the umbrella of police and sheriff’s patrol officers, a job segment earning a median annual salary of $55,270 with an expected employment growth of 8% by 2020.
Transit and Railroad Police
Approximately 4,140 transit and railroad police protect the property, employees, and passengers of public transit lines including subways, buses, trains and monorails in the U.S. today. The median salary in 2012 for transit and railroad police was $57,880, with the most jobs located in Texas, New Jersey, Georgia, California, and Illinois.
Court reporters are responsible for recording, word-for word, what is said at legal proceedings. They create a complete and accurate and legal record. A certificate or associate’s degree is usually all that’s required to become a court reporter. About 22,000 people worked as court reporters in 2010, earning a median annual wage of $47,700.
Also known as marshals or court officers, bailiffs maintain safety and order in courtrooms. Their duties may include enforcing courtroom rules, assisting judges, guarding juries from outside contact, delivering court documents, and providing general security for courthouses. Approximately 16,240 people were employed as bailiffs in 2012, earning a median annual wage of $39,840. The vast majority of bailiffs work for local and state governments.
Depending on the organization’s size, paralegals assist lawyers by performing a variety of tasks, including legal research, investigating case facts, writing reports, and drafting documents such as mortgages and contracts. They help attorneys prepare for trial and may also assist during trials. There are close to 270,000 paralegals working in the U.S. with mean annual salaries of $50,220. By 2020, employment in the field is expected to grow by 18%, about the average for all occupations.
Correctional officers work in jails, reformatories, and penitentiaries and are responsible for supervising people who are incarcerated because they’ve been convicted of a crime or are awaiting trial. Prisoner safety is a primary concern, as is guarding against escape. Like many other law enforcement jobs, being a correctional officer can be stressful and dangerous. The mean annual salary in 2010 was $39,020, when about 475,300 people were employed as correctional officers, a number expected to grow by only 7% by 2020.
Probation Officers and Parole Officers
Probation officers work with offenders who are given probation instead of jail time. Parole officers work with people who have been recently released from jail, helping them re-enter society by providing services such as job training and substance abuse counseling. Both probation and parole officers aim to avoid future crimes being committed by their charges. In 2012, close to 87,000 people worked as probation or parole officers, earning a median annual wage of $52,380. Demand for these jobs will continue, especially as alternative forms of punishment to jailing, become more popular, and the number of jobs is expected to grow by 18% by 2020.
Certification and Professional Associations
The types of certification and professional associations in the fields of law enforcement and criminal justice are as numerous and varied as the job opportunities in these areas. The International Association of Chiefs of Police offers a comprehensive listing of more than 100 national and international law enforcement-related associations and organizations. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance provides links to organizations and entities with relevance to the criminal justice community.
In addition, paralegals and court reporters each have their own national organizations, as follows:
National Association of Legal Assistants
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
National Paralegal Association
National Court Reporters Association
National Verbatim Reporters Association
United States Court Reporters Association
Police officers and probation officers must be state-certified. Paralegals must also be certified by a state’s Bar Association. Some of the professional associations offer certifications, that while not required, do improve job prospects. These include the American Correctional Association, which offers professional certification to people who work directly with offenders, including correctional officers, security officers, custodial officers, corporals and sergeants. Both the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offer widely recognized and respected optional paralegal credentials (not to be confused with state certification, which is required).