You might think that there are only a few career paths you can take in law enforcement, but in reality, the criminal justice field opens a broad range of professional possibilities for you. Once you start exploring these opportunities, you'll have to determine which one of the many options suits you best.
According to The Balance Careers, the choice to pursue a criminal justice degree is just the beginning. You'll face multiple choices, including the specific field you'd like to study and whether there's room for specialization with that field. With the right criminal justice degree program, you'll develop new skills, learn new concepts from experienced professors and acquire new tools that help guide you toward the law enforcement career that suits your goals.
Here are three top law enforcement careers to keep in mind as you complete your studies and make your decision.
1. Uniformed Officers
Becoming a uniformed officer could take several directions, including being a local police officer, state trooper, deputy sheriff or border patrol agent. You might think you don't necessarily need an advanced degree for these positions, but it's important to consider your long-term career goals in case you'd like to become a detective, police chief, sheriff or public official like a mayor or governor.
A criminal justice bachelor's degree will help you move higher through the ranks more quickly, especially when you include coursework that focuses on various online criminology and justice topics, such as courts, corrections, basic interviewing, victimology, human relations and communication, criminal procedures and forensic science. It's also important to work within your program to gain experience with criminal databases, crime scene management and computer-aided composite drawing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the base pay for a uniformed police officer comes in at around $67,290 per year or $32.35 per hour. If the salary doesn't sound exciting, keep in mind that it's a great way to learn about criminal justice and apply your studies at a realistic level, offering insights into the changes you'd like to see in any related areas. Further, it is one of the medium-to-higher paying career fields to pursue.
2. Forensic Analysts
If you've ever watched the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigator", becoming a forensic analyst probably seems incredibly fascinating. You'll work with law enforcement agencies, collecting and analyzing sensitive evidence, including human tissue, fingerprints, DNA matter, and munition samples. You might need to visit actual crime scenes, or the on-site law enforcement professionals will bring them to you if you work in a morgue, hospital or toxicology lab. The best preparation to work in this field, paying an average of $87,115 annually, is to study biology, chemistry or forensic science for your undergraduate degree.
3. Lawyers and Attorneys
A Juris Doctorate degree is one of the best paths toward earning one of the highest-paying salaries for law enforcement careers, allowing you to pull in between $79,000 to $182,500 annually. To become an attorney, you'll need to pursue an undergraduate degree — ideally in criminal justice if you know you'd like to work in criminal law — then take your LSAT, attend law school for three years, then sit for your state bar exam. You might start your career as a public defender, law clerk or associate for a criminal defense law firm.
Law Enforcement Offers You a Broad Range of Career Options
Whether you want to work at the ground level, patrolling neighborhoods or the highways, take a more analytical approach through forensic analysis or work on behalf of victims as a prosecutor or as a defense attorney, these are all reasonable paths to take to fulfill your career aspirations in criminal justice. Regardless of what you choose, Americans and cities across the country need committed professionals in the field working to enforce the law on their behalf.