Interested In A Career In Criminal Justice? Some Career Advice

finger printMaybe you’re one of those people who loves Law and Order or Criminal Minds or CSI, and the like. If you’re like a lot of people, you love those shows and want to know how you can get started in one of those careers.

And don’t forget the FBI. Everyone wants to work for them.

But how do you get those jobs?

The answer is, it’s not always easy and it often requires a lot of training, hard work and persistence.

Many CSI-like jobs require a degree in science. This is especially true if you want to work in a lab. If you’re taking the route of earning a college degree, you would want to focus on biochemistry or biology as your major.

Check to see if your college has a specific track for people interested in forensic science. Some schools offer programs in which you can start an undergraduate degree in biochemistry or biology and ultimately work towards a Masters degree in forensic science.

Not everyone with a CSI-type of job has a college degree. Some people start their CSI work in law enforcement and through training in the department, become crime scene technicians. They might have some college training or no college training at all.

Many people think that to work for the FBI, you need a criminology or psychology or criminal justice degree but that’s not necessarily the case. People with those types of degrees might be considered eligible to work for the FBI under the “diversified” category but they are primarily recruiting people with specific, critical skills and experience. These include: accounting, finance, computer science, foreign language, intelligence experience, law enforcement/investigative experience, military and physical science.

Applicants for the Special Agent position, generally must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in one of the aforementioned fields.

Cyber crime has more recently become a major focus of the FBI. In December 2014, the FBI was specifically recruiting “technical talent, including computer scientists, IT specialists and engineers.”

If you’re interested in working in the criminal justice system, you might consider attending the police academy. Police academies are specialized schools that certify people to become law enforcement officers. Tuition is about $5,000 and completing the program can take anywhere from six to eight months. The cost and the length of time to completion varies, depending on your location. Some police agencies require at least some college credits, as well as having completed the police academy.

If you have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or criminology, this does not qualify you to become a law enforcement officer. You would still have to complete the police academy.

There are other ways to work in the criminal justice system besides being a police officer. Earning a degree in social work, for instance, can prepare you to work in the court system as a mitigation specialist, Guardian ad litem, or parole or probation officer, or as an advocate in some capacity.

There are more mentally ill people housed in jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals. There’s no shortage of work for social workers, and others with similar training, in the criminal justice system.

Finally, I’ve noticed that many students are so focused on working for the FBI that they overlook many other prestigious and interesting job opportunities. Working for the FBI is very rewarding but you should also consider the many other federal, state and local agencies to work for, including (but not limited to): Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Postal Inspectors Office, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and so forth.

Be open to all potential opportunities and don’t limit yourself.

The Vault & Threats to Members of Congress

The FBI has made thousands of files available in an online resource called The Vault. There is a great deal of interesting information in The Vault.

A file called “Threats To Members Of Congress -2003” revealed 58 threats. Here are examples of some of those incidents.

Victims: John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy, and Joseph Lieberman 

A threatening letter was sent to both Lieberman and Kennedy that contained the following statement: “We Are Going To Kill You.” 

A different threatening letter sent to Kerry and Clinton contained the following message: “For you slowly trying to kill our son, we’re going to kill you…Your to die on the cross…” 

It was determined that the individual sending the letter was male but no other information could be identified through DNA analysis.

Victim: Senator Mary Landrieu

A threatening letter was sent to the home of the Senator that stated the following: “if you vote against invoking cloture against another one of President Bush’s nominees… I’m going to kill you. I will also go after your family, such as your husband and kids… I will kill them as well… If you care about yourself and your family, you’ll do what I say… If you vote against invoking cloture again, I’m going to track you, your family and even your staff down and kill them and you… I know where you live.” 

No DNA or latent prints could be retrieved from the envelope.

Victim: Congresswoman Maxine Waters

A phone threat was called into the Congresswoman’s Reno office and stated the following: “I’m going to kill you communist piece of shit.”

While being interviewed by the authorities, it was noticed that the interviewee had a book of photos in which the faces of Democratic senators and representatives had been stabbed and contained the word “dead” under each individual’s picture. Ultimately, the individual was seemingly no longer deemed a threat, perhaps due to the failing health.

Victim: Senator Mark Pryor

A letter was sent to the senator regarding an FCC rule change that stated the following: “it’s a bad idea and I’m counting on you to stop it. Do it or I’ll kill you. Really. I’m crazy. Just wait… Oh, and start an organization to save the jellyrabbit.” No additional threats were made and the case was closed. 

Victim: Senator Dan Inouye

An individual called the Senator to discuss healthcare. The individual identified himself as a medical doctor who said that he had been “illegally tormented by the FBI” and said “that if the senator did not call him back within two days, he would “take out” his family.” 

Some of the threats to members of Congress were relatively nonspecific, and some others received letters that were thought to have contained Anthrax.

So You Want To Work For The FBI

When I young (probably too young), I read John Douglas’s book [amazon_link id=”0671528904″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Mind Hunter.[/amazon_link] It was both intriguing and disturbing.  It contains stories that I will never forget, for better or for worse.

It remains probably one of the most popular books in the “FBI Profiler” genre. Special Agent John Douglas has hunted, studied or interviewed some of the most notorious serial killers and criminals including John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, The Green River Killer, Sirhan Sirhan, and many others.

Many students interested in criminology or criminal justice are fascinated by serial killers and notorious criminals. They want to work with the “worst of the worst.” Many also want to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Wanting to work for the FBI is understandable since it is one of the most respected agencies in the world.

Working For The FBI

More specifically, students often want to become FBI profilers. Interestingly, the FBI states, on their website, that there are no actual profiler jobs. That job title does not exist. Individuals who receive specialized behavioral training hold the title “Supervisory Special Agents” and are assigned to the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime.

Too many students in the criminal justice field ONLY want to work for the FBI. You should aim high but also realize that the FBI is very rigorous about who they choose to work among their elite team. Click here to read about who the FBI is looking to hire.

Know Your Options

Even if a job in the FBI is not in your future, that is okay. There are plenty of immensely rewarding jobs in the criminal justice system. If you are considering a career in the field, it is important to familiarize yourself with your options. A great place to begin your research is the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Some career options include parole or probation, working in a jail diversion program such a drug court or a mental health court, working at the medical examiners office as an autopsy tech or a crime scene investigator, or working a state agency such as the postal inspectors office, among many others.

Job shadowing programs, internships and similar opportunities can help you explore your options. Check with your college or university for further assistance.

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