Criminal Justice Careers

Selecting the right criminal justice career requires reliable information about the opportunities that exist in the criminal justice industry. Regrettably, many students and professionals are quick to pursue an academic or career path that ultimately does not lead them to the career they were hoping for. provides aspiring criminal justice professionals with current, reliable and informative career information and job descriptions designed to help them make an informed decision when it comes to selecting a career in criminal justice or law enforcement.

Just click on any of the following to view its description:


ATF Agent
Working for the U.S. Treasury Department, ATF agents implement and enforce U.S. laws concerning the possession and sale of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. They take part in a wide variety of investigations that involve obtaining search warrants, making raids, searching for physical evidence, conducting surveillance, interviewing suspects and witnesses, and making arrests. ATF agents work in close contact with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies supplying on-going assistance in the struggle against violence and crime. ATF agents also assess all evidence at the close of an investigation and organize specific case reports that assist the U.S. attorney in preparing for trial.

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DEA Agent
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents implement regulations and laws concerning illegal drugs. The DEA is the front-running agency for domestic implementation of Federal drug laws and also has the exclusive task of organizing and tracking U.S. drug investigations overseas. Agents carry out intricate criminal investigations, keep a close watch on criminals, and penetrate illegal drug organizations using covert operations.

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Deputy Sheriff
A Deputy Sheriff serves in a highly responsible and visible capacity in the protection of life and property; he or she performs law enforcement and crime prevention by patrolling assigned areas, answering calls for service, and investigating crimes. The Deputy Sheriff works under general supervision within a framework of established procedures and is expected to perform a variety of law enforcement duties with only occasional instruction, assistance and supervision. In most jurisdictions, they are expected to exercise authority when necessary, whether on or off duty. General supervision of the Deputy Sheriff is provided by a Sheriff’s Sergeant or a higher level of sworn personnel depending upon assignment.

Duties include:

  • Patrol County and investigate any questionable events
  • Conduct both preliminary and follow-up investigations of disturbances, prowlers, burglaries, thefts, holdups, and other criminal incidents; check buildings for physical security
  • Make arrests as necessary; interview victims, complainants, and witnesses; interrogate suspects; gather and preserve evidence; testify and present evidence in court
  • Cooperate with other law enforcement agencies in matters relating to the investigation of crimes and the apprehension of offenders
  • Prepare reports of arrests made, investigations conducted, and unusual incidents observed
  • Perform coroner duties as assigned
  • Serve warrants, subpoenas, and civil documents
  • Assist in county search and rescue operations over a wide area
  • Perform bailiff duties as assigned
  • Serve as rangemaster for the Department as assigned

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Law at the county level is enforced by sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.

Places where city police departments do not work or exist are covered by sheriffs and deputy sheriffs. A sheriff’s job is similar to that of a city police chief. A deputy sheriff’s job is similar to that of a police officer.

Occupational activities:

  • Carry out arrest warrants. Locate offenders and take them into custody.
  • Enforce traffic laws and issue citations.
  • Investigate suspicious activities and safety hazards.
  • Patrol courthouse, grand jury room, or assigned areas to provide security and enforce laws.
  • Patrol assigned areas and respond to calls. Question people entering secured area in jail to determine their purpose. Direct or re-route them.
  • Pursue and arrest suspected criminals.
  • Question people entering secured area in jail to determine their purpose. Direct or re-route them.
  • Seize property by court order. Place notices in public places.
  • Serve subpoenas and summonses.
  • Take control of accident scenes to maintain traffic flow. Assist victims and investigate causes.
  • Transport prisoners or defendants between jail, District Attorney’s office or medical facilities.
  • Write reports, maintain accurate records, and log daily activities.

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Police Detective
Detectives are similar to investigators in that they collect evidence and gather facts for criminal cases. Some may be assigned to work as part of an interagency task force combating specific types of crime. These detectives examine records, observe the activities of suspects, conduct interviews, and participate in raids and arrests. Typically, detectives, inspectors, and State and Federal agents specialize in one of many specific areas of violation, such as fraud or homicide. Within their specialization they are assigned cases on a rotating basis. They then work their assigned case until a conviction or arrest is made, or until the case is dropped.

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Police Officer
The primary duty of sheriffs and police officers is to enforce the law. They help the community fight criminals by making arrests, assisting people with emergency situations, investigating crimes, helping prosecute criminals by collecting and securing evidence, testifying in court, and writing detailed reports.

Police officers generally work in towns or cities, but deputies have authority in rural areas where no police departments are located. Police officers often work in specialized areas in bigger cities including rape, homicide, and traffic. In rural areas and smaller communities, sheriff’s deputies and police officers must be able to respond to a wide spectrum of emergencies and situations.

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U.S. Marshall
U.S. marshals and deputy marshals provide the Federal courts with protection while making sure the judicial system operates correctly. Their job description includes shielding Federal witnesses, transferring Federal prisoners, providing security for Federal judiciary, and supervising criminal enterprise assets in custody. They have the broadest range of authority of all Federal law enforcement agencies and work in virtually every Federal law enforcement endeavor. US marshals also track and apprehend Federal fugitives.

The state of the union has a strong affect on a U.S. marshal’s job. Historically, they were accountable for duties including presidential protection and taking the census. Recently, U.S. marshals have been in charge of “providing protection for the federal judiciary, transporting federal prisoners, protecting endangered federal witnesses and managing assets seized from criminal enterprises.” U.S. Marshals are responsible for arresting over 55 percent of federal fugitives, more than all the other federal agencies combined.

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Probation Officer
Probation and parole officers oversee two kinds of individuals: offenders sentenced to probation (people who carry out the conditions of sentences demanded by the court) and parolees (people released from prison that must serve parole-board-ordered sentences). While carrying out these jobs, officers guarantee the security of the public as they work to help regenerate their clients. Working alongside social services, probation and parole officers assist their clients in receiving the education, counseling, jobs, and housing essential to a full rehabilitation. They are also responsible for writing pre-sentence reports for judges. These reports are based on the officers’ investigative work of the offenders’ backgrounds and give judges essential information needed to make a suitable sentence for each criminal. Probation and parole officers also give testimonies at pretrial and parole board hearings to assist in the clarification of these reports. Also, they investigate infringements of court-ordered sentences.

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Corrections Officers
A correctional officer watches over convicted criminals who are serving time in a penitentiary, jail, or reformatory. They also oversee those who are waiting for trail after being arrested. They preserve security and inmate responsibility to prevent escapes, assaults, and conflicts.

The majority of correctional officers work in federal and state prisons or in large jails. They are responsible for over one million incarcerated offenders at all times. Correctional officers also watch over those detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Individuals in custody are either deported or released. Officers also work for private for-profit groups in their correctional institutions. Prisons and jails can be hazardous work environments; however, prisons maintain a more constant population than jails. This allows correction officers in prisons to know the safety requirements of each prisoner they work with.

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Parole Officers
Parole officers work with individuals who have been released from prison prior to their actual sentence release date. A parole officer helps parolees adjust back into society as well as avert any actions that would jeopardize their parole status. Parole officers accomplish this goal by developing a plan for the parolee before he or she is released from prison. These plans consist of employment, housing, health care, education, drug screening and other activities that help the parolee’s rehabilitation and function in a community environment. Parole officers attend parole hearings and make recommendations based on their interviews and surveillance of parolees. A parole officer is most often employed by the state department of corrections, state criminal justice department, a youth authority/juvenile corrections, county or a federal justice department.

Based on the increasing population and the growth of crime that coincides with an increasing population, the job outlook for parole officers looks solid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),, predicts the number of jobs for Parole Officers will increase 11% from 2006-2016.

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Bailiffs provide courtroom security. When they arrive at work, they ensure the courtrooms are safe. They check for hidden bombs, guns, or other dangers. They monitor the cleanliness of courtrooms. Bailiffs make sure people are not armed as they enter the courtroom. When unauthorized weapons are found, bailiffs confiscate them.

A bailiff’s professional duties include:

  • Announce entrance of judges.
  • Contact sheriff’s office for security or medical assistance.
  • Check courtrooms for security and cleanliness. Make sure judges have case files and supplies.
  • Escort juries to restaurants and other places outside of the courtroom.
  • Guard hotels where juries are kept overnight. Maintain order in courtrooms during trials.
  • Prevent contact with the public.
  • Remove or arrest people who disrupt court procedure.
  • Remove and keep unauthorized firearms from people who enter courtrooms.
  • Stop people from entering courtrooms while judges are instructing juries.

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Court Clerk
Court clerks execute duties for a court of law including processing legal records.

They create a schedule of cases to be heard in court; send the participants information with the details of the trial; assume responsibility for the preparation of post, file, and route documents and case folders. They also proofread legal documents to ensure the procedures followed were accurate.

Clerks verify case folders prior to each case being heard; ensure that associated records and documents are in the case folder; demand copies of any missing documents; retrieve information for judges; and collect information concerning the case from attorneys, witnesses, and other individuals connected to the case. They provide the district attorney’s office with information regarding cases they prosecute. Forms needed by the judge are prepared by the clerk on the day of the hearing or trial.

While the court is in session, court clerks must administer oaths to witnesses. They use a stenotype machine or use shorthand to take minutes of the trial. They record the testimony, using a computer, after court closes. The case results, court orders, and mandated fees are also recorded by the clerk. They are responsible for gathering and recording court fees or fines. The filing of public records, including mortgages, deeds, and marriage licenses, is completed by court clerks.

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Legal assistants, also called paralegals, are supervised by licensed attorneys. They offer assistance by completing legal research, preparing notebooks for trial, interviewing clients, helping write legal briefs, reviewing and updating files, and drafting documents.

In the past, legal assistants have been trained “on the job.” However, an increasing number are acquiring training from specialized legal assistant programs located at universities, business schools, and community colleges. These programs can take a few months to up to four years to complete and generally require areas of study including specific legal classes, related electives, and general college requirements.

Legal assistants are required to get documents ready to meet the same deadlines of their supervising attorneys. Under close supervision, legal assistants must write reasonably and accurately. Paralegals need to have superb listening skills and a strong ability to relate to a diversity of people in order to effectively interview individuals. The ability to speak a foreign language is helpful. Legal assistants have to uphold the confidentiality of clients. Skills in computers, word processing, and “on-line” legal research are necessary to provide legal assistance to attorneys.

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Victims Advocate
A victim advocate is often found within the district attorney’s office or may be funded by a non-profit group, such as one concerned with rape victims or victims of domestic abuse. Victim advocates provide support services for victims of crimes and traumatic events. They ensure victims are advised of suitable treatment options and perform crisis intervention services. They focus on explaining, supporting, encouraging, and consolidating resources to minimize psychological, physical, financial and emotional effects on the crime victim. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field.

With a master’s degree, victim advocates can become directors or managers of victim advocacy programs at law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Program directors and coordinators have a greater range of responsibilities and generally higher salaries. Victim advocacy directors supervise lower-level victim advocates, create long-term crisis intervention plans and work with other human services professionals to provide quality victim support practices.

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Homeland Security

CIA Agent
U.S. spies have been in existence since the country’s beginning, as far back as the Revolutionary War and a man named Nathan Hale. However, the Central Intelligence Agency is a comparatively new organization. It was established by President Truman by the signing of the National Security Act in 1947. The purpose of the CIA is: “to collect, evaluate and disseminate foreign intelligence” and “to engage in covert action at the president’s direction.”

The CIA does not make policies, but rather gives policy makers (i.e. the President, and the National Security Agency) the information they need to make informed decisions.

As the fact book of the CIA explains, the CIA finds responsibility in:

  • Providing accurate, timely, comprehensive, evidence-based, foreign intelligence associated with national security; and
  • Conducting special activities, counterintelligence activities, and other functions related to national security, and foreign intelligence, as directed by the President.

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Customs Agent
Customs agents are responsible for investigation of money laundering, customs fraud, narcotics smuggling, child pornography, and enforcement of the Arms Export Control Act. Foreign and domestic investigations are comprised of physical and electronic surveillances, use and development of informers, and the assessment of records from couriers, importers and exporters, manufacturers, and banks. They obtain and carry out search warrants, hold interviews, and work with various agencies on joint task forces.

Custom inspectors enforce importing and exporting laws by examining luggage, shipments, clothing worn or carried, and transportation including trains, vehicles, vessels, and airplanes leaving or entering the United States. Commercial and noncommercial cargoes leaving and entering the United States are weighed, measured, examined, sampled, counted, and gauged. Smuggled and prohibited items are confiscated by inspectors. Customs inspectors also stop contraband and detain, look for, and arrest violators of U.S. law.

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FBI Agent
The Federal Government upholds a strong reputation in most departments of law enforcement. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents are the Government’s primary researchers, accountable for investigating infringement of over 260 statutes and performing susceptible national security investigations. Agents observe court-authorized wiretaps, participate in sensitive undercover assignments, track the interstate movement of stolen property, perform surveillance, examine business records, investigate white-collar crime, and collect evidence of espionage activities. The FBI conducts investigations concerning public corruption, drug trafficking, fraud against the government, terrorism, organized crime, interstate criminal activity, bribery, copyright infringement, civil rights violations, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, financial crime, air piracy, espionage, and other infringements of federal laws.

Presently, the FBI only admits applications for candidates who possess at least one of the following skills:

  • Accounting/Finance experience (Accounting/Finance Degree/CPA/or at least 2 years relative work experience)
  • Computer Science experience or other Information Technology specialties
  • Engineering experience
  • Fluent in a foreign language (Arabic, Farsi, Pashtu, Urdu, Chinese [all dialects], Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese)
  • Law Enforcement or other investigative experience
  • Law experience
  • Military experience
  • Physical Science Experience (such as physics, chemistry, biology, etc.)

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Immigration Officer FDNS
Key Role
Immigration Officers play a critical role in enhancing the national security of the United States and the integrity of its legal immigration system. As an Immigration Officer, you will be the main point of contact for USCIS on any national security and public-safety issues. You will also serve as a liaison between USCIS, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies to enhance local, regional, and national policies and procedures relative to the detection and pursuit of immigration benefit fraud. Your primary role will be to perform a variety of fraud detection and national security-related duties consistent with the national effort directed by USCIS Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS).

Your primary responsibilities may include:

  • Identifying and pursuing immigration benefit fraud
  • Analyzing local, regional, and national polices and procedures related to immigration benefit fraud
  • Conducting interviews and investigations regarding potential fraud
  • Preparing reports based on your analyses that articulate findings and propose future recommendations

Characteristics of a successful Immigration Officer, FDNS candidate include:

  • Ability to exercise sound judgment and discretion
  • Ability to research and analyze legal information in order to apply appropriate laws and procedures
  • Ability to articulate information effectively both orally and in writing with people from diverse backgrounds

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INS Agent
The entry of legal immigrants and visitors into the U.S. is facilitated by inspectors and agents working for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS is also responsible for the detainment and deportation of individuals who attempt to come into the country illegally. The INS task force includes immigration agents and inspectors, border patrol agents, criminal investigators, and deportation and detention officers. Immigration inspectors inspect passports, and interview and assess people who are seeking entry into the U.S. and its territories. It is their primary duty to determine whether or not those seeking admission are legally eligible to enter the United States.

Immigration inspectors also maintain records, prepare reports, and process applications and petitions for temporary residency or immigration into the United States. Border Patrol agents oversee the country’s boundaries. Over 8,000 miles of international land and water boundaries are protected by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The mission of these agents is to prevent and identify the unauthorized entry of undocumented foreign nationals into the U.S., to apprehend the violators they discover, and to stop the admission of illegal imports and smuggled goods such as narcotics.

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Secret Service
The Secret Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is a federal law enforcement agency, headquartered in Washington D.C. There are two missions given to Special Agents.

Protection: Special agents are responsible for the protection of the President of the United States, the Vice President, President-elect, Vice President-elect, and each of their immediate families. They are also in charge of protecting all former Presidents, their spouses and minor children until age 16, major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates and their spouses, visiting foreign heads of states/governments and their accompanying spouses, as well as all others designated by law.

Investigations: Special agents conduct a variety of criminal investigations involving fraud. These include: computer crimes, counterfeiting, false identification, telecommunications fraud, identity theft, telemarketing fraud, and electronic funds transfer fraud.

Secret Service Agent Qualifications:

  • Must be a United States citizen
  • Must pass a medical exam – vision, hearing, cardiovascular, mobility of extremities
  • Must pass a drug screening
  • Must pass a report writing test
  • Must pass an extensive background investigation
  • Must pass a polygraph examination
  • Must pass an in-depth interview
  • Must pass an entrance exam
  • Must be able to obtain a Top Secret clearance
  • Must be over age 21 years and under age 37 years

Candidates hoping to become special agents must also have a four-year college degree from an accredited university (or have at least three years of experience working in law enforcement or criminal investigative fields that necessitate an understanding and utilization of laws relating to criminal violations; or have an comparable combination of work experience and education).

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Criminalists identify, compare, analyze, and interpret physical evidence. A criminalist’s primary role is to objectively examine physical evidence using investigative skills and practical experience. It is the criminalist’s job to separate important evidence from trivial evidence that has little or no intrinsic value. Using scientific methods the criminalist then identifies, sorts, and compares the evidence in a way that will be useful to the trial or investigation.

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Criminologists study crime and criminal law. They analyze criminal behavior patterns and criminal laws, and provide theoretical explanations for criminal and delinquent behavior.

Primarily involved in research and teaching, criminologists supply a great deal of knowledge to the study of policing, police administration and policy, juvenile justice and delinquency, corrections, correctional administration and policy, drug addiction, criminal ethnography, macro-level models of criminal behavior, radical criminology, theoretical criminology, and victimology. In addition, they evaluate various biological, sociological, and psychological factors related to criminology. Some criminologists may also engage themselves in community initiatives and evaluation and policy projects with local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies.

Some criminologists may conduct their own research while teaching legal studies, criminology, sociology, and law at a university. Some may work for state and federal justice agencies as policy advisors or research officers. And, some may work in private practices where they provide consulting services for various issues such as crime statistics, juvenile justices, adult corrections, and law reform.

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Compliance Officer
Compliance officers and inspectors provide the public with protection by implementing rules.

Compliance officers and inspectors work with a variety of issues including the environment, worker rights, and licensing. Although compliance officers and inspectors often work with different issues, they frequently have common duties.

Compliance officers and inspectors conduct investigations concerning complaints. They collect information from the person filing the complaint, converse with the person or organization the complaint is regarding, and visit the site of the problem if the complaint is environmental. Officers and inspectors sometimes complete surveys, review records, or make analyses to get more facts. They often assess safety laws and rules and decipher them for specific cases. Not only do they investigate complaints, but they also routinely inspect various organizations.

Compliance officers and inspectors generally specialize in a certain area of work. Environmental compliance officers observe hazardous waste disposal, air and water pollution, and various environmental issues. Licensing examiners assess applications for an assortment of licenses, such as drivers’ and professional licenses. Equal opportunity officers investigate discrimination issues in the workplace. They find if employers are hiring people regardless of their age, color, disability, national origin, race, or religion. Government property inspectors supervise contracts, examine materials, property, and investigate fraud. Financial examiners observe the sale of real estate and securities.

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Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychologists apply psychology to criminal justice. Although similar in some aspects, forensic psychology is different from forensic science. One major difference is that forensic psychologists look deeply into the immense psychological perspectives associated with the crime and apply them to the case so that justice might be served. They frequently deal with legal issues such as news, laws and public policies, and are asked to determine the mental state and competency of the defendant at the time of the crime, and throughout the legal proceedings. Each of these issues blends law topics and psychology together, and is essential to the field of forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists also use their knowledge of psychology to analyze a criminal’s mind and intent, treat mentally ill offenders, practice within the civil arena, and consult with attorneys.

Very few academic institutions offer degrees specifically focused on forensic psychology. Therefore, individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in forensic psychology should take an academic course load centered on criminal justice and psychology classes. Other classes that help prepare students for the field of forensic psychology include: cognitive, clinical, criminal investigative, social, and developmental psychology.

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Private Investigator
Private detectives and investigators employ various methods to decide the facts in numerous situations. Different kinds of searches and surveillance are used in investigation procedures. Personal interviews are used to collect information in cases that include background checks and missing persons. Private detectives and investigators provide businesses, attorneys, and the public with various personal, financial, and legal help.

A wide variety of services are offered by private detectives and investigators. The majority of detectives and investigators have received training in physical surveillance. Specific clients determine the responsibilities of private detectives and investigators.

Private detectives and investigators commonly work in specialty areas. Those who specialize in developing asset searches and financial profiles gather information through research of public documents, interviews, surveillance, and investigation. Investigators specializing in intellectual property theft give intelligence reports for civil action and prosecution, investigate and record piracy acts, and assist clients in stopping the illegal activity.

Legal investigators are typically hired by lawyers or law firms to work on court cases. They often help interview potential witnesses and police, find witnesses, arrange criminal defenses, collect and review evidence, and serve legal documents. Other tasks performed by legal investigators include testifying in court, compiling information on parties to the litigation, gathering evidence and reports for trials, and taking photographs.

Corporate investigators are employed by various corporations or investigative firms to carry out external and internal investigations.

Financial investigators are often employed to create financial confidential profiles of companies or individuals who may be currently involved in large financial transactions. These investigators are usually Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs, that work directly with accountants and investment bankers.

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Private Security
Private security is a fast growing career area with various opportunities for employment. Private security guards provide protection to individuals and private businesses. Security guards may personally monitor the events taking place in a particular area or use a wide assortment of electronic surveillance devices in order to insure the safety and security of individuals, property, and businesses.

The educational background and other qualifying characteristics required of private security personnel vary considerably. Topics covered during security training consist of instruction in the areas of crisis deterrence, protection, weaponry, report writing, use of electronic surveillance devices, and public relations.

The skills necessary to be a successful security guard are comparable to those needed by a police officer. Superior judgment, a willingness to adjust to the personality of the client, good vision, and first-rate communication skills are all very important. For certain types of security jobs, an ability to work alone, and to understand and operate surveillance systems, computers, and photography equipment, is also required.

Future opportunities for private security officers are estimated to remain plentiful. It is expected that the present security expenditures which are currently about 1.7 times that of law enforcement will increase to about 2.4 times that of law enforcement over the next 10 years. Over the next five years, it is anticipated that the number of private security companies will more than double. For those hoping to enter the field, opportunities appear very promising.

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Forensic Science
Forensic scientists help solve crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence and other facts found at the scene. They specifically analyze fingerprints, blood, semen, firearms, saliva, and drugs, and may also reconstruct skeletal bones. In addition, forensic scientists write reports, preserve evidence, testify in court, and discuss evidence collection with attorneys and law enforcement personnel. Often times, the scientific breakdown of evidence is crucial in determining an accused person’s guilt or innocence in a crime. Therefore, the role of forensic scientists is vital to the criminal justice process.

A four-year degree in physics, biology, microbiology, chemistry, medical technology, or genetics, is required in order to obtain an entry-level job in forensic science. Taking classes in law and communication can also be helpful. In addition, experience in a laboratory may be required by some crime labs.

The field of Forensics requires scientists to work with a wide assortment of people, in situations that are often stressful. Because of this, it is crucial that people working in this profession have exceptional “people” skills. It is also important for forensic scientists to be good speakers and proficient writers as they will be required to write a number of reports and may be called as a witness in court. Lastly, because forensic scientists must be to handle minute pieces of evidence while looking through a microscope, excellent hand-eye coordination is essential.

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