Law enforcement encompasses many different professions, any of which can be attained by graduating from a good criminal justice school. This is a general summary of the different paths in criminal justice you may consider pursuing. As you might guess, each type of career has a different work environment and area of specialty.
Border Patrol Agent: The US Border Patrol is a law-enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security that specializes in detecting and capturing people conducting illegal activities along the US borders — primarily the Mexican and Canadian borders and the Florida and Puerto Rico coastlines. Agents target illegal immigration, drug and weapons smuggling and terrorism.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): Notoriously secretive CIA agents gather foreign intelligence in order to aid in decisions on national security and foreign relations, including threats like nuclear weapons and illegal drugs. You don’t need a degree for clerical positions in this organization, but intelligence analysts and overseas agents often hold advanced degrees.
Crime Scene Investigation (CSI): Crime scene investigators gather evidence and perform analyses of crime scenes. Working with law enforcement, crime scene investigators find, package and send physical evidence to a lab for analysis, completing reports and testifying in court. Advanced knowledge of anatomy, physics and another science is helpful in this field, along with an education in criminal law and the legal process.
Criminologist: Criminologists, as their name suggests, study criminal behavior and laws, aiming to understand and explain the criminal mind in order to provide insight into the motivations and circumstances behind crimes and the effects that laws have on crime. Many criminologists conduct research as they teach at a college or university, and others are employed by federal and state agencies as advisors. Most criminologists have either a master’s degree or a PhD.
Detective: These non-uniform officers are accountable for in-depth investigation and fact-finding on legal cases. This is one of the most important areas of law enforcement, with detectives specializing in one field of the law, like homicide or narcotics. Detectives usually work on a case until an arrest is made, a conviction is reached or the case is dropped. Their duties can range from researching facts and witness background checks to surveilling suspects and participating in raids and arrests.
Federal Officers: The federal government has many types of criminal justice agencies, the principal one being the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). FBI officers investigate cases of federal law, that including organized crime, bank robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber crimes. They often conduct sensitive operations like as wire-taps, surveillance and undercover assignments. Other federal law enforcement organizations include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Marshals, which protect the American judicial system, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Another federal law enforcement organization, the Department of Homeland Security, uses officers in border security and immigration affairs, as well as in the U.S. Secret Service.
Fish and Game Wardens: Fish and game wardens work in the great outdoors, enforcing hunting, fishing and boating laws. Fish and game wardens take part in search and rescue operations, regulate and monitor boat traffic, react to complaints and accidents and assist in court proceedings for these areas.
Paralegal: Lawyers rely on these legal assistants to manage information for them, including preparing and drafting documents, interviewing clients, organizing notebooks for trial, assisting with research and writing legal briefs. Working closely with their lawyers, paralegals rely on intellect, listening skills and reasoning abilities to accurately and efficiently carry out the work required of them, as well as interpersonal skills to effectively interview clients.
Private Investigator: These professionals may be called upon by a variety of clients for a variety of reasons. Private investigators are often hired to gather information about a specific person, ranging from a simple background check to undercover surveillance or monitoring. PI’s use access to public records along with their own evidence gathered through photographs, video, visual surveillance and other means to track or investigate a person in cases involving infidelity, child support, fraud or other civil violations. Investigators are also hired by lawyers to uncover the details of a case, to help interview witnesses, and occasionally to help present the case in court.
Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff: These publicly elected officials work in a county jurisdiction and are especially important, as they may be the only law enforcement personnel in back country or unincorporated areas. The duties of a sheriff are similar to those of a city police officer, including patrol, investigation and the arrest and transport of detainees. Although in some areas these duties may be held by state or city police, the sheriff still maintains policing powers. Sheriffs’ duties also include county courts, where they might act as bailiff or have responsibilities like ensuring the protection of the jury, extraditing prisoners and enforcing court orders like warrants and money decrees.
State Police: Also known as state troopers and highway patrol, these police officers are the statewide highway and traffic authority. Working in every US state but Hawaii, the state police hand out traffic tickets, arrest law-breaking motorists and provide aid at the scenes of accidents, including first aid or directing the flow of traffic. State police may also be asked to assist other organizations, especially in sparsely populated areas with few local officers.
Uniformed Police Officer: This role includes a wide range of responsibilities in a variety of jurisdictions. Often the first groups of law enforcement to respond to the public, uniformed officers may begin investigations through their patrols or by responding to calls. In addition, these officers help the public by monitoring and controlling roadways, providing first aid and helping civilians with neighborhood peacekeeping. They may also be involved in specialized tasks such as firearms instruction or fingerprint and handwriting analysis, or they may be part of a horseback, motorcycle, bicycle or harbor patrol unit. Of course, all police work involves keeping detailed records, so in any field of police work, attention to detail is important.