Criminal Justice Career Salaries

Job Employment Median Salary
Police and Detectives 806,400 $61,600
Paralegals and Legal Assistants 279,500 $49,500
Correctional Officers and Bailiffs 474,800 $42,820
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists 91,700 $50,160
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors 94,900 $41,070
Forensic Science Technicians 14,400 $56,750
Fire Inspectors 14,100 $56,130
Private Detectives and Investigators 34,900 $48,190
Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers 1,102,500 $25,840
Information Security Analysts 82,900 $92,600
Lawyers 778,700 $118,160
Judges and Hearing Officers 44,800 $109,940
Did you know? While not all law enforcement agencies require some college education, it is becoming more commonplace due to several factors like increasing technology use in policing.

Although, many criminal justice majors go on to become police officers, criminal justice is a broad field with many possible career options and specialties.

Police Officer

Police officers or law enforcement officers are commonly employed by local law enforcement agencies and also federal agencies. Their main role is the enforcement of laws but they also provide safety and security for their communities. Strong writing skills are important as police officers frequently write reports that are reviewed in court by lawyers and judges. There are a wide range of positions for sworn officers aside from the commonly known assignments like patrol and homicide. In a large police agency like the LAPD, there can be over a hundred different job assignments including mounted unit, K-9 officer, community relations, dive team, and narcotics.

Police Quote: “It may sound trite, but ‘making a difference’ is very true when it comes to law enforcement. Few days will go by that an officer doesn’t have an impact on someone’s life in a positive way.” -Jan Strauss, Retired Police Chief

Police Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% growth in police officer employment over the next decade which is slower than the average occupation in the United States. Retirement by baby boomers in the near future will result in many positions opening up and the need for the next generation of leaders in the law enforcement field.

Recruiting qualified candidates to join their police agency is one of the top challenges of police supervisors. Local police agencies receive far fewer applications then they did a few decades ago. The Chicago Police Department saw applications drop from 25,000 in 1993 to just 1,900 in 2000.5 One reason for the decline in applicants is that many agencies now require some college or a bachelor’s degree which reduces the number of eligible candidates.

The minimum education requirement for all law enforcement agencies is a high school diploma. Some agencies require applicants to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. With high demand for police officers in some areas, many agencies will hire applicants without a degree. A degree is often required to advance to a higher rank such as sergeant, lieutenant, or captain. When there are many applicants for a small number of open positions, a degree will give an applicant an advantage.

Police Quote: “Although many departments only require a HS diploma, most applicants have bachelor’s degrees or at least associates (or the equivalent number of credits from a four year college).” – Jim Doherty, police officer and author with over 20 years of law enforcement experience

There are several reasons why hiring officers may give preference to applicants with a college degree.

  • College graduates have spent time developing their reading and writing skills.
  • Policing is a difficult job that requires officers to assess information quickly to make good decisions, a skill that college can help develop.
  • College graduates have experience interacting with different cultures and ethnic groups.

As a police officer gains experience they can be promoted to a first line supervisor position which has a median annual salary of $87,910 in the United States.

What are the requirements for police officer candidates?

Each local and federal law enforcement agency has their own requirements for applicants and some requirements are common throughout the country.

  • At least a high school diploma or GED.
  • At least 21 years old in most states.
  • No felony convictions.

Some agencies have an uncorrected vision requirement.

  • Scottsdale (AZ), Phoenix (AZ): Uncorrected acuity must be 20/200 or better if soft contact lenses are worn and 20/80 or better if glasses are worn.

Some agencies disallow tattoos that can be seen while wearing the uniform.

Residency Requirements for Police Officers

While it is not a common requirement, some local agencies require that officers live in the area where their department is located. The rationale for a residency requirement is that police officers will be more effective and responsive if they work in the community where their family lives. Some officers may prefer to live outside the area where they work because the housing is less expensive and they have more privacy.

What is the hiring process for a police officer?

  • 1. Submit Application
  • 2. Written Test
  • 3. Fitness Test
  • 4. Psychological Test
  • 5. Medical Test
  • 6. Polygraph Test
  • 7. Panel Interview

Although polygraph test results are not admissible as evidence in court in most states due to the questionable accuracy and reliability, most police agencies require candidates to take a polygraph test during the interview process. One reason for this is to encourage individuals to be honest during the interview.

Police Job Tasks

  • 1. Perform first-aid as first responders to accidents.
  • 2. Collect and process evidence.
  • 3. Testify in court.
  • 4. Assist distressed motorists.
  • 5. Issue citations or warnings for traffic violations.
  • 6. Make arrests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a college degree to become a police officer?

It depends on the requirements of the law enforcement agencies in your area. Many police departments require an associate’s degree or higher to be considered for an entry-level position. Other, police departments only require a high school diploma to be hired. As policing becomes more reliant and technology, expect to see more agencies increase their education requirements. For competitive positions with many applicants, a college degree can help your application to stand out against your peers without a college degree. Many police supervisors value higher education because it demonstrates qualities such as discipline and the ability to learn new concepts quickly.

What are the pros and cons of an online criminal justice degree?

Online degrees have been a source of some controversy due to concerns over quality and cost. Some colleges have used online degrees to increase profits at the expense of students, often resulting little or no improvement in career prospects and tens of thousands of dollars of debt that can not be removed even in bankruptcy. It is very important that students considering an online degree conduct diligent research on the program’s outcomes for students, proper accreditation, and the reputation of school by employers.

Read More: What are the highest paying careers in criminal justice? Check out this article: Highest Paying Criminal Justice Jobs

What are the top criminal justice programs in the country?

The following universities are known to provide the highest level of education in the field of criminal justice.

US News Best Online Criminal Justice Programs

1. Sam Houston State University
2. University of Nebraska–Omaha
3. University of California–Irvine
4. Boston University
5. Arizona State University
6. University of Oklahoma
7. Florida State University
8. Bowling Green State University
9. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
10. Michigan State University
11. University of Cincinnati
11. University of the Cumberlands
13. University of Colorado–Denver
14. Colorado State University–Global Campus
15. Columbia College
15. East Carolina University
15. National University
15. Pace University
15. Western Kentucky University
20. California University of Pennsylvania
20. Faulkner University
20. University of Louisville
20. University of Wisconsin–Platteville
24. University of New Haven
25. College of St. Elizabeth
26. Nova Southeastern University
27. California State University–San Bernardino
28. Colorado Technical University
29. Regis University
30. Florida International University
30. Lamar University
30. Monroe College
33. Jacksonville State University
33. University of North Texas
35. University of Alaska–Fairbanks
36. Wayne State University
37. Rowan University
38. Liberty University
39. Southeast Missouri State University
40. Fayetteville State University
41. Armstrong State University
41. University of Central Florida

Criminal Justice Degree Accreditation

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) is recognized as the main accreditation body in the United States for criminal justice degree programs. The ACJS has developed standards for associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in criminal justice. Programs that have been found to meet all ACJS standards receive ACJS certification.

Police Officer Career Resources

Quora: Jobs and Careers in Police and Law Enforcement

Fish and Game Wardens:

1. Community-Based Corrections by Leanne Alarid, Paul Cromwell, Rolando del Carmen (2007).
2. Introduction to Corrections by Robert D. Hanser (2016).
3. Ruffin, Frances E. Police Dogs. Bearport Publishing Company, Inc., 2017.
4. Johnston, Coy H. Careers in Criminal Justice. SAGE, 2019.
5. Schmalleger, Frank. Policing Today. Prentice Hall, 2010.

Photo credit: Nick Allen

Comments are closed.

Close Search Window