Criminal Justice Career Guide

Remunerative salaries, a respectable benefits package and a challenging work environment make finding a career in law enforcement a personal goal for many of today’s job seekers. The United States Senate recently approved legislation calling for 40 billion dollar’s worth of additional spending to enhance border enforcement measures. If passed into law, these measures would nearly double the number of federal border agents to 40,000. In view of the present state of the domestic economy and the national unemployment picture, the prospects of working in public service by means of a career in law enforcement remains for many an attractive and achievable objective.

The general outlook for employment in the field of law enforcement appears to be mixed, but the demand for qualified police officers, detectives and administrators is expected to improve faster than the average for all occupations going forward. A society driven toward security-consciousness and concerns about domestic terrorism have made public safety and peace enforcement a priority. As always, the level of spending a government is comfortable with will influence the outlook for employment for law enforcement professionals. For this reason, the number of job opportunities in the field will vary according to the political climate within any region. The turnover rate in the police profession tends to mirror that of the most secure occupations, but layoffs are uncommon because early retirement programs permit local governments to process staffing cuts by way of attrition.

Occupational Functions of Law Enforcement Professionals

The following schedule outlines the job descriptions and duties typical for just a few of the professions available within state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies:

Uniformed Police Officers

Police or Patrol Officers typically enforce laws by responding to calls for service. They patrol assigned jurisdictions, participate in traffic stops, issue warnings and citations, apprehend criminal violators, prepare reports for court cases, and testify in open court.

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Investigator level law enforcement personnel operate in plain clothes and are typically assigned work on a rotating basis. They gather and protect evidence for use in criminal cases. They investigate possible crimes, conduct interviews of witnesses and probable suspects, and they participate in arrests and raids in connection with serious cases. Investigators and Detectives participate in the gathering and analysis of evidence for court cases, and they are required to testify in court when called.

Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff

Personnel in the Sheriff’s office work for the county and enforce county laws. The Sherriff’s department tends to be smaller than the average municipal police department. Sheriffs are commonly elected by the public and serve fixed terms. Some sheriffs’ departments perform the same work as urban police officers. Others primarily provide services to the local courts, and are responsible for county jailhouse operations. Sheriffs’ deputies that participate in security functions within city or county courts are commonly referred to as bailiffs.

Police Chief

The Chief of Police is a command position that is most often filled by political appointment. The Police Chief administers an entire police department. As such, he or she manages all the planning and budgeting for a department and handles the hiring and supervisory functions of it. The Chief works with civic officials such as the mayor and works with community leaders to maintain and improve the quality of life in the community through just and effective law enforcement. In most communities, the Chief of Police coordinates significant law enforcement investigations and communicates directly with the media to provide it with status updates on newsworthy cases.

State Police

State police officers are employees of the state and are sometimes referred to as state troopers or highway patrol officers. Their duties are very similar to city or municipal police personnel, but they often spend much of their time patrolling the interstate highways. State police personnel have the authority to operate anywhere within the state. State police personnel are hired in every state except Hawaii.

Corrections Officers

The Corrections Officer provides for the safety and security of people within the walls of our correctional facilities. Their job duties include guarding prisoners, maintaining good order within the facility, conducting searches of people convicted of a crime, breaking up disturbances, and responding to riots and hostage situations. The Corrections Officer position is a highly critical one. They are responsible for the effective operation of this nation’s prisons.

Transit Police

Transit and railroad police provide security for railroad yards and transit facilities. Transit police protect people, property, rolling stock, and passengers from harm and damage caused by criminal activity. Transit police officers are relied upon to deter trespassers from gaining access to transit properties and they validate the identity of people who enter secure spaces.

Federal Law Enforcement Officers

Federal law enforcement personnel perform many of the same duties performed by other types of police personnel. The main difference is that their jurisdiction covers every state in the nation. Most federal agents undergo highly specialized training, and they can be tasked to perform duties that require travel far from home.

Conservation Officers

State and federal Conservation Officers enforce our nation’s fishing, hunting, and boating laws and are sometimes called Fish and Game Wardens. It is an ideal career for people who truly love the outdoors. The duty of the Conservation Officer includes patrolling hunting and fishing grounds, participation in search and rescue operations, and the investigation of incidents, accidents and complaints relating to the environment or other suspicious activity occurring on federal or state lands. Conservation Officers carry weapons and serve the public by helping to make hunting and fishing safe and humane.

Typical Career Path for Law Enforcement Professionals

People choose a career in law enforcement for different reasons, but when asked, many point to the opportunity to help people as their main motivating factor. Job security, a decent salary, prestige, an opportunity for early retirement, and work that is exciting and fulfilling are other reasons that the general public give for seeking employment in law enforcement. The career path of a citizen who wants to go into police work should begin with the decision to seek a formal education befitting the job that the citizen aspires to. To begin with, a candidate should consider obtaining a two-to-four year criminal justice or law enforcement degree before applying for their desired position. This should be followed up with a law enforcement certification course, or alternatively, a certificate demonstrating evidence of satisfaction of some form of military reciprocity requirement.

Candidates for police work need to pass a general background check, a drug screening test, a physical abilities test and undergo a psychological evaluation. Once all of this is completed, the applicant can expect to enroll and attend police academy training and pass some form of Police Officer Selection Test (POST). Finally, the candidate will be required to undergo a medical examination and attend fire arms training classes. Applicants that already have some college credits in the police sciences, criminal law or possess some kind of military police experience have the best opportunity to be selected for service.

Online Resources for Job Seekers

Stories and discussions concerning police issues, job listings and insights into what it is like to work as a law enforcement officer can be found by perusing the below list of law enforcement related blogs and websites: provides career advice, and meaningful information about the law enforcement profession. is a repository of articles, and forum postings related to law enforcement. The general public is welcome. is a website whose disclosed mandate is “Saving the Lives of the People Who Save Lives”

The Police Mental Health blog serves to bring to light mental health issues of law enforcement professionals.

SGT Says is a personal blog related to public and private law enforcement. Here, the blogger shares his experiences gained from 35 years of police work.

Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc. is an organization that provides needed assistance in the process of rebuilding the lives of families affected law enforcement officers injured or killed in the line of duty.

Job Boards

Those looking for a new and exciting career in law enforcement including careers in academic criminology should consider these job listing sites: is a website that provides leads and information about law enforcement careers that require some form of security clearance.

Online Discussion Forums for Law Enforcement Personnel

Real Police Forum

Professional Law Enforcement Associations

National Association of Police Organizations This Association exists to stimulate mutual cooperation between all police officer organizations within the U.S. and nearby territories, commonwealths, and islands and to promote federal laws that are beneficial to law enforcement organizations that protect the citizens of the nation. The Association also aims to promote the social and professional advancement of active and retired law enforcement officers. provides law enforcement personnel legal defense and protection resources.

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences promotes research, education, and policy analysis related to the criminal justice system for the benefit of educators and law enforcement practitioners.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police is the professional voice of law enforcement. The IACP supports law enforcement leaders through advocacy and education.

The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest association of sworn law enforcement officers in the world.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, professional association that addresses issues of interest to federal law enforcement officers.

The National Sheriffs’ Association exists to encourage and promote fair and efficient administration of criminal justice throughout the United States.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators advances public safety issues within educational institutions by providing advocacy and educational and professional development resources to the campus public safety community.

Law Enforcement and Security Industry Conferences

Police Security Expo

American Correctional Association Annual Congress of Correction

National Leadership Forum – Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America

Professional Journals

THE JOURNAL OF LAW ENFORCEMENT The Journal publishes written material relevant to current law enforcement matters that touch on standards for written work, ethics in policing, officer safety, leadership and professional development, training and education, peer review policies, and spiritual care.

The Police Quarterly The Police Quarterly publishes theoretical contributions, empirical studies, debates, innovative program descriptions, critiques, comparative analyses, articles and essays, book reviews and other works related to issues of concern to those who do police work for a living.

Accreditation Agencies

The purpose of accreditation is to protect the integrity of public safety organizations by providing and maintaining a body of standards that ensures the effective delivery of public safety services through the administration of an accreditation processes that recognize and reward professional excellence in the field of police work.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.,

Online Databases

TLOxp® Online Investigative Sytems is the largest and most comprehensive database of public and proprietary records.

Law Enforcement Agencies

The Federal Bureau of Investigation

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

The Bureau of Justice Statistics

U.S. Marshals Service

State Troopers Directory

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Military Police of the United States

The Federal Air Marshal Service

Law Enforcement Societies

The Emerald Society is a fraternal organization that recognizes the professional contributions of first responders of Irish heritage. Members of the Emerald Society are found in most major U.S. cities.

Educational Resources

Police Futurists International The Society of Police Futurists International (PFI) seeks to improve criminal and social justice by enhancing the professionalism of police organizations.

Law Enforcement and Social Media on Twitter

Department of Homeland Security Twitter Account

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Twitter Account

Federal Bureau of Investigation Press Office on Twitter

Law Enforcement View Twitter Account

New York Police Department News Twitter Account

Boston Police on Twitter