What is a Criminologist?

After watching television shows about crime scene investigators, profilers and private investigators, many people are interested in learning more about criminal justice and criminology. Criminologists are professionals who work in the field of law enforcement and criminal justice, but they aren’t typically front-line crime scene investigators. Criminologists represent the academic and policy side of criminal justice and the law. According to the Princeton Review, Criminology is a “relatively modern science.” Criminology as a profession emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ordered studies of organized crime and drug use. Local and state law enforcement agencies also began researching crime in their areas. Often considered a specialty related to sociology, criminology is a rewarding and challenging career.

Educational Requirements

You can start working as a junior or assistant criminologist with a bachelor’s degree in criminology, sociology, psychology, or criminal justice. Higher level positions require a master’s degree, while criminologists who head government agencies or teach at colleges and universities usually have doctoral degrees. Research-focused criminologists must have a strong education in statistics and probability. A good grasp of psychology and strong writing ability are other areas where education helps to develop necessary skills.

Job Roles and Responsibilities

Criminologists are not day to day crime solvers. They work more in the area of policy and research. Some may work on research that helps to show why criminals commit certain crimes. Others may research if incarceration is effective. As an example, crime maps are a part of criminology and are used to help solve many different types of crimes, from burglaries to bank robberies. Common factors in human nature help criminologists to map out crime patterns and predict potential future crimes. Criminologists will conduct surveys and research interviews to uncover facts about crime. They compile statistical data and write research papers and articles. They also formulate policy recommendations for legislators and government agencies.

Job Types and Earning Potential

Criminologists begin at a junior or assistant level, working as part of a team that is supervised by a criminologist. As criminologists advance in their career, they eventually take charge of their own teams. The highest level of criminologists head departments at the local, state, or federal level. According to The Balance, the median salary for criminologists is about $72,000 a year. Entry-level positions pay about $40,000, while senior criminologists earn $120,000 a year. The field is expected to grow about 1% a year between now and 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Related Resource: What is a Probation Officer?

Most criminologists work for government agencies at the state, local, or federal level. They do not investigate crime scenes or solve individual crimes directly, although their research can help uncover patterns that help other law enforcement officials to put criminals behind bars. Instead, criminologists focus on research, helping to formulate policies in criminal justice and law enforcement. They blend psychology, sociology, and other fields of science to uncover hidden patterns. They need skills in math and statistics, and strong reading and writing abilities. They work as part of teams of researchers and also individually to advance understanding of human law-breaking behavior and crime prevention.