Criminal Investigation Degree and Training Program Overviews
Degree programs in criminal justice often include education and training in criminal investigation techniques and methods. Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs prepare students for entry-level or advanced careers as a crime scene investigator, law enforcement officer or forensic specialist.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice
Students interested in a basic education in the science of criminal investigation can earn an associate's degree in criminal justice. These programs teach beginning techniques for criminal investigation and often include an overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. After completion of the program, students may continue their studies in a bachelor's degree program. Generally, only a high school diploma or GED are required for admission.
Courses in an associate's program provide an introduction to basic concepts, methods and procedures for criminal justice. Some schools offer concentrations in crime scene investigation, focusing the majority of studies in this field of interest. Some courses offered include:
- Evidentiary law and collection methods
- Forensic imaging and recording
- Crime scene preservation processes
- Interviewing and interrogation techniques
Associate's degree-holders are often qualified for entry-level positions in private and governmental agencies as counselors, clerks and support personnel. Those looking for a more independent career path may find employment as a private investigator, law enforcement official or security officer. Students that participate in internship opportunities within a program may formulate contacts for potential careers in police departments or courthouses.
Students with an associate's degree may find completion programs which require only two additional years to earn a bachelor's degree. Some master's programs may also allow applicants with only an associate's degree and some relevant experience. Licensure requirements for federal, state and private criminal investigation jobs vary, and students should check eligibility factors for their intended career. Professional credentials, such as Cyber Crime Investigation or Crime Scene Investigation certifications, are often an option that may advance a career or offer greater employment opportunities.
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
Some criminal justice bachelor programs offer a concentration in forensic and criminal investigation. These 4-year programs teach students proper investigation procedures and methods of crime scene and criminal profiling. Graduates are often prepared for many positions in the criminal justice field, including crime scene reconstructionist, forensic evidence specialist or private detective. These programs usually require standardized test scores and a high school diploma or GED prior to enrollment.
In addition to core courses, some criminal justice bachelor's programs also offer additional certificates in crime scene investigation, law enforcement and legal studies within the program. Major courses often combine mathematics, science, sociology and law to train students in the many facets of crime scene and criminal investigation. Some of the basic subjects covered include the following:
- Forensics and investigation processes
- Cyber crime and Internet security
- Historical crime scene case studies
- Witness and evidence processing
Popular Careers/Employment Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated more than 110,000 people worked in the public arena as detectives and investigators as of May 2009. The median salary was more than $60,000 annually, and the highest paid workers earned approximately $100,000 per year. Private investigative and security services employed over 45,000 people, with over 20% self-employed. The BLS anticipated a 22% increase in these positions and reported median annual wages of $42,110 in 2009 (www.bls.gov).
Master's Degree in Criminal Justice
Master's programs teach students advanced techniques in research and crime scene analysis. Intensive studies into the U.S. correctional and legal systems provide in-depth information into how criminal investigators influence courtroom proceedings. Most criminal justice master's degree programs offer the option of customizing the program to include specialized studies in crime scene investigation, juvenile corrections or criminal categories. Graduates of a master's program are often qualified to seek advanced management or supervisory positions.
Graduate courses teach students advanced methods for analyzing evidence and apprehending criminals. Practical application and independent research also provide students with hands-on learning, as well as employment contacts for after graduation. A few common subjects include:
- Ethical and legal evidentiary and witness procedures
- Documenting and analyzing crime scene patterns
- Investigation methods and techniques
- Public safety and information control
Students interested in furthering their education can continue on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice or several forensic science fields. Doctoral students invest considerable time in research projects and activities aimed at careers in academia or laboratory science. Those interested in staying within the field of criminal investigations may study blood analysis, forensic psychology or criminology.
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