Law Enforcement Careers in Criminology

Law enforcement is the biggest single sector in the category of criminology careers. On top of that, law enforcement officers are the criminology professionals who have the most contact with the public. Not many of us have actually encountered a forensic scientist, and most of us aren't acquainted with a probation officer, but virtually every single person in the country has interacted with a police officer or a sheriff's deputy at one time or another. These brave men and women are the backbone of criminology; together, they constitute what has been described as the thin blue line between civilization and anarchy.

These jobs are dangerous; no one should be under any illusions about that. Every year, hundreds of law enforcement officers lose their lives in the line of duty. Some die at the hands of criminals, while others die in accidents. Every year, many others are seriously injured. It takes a special person, with the right mix of courage and poise, to perform these jobs and keep America safe. We're not just talking about city police officers and sheriff's deputies, either.

FBI agents are included in this category. So are U.S. marshals. Another job title many people forget about is border patrol agent. Secret service agents are another, albeit much smaller, group. Prison and jail guards, too, are considered law enforcement personnel, as are game wardens, park rangers, and campus police officers on colleges and universities.

These days, it usually requires a bachelor's degree or higher in order to qualify for these jobs. That isn't always the case. In some situations, an associate's degree will be sufficient.

There are often age requirements, too. Some police agencies won't hire anyone under twenty-five, wanting to make sure their officers possess sufficient maturity. On the other end of the scale, many agencies won't hire a person for law enforcement once they've reached forty, as they're moving into middle age and don't have many years of top physical condition left.

Every agency is different, of course. These guidelines apply in general, but always check with a specific agency to see if you meet their law enforcement officer standards.

Salaries vary by profession and by location. Experience, too, plays a big part in determining how much an officer is paid, as in most careers. As of this writing, the average annual salary for jail and prison guards is around $37,000.

That's the lowest end of the scale. On the highest end are FBI agents, who make over $82,000 a year on average. Probation officers average a little over $42,000, and police officers earn just over $47,000 on average. Again, these are broad figures, and there are many factors that affect pay: overtime, location, years of employment, and so on. As in any career, those who rise to supervisor or manager status will make substantially more. The Department of Labor says that job demand in this field should remain very high, and salaries should remain above average for the foreseeable future.

Last Updated: 06/03/2014

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