Last updated on November 21st, 2023 at 06:35 pm

Dr. Camm Lounsbury

Associate Provost

Director of Criminal Justice

Jobs in criminal justice have obviously been around a long, long while. From ancient Romans through today’s modern police force, every society and civilization has had an organization whose job is to maintain order. For many decades, police officers were only required to be citizens of the community in which they served. No specific education was required beyond a high school diploma and, perhaps, attendance of an agency-specific police academy.

As times have changed, particularly in the modern era, agencies have recognized the need for a better educated police force. In the 1980s in general, an associate’s degree in criminal justice was a good way to distinguish yourself from other candidates. That is, until a growing number of people began getting them. Then the standard became a criminal justice bachelor’s degree. But, for some reason, the criminal justice field did not keep pace with this thinking. In fact, about the only job in criminal justice that required a degree was being a lawyer (or judge). Even today, some small communities will hire or elect a local magistrate with no specific educational requirements.

Things are changing, however. Many larger agencies, particularly in metropolitan areas and the federal government, are requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry positions in law enforcement. What they have come to realize is the value of a college education specific to the field of criminal justice.

The first thing a university degree will show is that the candidate has the capacity to make and execute a plan toward a specific goal (getting the degree). But, during that journey, the individual learns about criminal law and how it relates to illegal activities. Your progression through a degree program will strengthen your critical thinking skills, which are an essential part of being an investigator. You learn how and why the law works the way it does and you’ll come to understand how and why some crimes have different levels and receive different punishments.

Another reason for getting a degree, especially in criminal justice, is the chance to improve your writing skills. Any career field can point to writing skills as an important element. However, in criminal justice, your ability to not only tell your story but to write it effectively can often mean the difference between getting a conviction and losing a perpetrator.

One of the most important reasons, though, is especially critical in our challenging times. Having a college degree provides (or should provide) you with a sense of professionalism. When so many people are so widely divided in their perception of police, and the criminal justice system in general, it is more important now than ever before to induce professionalism in our police forces. The ability to communicate effectively with the public. The ability to evaluate situations calmly and resolve them professionally. The crucial ability to build trust with the local community. All of these vital features can be enhanced by someone who has taken the time to closely study the field of criminal justice and become familiar with it in ways that can be better communicated to the citizens they serve.

When we consider the emerging threats to our society such as terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime and many others, it becomes apparent that the police officer of today and tomorrow will need to know much more than their predecessors did and be able to be more adaptable to changing situations and more responsive to an ever more diverse community.

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