If you’ve ever set your mind to puzzling out what might drive an individual to commit a particular crime, then you’ve already taken a stab at what a criminologist does. Criminologists analyze data in search of patterns, looking for explanations of what causes a crime, who is more likely to commit that crime, and how best to prevent that type of crime in the future. When found, these patterns can be used by law enforcement agencies to predict and deter criminal behavior, and by policymakers to ensure that laws passed are fair and reasonable.
The findings of criminologists can also contribute to the rehabilitation of past criminals and to their successful reentry into society. A criminologist is in a sense a statistician, working with data and research, but there is far more to the job than mere statistical analysis. A good criminologist is essentially also a sociologist and a psychologist at the same time, able to understand and identify societal norms and their deviations as thoroughly as he or she does human behavior and motivations.
What Does A Criminologist Do On the Job?
Not all of what a criminologist does will be glamorous (or gruesome), although some of it certainly might be. A criminologist splits a good deal of his or her time between the lab and the office, analyzing data and then writing up reports. Much of the creativity and legwork come into play when the criminologist actually collects that data. Sometimes, the job description for a criminologist will include visiting the crime scene to collect and document data. A criminologist may sometimes be required to attend autopsies. Criminologists interview witnesses and victims to record whatever observations they can offer. They also interview suspects, comparing a suspect to others convicted of the same or similar crimes, and report back on whether that suspect fits the profile of a typical perpetrator.
Where Are Criminologists Employed?
Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are the primary places of employment for criminologists. These agencies might include local police divisions, state departments of corrections and parole, or the FBI. The typical criminologist will advance his or her career along the ladder of the agency at which they started. Even so, other career paths do exist for a criminologist looking for something outside of the traditional. These include private investigation agencies or private security firms, and even some financial institutions or major department stores that employ criminologists to protect their assets. To some extent, what a criminologist does on a day-to-day basis will depend on the place of employment.
Typically, a newly graduated criminologist will begin his or her career as a “junior” criminologist, who assists the agency’s more senior criminologists with data collection and report proofing. Losing the “junior” and earning the full title of criminologist generally takes about five years. The next promotion ahead is to “chief criminologist,” who oversees a team of staff and directs the projects of his or her subordinates.
Educational Requirements for a Criminologist
Some colleges and universities offer criminology degree tracks specifically designed for employment in this field, and these obviously would make a safe bet for students confident in their post-graduation goals. Degrees in criminal justice would also be suitable. However, the majority of criminologists are sociology and/or psychology majors, according to the Princeton Review. Regardless of their major, aspiring criminologists should work on developing their skills in researching, writing, computer science and statistical analysis.
A baccalaureate degree is typically sufficient for entry-level employment in the field, but many criminologists do eventually continue their studies to the master’s level.
Related Resource: 5 Duties of a Forensic Psychologist
Is A Career in Criminology Right for You?
If you’re equally attuned to both the big picture and the little details, able to switch back and forth from logic to creativity and back again with ease, you might be well-suited to a career in criminology. An interest in people and society, and in what makes both tick, should also be considered a necessity for this often challenging but always fascinating career. Ultimately, the overarching goal behind what a criminologist does on the job each day is to make society a safer, more just place for all of us.