What is a Criminologist?
A criminologist is a sociology expert who specializes in the study of criminal behavior, thought, and motive. Relying heavily on this subsection of sociologists to help profile, catch, and prosecute criminals, criminologists are vital to the criminal justice system.
While criminologists do work closely with law enforcement agencies, and oftentimes either side-by-side with detectives or as agents themselves, this does not necessarily mean that all criminologists are police officers. In fact, as there are so many roles to fill and different specializations to cover, most criminologists are technically not even considered to be criminal investigators.
What Does a Criminologist Do?
There are numerous different types of careers and specifications in criminology, and likewise, the day-to-day job duties of a criminologist greatly varies. For example, hands-on criminologists perform crime scene investigations and may even interview victims, witnesses, and/or suspects.
On the other hand, some criminologists work from behind the scenes in laboratories where they perform tests, process DNA samples, and/or conduct autopsies. However, there are job duties that nearly all criminologists have in common; e.g., researching, hypothesizing, and developing reports.
Investigate Crimes Scenes
Coordinating with law enforcement officers, detectives, and federal agents, some criminologists enjoy hands-on crime investigation. Their job duties may include inspecting crime scenes for physical evidence and applying their various sets of expertise to piece together those clues.
In cases of unexplained fatality or obvious murder, some criminologists conduct autopsies on the deceased in order to identify the exact cause of their death. Also commonly known as coroners, the job duties of these criminologists include approximating what time the victim died and reporting any additional physical evidence found inside or on the victim’s body.
Perhaps the most important job duty of a criminologist is performing research to understand why people commit crimes. Numerous factors can drive a person towards criminal thought and behavior, most of which are known to be emotional and psychological. However, through science and technological advancement, criminologists can now study how an individual’s biological and genetic makeup may impact them as well. They also research demographic and environmental influences such as social position, level of education, economic status, and the quality of a criminal’s childhood, home life, and their familial and personal relationships
Hypothesize and Profile
Criminologists can specialize in a wide variety of criminal theory such as trends amongst juvenile delinquents, drug trafficking and substance abuse, and forensic investigation. Performing statistical analyses on data obtained during research, criminologists hypothesize better techniques for predicting and preventing crime and bringing the individuals who commit them to justice.
Criminologists known as profilers are so proficient at tracking down criminals that they are recruited by the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies. Using evidence pulled from victims and crime scenes, these criminologists develop unbelievably accurate profiles that usually include psychological tendencies and demographic details of suspects; i.e., their age, race, and sociological background.
Regardless of his or her specialization, it is important that a criminologist documents all of their research, results, and theories. The reports developed by those who work with law enforcement to catch criminals is especially crucial because that information will be used by other criminologists to determine demographics, perform statistical analyses, identify common trends, and ultimately, solve future crimes similar in nature.
What are the Working Conditions of a Criminologist?
Just as the day-to-day duties of a criminologist can widely vary depending upon their specific concentration within the field, their working conditions and work settings differ, too. Those employed by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are typically expected to be on-call for 24 to 48 hours at a time in case a crime is committed and their immediate assistance is needed.
Criminal cases are less likely to be solved every hour that physical evidence sits unexamined and every question remains unanswered. Therefore, when actively working an ongoing investigation, criminologists will often work as long as they can each day.
The work environment of criminologists also differ based upon their specific role. For example, some commute between their agency, crime scenes, and any other location where there may be pertinent information. These investigative criminologists may have a comfortable office to return to at the end of the day, but much of their work is performed outdoors.
There are, however, those who enjoy the working conditions of a more traditional workday. Typically employed at universities and other types of research-oriented organizations, these criminologists work in comfortable climate-controlled settings processing and analyzing data in laboratories, performing administrative work in an office environment, teaching collegiate-level sociology, psychology, and criminology courses in university classrooms.
Why are Criminologists Important?
Securing the rights and liberties of the individual, ensuring that society thrives and prospers, and improving the human experience for all, criminologists are important for more reasons than what can be detailed in a single article. They assist law enforcement in solving crimes and removing dangerous individuals from the community.
For victims and their families in pursuit of justice, criminologists are imperative to their process of closure and moving forward. Furthermore, the research they perform has been instrumental in helping criminals change their lives, correct their thinking and behavior, and eventually reintegrate into society to become productive community members.
What are the Careers in Criminology?
Because criminology is made up of so many other different areas of study, e.g., psychology, sociology, law, criminal justice, and more, the field offers a wide variety of career options. Below are some examples of those careers; however, this list in incomplete as there may be many more not considered here.
Social and Human Service Assistant
Social and human service assistants, also known as case managers and correctional counselors, help people of different ages, backgrounds, and needs manage their problems and overcome life’s obstacles. They may specialize in working with the disabled or the elderly, people with criminal records, families and children, the homeless, or individuals who struggle with mental illnesses and/or addiction.
Corrections officers work in local and county jails supervising incarcerated individuals after arrest and as they await trial. They also work in state and federal prisons supervising prisoners as they serve out their sentences.
Criminal Investigator and Detective
A criminal investigator/detective works for state police departments and federal agencies conducting surveillance on criminal suspects, providing court testimonies, and using evidence to solve crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice.
Crime Scene Investigator
After a crime has been committed, crime scene investigators visit the location where the act occurred to gather physical evidence to help law enforcement identify the perpetrator, secure their conviction, and bring him or her to justice.
A forensic psychologist specializes in understanding criminal thought, behavior, and motive and assists investigators and other law enforcement officials in catching criminals. They also use their expertise to help rehabilitate criminals and reduce overall rates of crime.
Forensic scientists work in laboratories where they receive and analyze various physical evidences collected from crime scenes such as fabric fibers, fingerprints, blood, and other sources of DNA.
Probation officers are police officers who perform job duties associated with social workers. Typically working with first-time, nonviolent offenders, probation officers supervise these individuals to ensure that they follow through and complete the terms of their probation.
After individuals have served out a prison sentence, and who more often than not were convicted of a violent crime, parole officers assist with their release back into society. By making visits to their homes, places of employment, and administering regular drug tests, parole officers help to ensure parolees do not fall back into bad habits or resume their criminal lifestyles.
A paralegal, also commonly referred to as a legal assistant, perform various administrative tasks for public and private attorneys as they counsel their clients and prepare for trial.
Sociologists typically work for academic institutions studying the multiple facets of modern society; such as, the relationships between civilian populations and their governments, dynamics amongst different religious groups, and the thoughts and behavior patterns of individuals within the greater context of society.
Loss Prevention Specialist
Loss prevention specialists observe customers while they shop in order to cut down on retail crimes such as theft and employee fraud.
What Do You Learn in a Criminologist Degree?
In a criminologist degree, everything you learn will revolve around the analysis of criminals. You will study why and how crimes are committed, how to assess crime scenes and evidences, and you will learn about the theories and tactics for tracking down and interrogating suspects, prosecuting and sentencing them for their crimes, and criminal rehabilitation. It should be understood, however, that the following list is not complete as there may be many more topics that students learn in a criminologist degree.
- Criminal Psychology and Sociology – Much of a criminologist degree is spent study psychology, sociology, and applying those fields to the study of criminal thinking and behavior.
- History of Crime and Development of Justice Systems – Aspiring criminologists learn about the history of crime and the ways in which those crimes contributed to the development of the modern justice system.
- Juvenile Offenders – In a criminologist degree, students are taught about juvenile offenders and the various techniques used to prevent adolescents from committing crimes and rehabilitating them if and when they do.
- Special Victims – Students will learn about special victims such as women, children, and victims of rape, molestation, and racially-motivated hate crimes.
- Forensic Investigation – Criminology students study modern forensic science to learn how it is used to solve crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.
- Overview of United States Criminal Justice – From law enforcement and correctional officers, to attorneys, judges, and court systems, aspiring criminologists are taught about the United States criminal justice system.
- Law and Criminal Prosecution – In a criminologist degree, students learn about criminal law, prosecution procedures, how court officials determine a defendant’s ability to stand trial, and the process for jury selection.
- The Psychology and Reliability of Eye Witnesses – Aspiring criminologists are taught about the psychological factors that affect the reliability of eye witnesses and their ability to recall events with accuracy.
- Research Methods in Criminology – As the primary duty of a criminologist is to perform research and run statistical analyses, students are taught about the various methods for conducting research, measuring results, mapping crimes, and translating data into useful literature.
- Public Disorder – In a criminologist degree, students study citizen protests and why, sometimes, simple political demonstrations and sporting event celebrations can result in violence and destruction of public and personal property.
- Cold Cases – Criminology students learn how investigators use DNA analysis and other modern technologies to solve cold cases and bring justice to victims when the perpetrator is already deceased.
What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Criminologist?
Perhaps the best way to describe an average workday of a career in criminology is to imagine solving one complex puzzle after another. However, the puzzles that criminologists must solve are not for mere fun and games. In fact, if not solved quickly and correctly, the consequences are serious, if not deadly.
Individuals with excellent puzzle solving skills are known to possess a high IQs; and likewise, the career of a criminologist is one that relies almost entirely on intelligence and intellectual ability. In other words, to become a criminologist is to also become an expert in criminal law, the justice system, psychology, sociology, math, statistics, and research.
In order to obtain such a wealth of knowledge, criminologist must pursue an extensive formal education, which can take anywhere from four to eight years of academic study and dedication. With a high school diploma or GED, aspiring criminologists must be accepted into a four-year degree program at a college or university. The specific major/s and concentration/s of their degree may vary depending on the particular career area of criminology that they plan to pursue, but most students choose to major in either criminal justice, psychology, or sociology.
For most, a bachelor’s degree is not enough. Aspiring criminologists should also earn a master’s in either psychology, sociology, criminology, or criminal justice. And more often than not, they will need further education. Many criminologists go on to earn their doctorate or Ph.D., especially those who wish to teach at a university and/or conduct and publish research.
What is an Online Criminology Degree?
An online criminology degree is one that can conveniently be earned right from home through web-based programming. Depending upon the specific area of criminology and the career path one hopes to pursue, the levels of an online criminology degree may vary from an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, all the way up to a doctorate or Ph.D.
Just like traditional degrees, online criminology degree programs teach students how to navigate the criminal justice system, conduct original research, and how to form theories based on the results of their own research and the work and research of others.
What Skills are Needed to be a Criminologist?
Being a criminologist requires a highly specific set of skills in addition to the wealth of knowledge procured through years of academic study. However, there are most likely many more qualities and skills that criminologists need not listed here.
- High Level of Moral Values and Integrity – To investigate crimes and ensure that the appropriate individual/s are brought to justice, criminologists must not judge or discriminate against suspects, their victims, or eye witnesses based on prejudices and other personally motivated biases.
- Keen Sense of Observation – Criminologists should possess a keen sense of observation and attention to fine detail in order to identify physical evidences and other clues that are far easier to overlook than they are spot.
- Big Picture Perspective and Human Insight – Professionals in this field must be able to recollect and integrate all the information that they have learned from numerous different fields of study. They must then cultivate and apply that insight to analyze individual human behaviors and form a big picture perspective of criminal events and motivation.
- Mental Stamina and Temperament – Day after day, criminologists spend hours looking into the darkest sides of human nature, which can cause emotional and psychological damage. They must have the mental stamina, strength, and temperament to handle repeated exposure to horrific and violent crime scene imagery.
- Physical Energy and Stamina – As crime evidence is often discovered outdoors, criminologists need plenty of physical energy and stamina so that the quality of their work is unaffected by tough outdoor terrain and harsh weather.
- Analytic and Puzzle-Solving Skills – Investigating a crime is much like solving a complex and multi-faceted puzzle, and in order to do so, criminologists need analytical skills and expertise.
- Social Astuteness and Understanding – Drawing meaningful conclusions from verbal and nonverbal behaviors, criminologists must be socially astute with both an innate and refined understanding of others.
- Written and Verbal Communication Skills – Criminologists need to have excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to ensure that law enforcement investigators, prosecutors, and other criminologists can clearly and accurately understand the complex details of their work and research.
- Intellectual Passion and Curiosity – A criminologist’s education is never complete, and it takes a nearly obsessive degree of intellectual passion and curiosity to always be in pursuit of new knowledge and continuously refine what they already know.
What Tools are Used by a Criminologist?
Listed below are some examples of the tools that criminologists use throughout their careers.
While investigating crime scenes, precautionary gear is used to protect both criminologists and the physical evidences they retrieve from contamination.
Criminologists wear protective jumpsuits, shoe covers, hair covers, breathing masks, and disposable gloves so that they may investigate crime scenes without exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals and toxins. Even in cases when hazardous materials are not present, precautionary gear is worn nevertheless to ensure all evidence is preserved and remains uncompromised.
Audio and Visual Recording
Criminologists use cameras and other recording equipment to document evidence for later review.
When interviewing victims, witnesses, and interrogating suspects, criminologists use audio and visual recording devices so they may study those interviews later alongside other criminal professionals. They also use cameras when walking through crime scenes so that after physical evidence has been removed from the site they can reexamine images of that evidence in the exact position it was originally discovered.
A mass spectrometer is a type of laboratory tool used by criminologists who specialize in forensic science. Mass spectrometers are tools of forensic science that are able to recognize unidentified materials and substances found within the smallest traces of physical evidence.
Criminologists use these high-tech instruments to determine the chemical makeup of drugs, identify residue from gun fire and other explosives, and isolate dyes in carpet and clothing fibers to pinpoint their location of manufacturing and purchase.
Criminologists use laboratory microscopes to examine microscopic details in evidence. The powerful microscopes used in crime laboratories provide criminologists with essential and often case-breaking information. The most common use of a lab microscope is magnifying the discharge markings on bullets to determine what type of gun the perpetrator used.
Laboratory Fume Hoods
Fume hoods are installed in laboratories as a protective measure against hazardous gasses. In order to protect themselves while examining dust particles, toxic substances, and other gasses and vapors, forensic science criminologists work behind an important shield known as a fume hood.
Fingerprint kits are used during crime scene investigations to obtain suspect prints off of everyday items. Available in different shades, hues, and even fluorescent features, these kits contain a special kind of fine powder that criminologists can modify to pull fingerprints off almost any non-porous material regardless of its surface color or texture.
Casting kits are crime scene tools that help criminologists identify the source/s of various types of marks and prints.
A casting kit is used to make and preserve impressions of footprints and tire marks found in dirt, mud, and even snow. They are also useful in pulling marks of damage from floors, walls, furniture, and other places with which a tools and/or weapon had made contact.
Criminologists use mathematics to help solve and prevent crimes. The mathematics used in statistics helps criminologists narrow down locations where wanted criminal suspects live, where they may be hiding, or where they may be headed next if actively on the run. This type of math is also useful in making predictions about where and when a perpetrator is most likely to strike again.
What are the Benefits of Being a Criminologist?
There are numerous benefits of being a criminologist, all of which revolves around the importance and incredible difference that their daily work can make in the lives of others.
- Thrill – Frequently known to be adrenaline junkies, criminologists love the thrill of conducting criminal surveillance, solving serious crimes, and tracking down dangerous criminals.
- Justice for Victims – As deeply empathetic individuals, criminologists sleep soundly at night knowing that they have helped to hold people accountable for their crimes, and helped the victims of those crime get the justice they deserve.
- Crime Prevention – The work of a criminologist does not begin only after a crime has been committed, they also work to prevent crime by helping individuals prone to such activity get the counseling and help that they need.
- Social Impact – From influencing law enforcement practices, criminal sentencing, and other aspects of the justice system, criminologists love the positive impact that all their hard work and dedication has on society.
- Intellectual Fulfillment – Because it takes a fairly high IQ to pursue a career in criminology, criminologists are deeply fulfilled by the intellectual challenges of their everyday work.
- Influential Networks – Criminologists enjoy networking and establishing meaningful relationships with their intellectual peers, professional colleagues, and other influential scholars.
- Endless Variety – These professionals love the endless variety of information, areas of specialization, and professional options and experiences that are unique to a career in criminology.
What is the Employment Outlook for Criminologists?
Due to the multitudes of criminology career paths, this article will focus primarily on criminal investigators and forensic scientists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that law enforcement officials and detectives can expect to see their employment opportunities increase 7-percent by 2026, which is currently the average rate of growth for all professions.
On the other hand, the job outlook for forensic scientists is projected to increase much faster by 2026 with an increase of 17-percent.
How Much Does a Criminologist Earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal investigators earned a 2017 median salary of $79,970, rounding out to approximately $38.45 per hour. However, it is unclear how much of the total sum was unaltered by overtime pay. That same year, forensic science experts earned about $20,000 less, pulling in a median of $57,850 or $27.81 per hour. However, the highest paid forensic science professionals saw their incomes reach almost six figures at $95,600.