Criminologists are one of the most important elements in the law enforcement profession. If you think you have what it takes to be one, careers are expected to be on the rise and sharp thinkers with the right training are needed to fill them.

Society may be changing in a lot of ways, but legal work and criminal justice careers are just as important as ever. Criminologists are among the more scientifically oriented justice professions, studying patterns of criminal behavior in order to help law enforcement agencies better understand crime and work more effectively to decrease it.

The day-to-day duties of individual criminologists can depend on the focus of their training and the circumstances of their position, but there are some general responsibilities shared by many members of the profession:

  • Using surveys, interviews, observations and other methods to gather data
  • Analyzing data to draw conclusions, uncover patterns and develop theories
  • Designing research projects to probe deeper into the results of analysis
  • Reading and evaluating any recent and relevant peer-reviewed work
  • Consulting with criminal justice professionals at multiple professional levels

Depending on the type of research conducted, some careers in criminology may also include an advisory role to elected officials and other policymakers. Certain schools for criminal justice may have special programs of study designed to prepare students for a public policy or administration-oriented criminologist career.

How Much do Criminologists Make?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the occupational category associated with careers in criminology reported a median annual salary of $72,810 in 2014, with the top 10 percent of earners taking home more than $127,890 and the bottom quartile earning up to $53,650 for the year.

Different geographical regions reported different salary expectations, as well; here are the four states that paid the highest mean salaries for sociologist (including criminologist) careers in 2014:

  1. New Jersey: $104,620
  2. Pennsylvania: $98,840
  3. Virginia: $93,440
  4. Massachusetts: $91,070

The BLS also reports that a few U.S. metropolitan areas showed even higher salary averages than the top-paying state during the survey year. Pittsburgh, PA, and Washington, D.C., reported mean annual salaries of $112,640 and $112,740 respectively in 2014.

Occupational Requirements and Job Types for Criminologist Careers

As with most research professions, criminologist careers typically require at least a master's degree in criminal justice, public policy, sociology or a similar discipline. Positions that involve independent research or directing teams of assistants tend to require a Ph.D. or other post-graduate professional degree.

According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), 52 percent of those employed in the occupational category affiliated with careers in criminology hold degrees at the doctoral level, while 28 percent have master's degrees. Approximately 10 percent of those surveyed held bachelor's degrees, which can be common credentials among criminology students who take jobs as assistants or aides in the field as they work toward completing their graduate education.

Many criminology degree programs include some practical experience along with their academic work, but employers may prefer candidates who have workforce experience in the criminal justice field to complement their formal theory and research training. Here are the five industries that employed the most criminologists in 2014, according to BLS data:

  1. Scientific research and development services
  2. Colleges, universities and professional schools
  3. Local governments
  4. State governments
  5. Social advocacy organizations

Consulting services firms also house a small but significant percentage of criminologist careers. Most criminologists do the bulk of their work in an office setting — analyzing research, reading reports or preparing presentations — but some time may be spent conducting interviews or gathering data in the field.

O*NET recommends that aspiring criminologists have a strong predisposition to analytical thinking, self-directed motivation to investigate theories and ideas and well-developed skills of pattern recognition and interpretation. Reading comprehension and written communication are almost always prominent aspects of the job, and experience designing experiments and conducting statistical analyses is highly valued.

What's the Job Outlook Like for Criminologists?

Overall career growth for sociological professions should be strong over the next several years. The BLS expects a 15 percent increase in opportunity for careers in criminology between 2012 and 2022, which should lead to the creation of around 400 new positions in the field. Projections show some areas of the country seeing even greater employment growth than the national average, including the following top four:

  1. North Carolina: 33 percent growth
  2. Florida: 21 percent growth
  3. Texas: 18 percent growth
  4. Massachusetts: 17 percent growth

Perhaps even more encouraging for a prospective criminologist, careers in Washington, D.C. — which paid the highest mean salary for the occupation in 2014 — are projected to increase by nearly 100 positions. Our nation's capital may fall short of the list of top-growth areas by percentage, but it's only because demand for criminologists is already so high inside the Beltway. Regional gains of nearly 100 jobs — the largest raw numerical increase in the country — only translate to growth of around 14 percent.

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