Whether you’re moved by a sense of duty, or just have an interest in the field, it takes a certain type of person to work in criminal justice. There are several criteria you need to meet, no matter what role you want to fill. After all, criminal justice includes far more jobs than working as either a police officer or detective.
Even if you have the best of intentions, some people are simply not cut out for the job, and may either have a hard time in their positions, or not be able to stay motivated enough to complete their formation. In this article, we’re going to go over some of the main traits necessary to succeed in criminal justice so you’ll know if it’s truly a fit for you.
Regardless of what job in criminal justice you want to do, patience is always a requirement. It isn’t simply a matter of waiting for someone to confess or calm down to the point they can tell their story. Watching and waiting is often better than trying to push someone into doing what you want or expect them to do.
Integrity is essential to the criminal justice system. We cannot tolerate corrupt police or dishonest criminal justice professionals. Integrity doesn’t just mean you’re working on the correct side of the law. It requires setting aside your bias or personal beliefs to be fair to those you’re working with. Having integrity allows you to:
- Have a good relationship with clients
- Prove your commitment to the field
- Improve relationships with coworkers
- Build public trust towards criminal justice professionals in general
- Reinforce law and order
Empathy is valuable in criminal justice as well, but if you lack integrity, people won’t think that you’re genuinely concerned about them.
Courage is essential no matter what role you fill in criminal justice. This trait is even more important if you’re working day in and day out on the front lines, protecting the public. This category includes special agents, police officers, criminologists, corrections managers and security managers. It is necessary to get your voice heard, such as when you’re advocating for a counseling client.
A Willingness to Learn
If you want to work in criminal justice, you should be naturally curious and eager to engage in continual learning. You should also seek to have the most well rounded education possible when getting started.
You might want to specialize later if you want to work in specialist positions, and you’ll also learn a lot of things while working on the job. This includes new technologies, new procedures and the newest rules and regulations to be followed.
If you want to get started, one option you could consider is earning a degree in criminology and policing. Fortunately, you can earn your degree online from many schools. Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, has an honours BA in criminology and policing that will give you a broader view of the public safety sector. Wilfrid Laurier University’s criminology program does not require you to have prior law enforcement experience either. You only need a secondary school diploma with a mid-70s average.
Communication skills are a necessity for those who want to work in criminal justice. You have to be able to communicate with whomever you are facing, be it a client, a criminal, a witness or a co-worker.
When you’re documenting what you’ve seen or been told, you must take care not to leave out any important details while leaving out your emotional biases. This is especially important if you end up working as a police officer. Poor wording could literally ruin your case, or even put you in trouble.
“When you write reports, specific wording could make all the difference,” says retired lieutenant Robert McKenna. “Using the wrong words could make the difference between a report being usable in court or something getting thrown out. You not only have to be exact, but also have to understand how certain laws might impact your reports.”
Another reason why having good communication skills as an officer is important is that it can play a crucial role in helping you build a rapport with the community. “Good communication skills allow officers to build a better relationship with members of the community, other officers, as well as people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures,” says Justice Studies program director Eileen Carlin.
Communication goes both ways, and that’s why people who work in criminal justice also have to be good active listeners. This is also a skill that is crucial in law enforcement.
“Officers who know how to ask the right questions and listen with a true sense of curiosity are usually the ones who get the best results,” says McKenna. He also added that it is crucial if officers want to make communities feel like they truly care about them. When they do feel cared for, they are much more likely to cooperate, and be willing to divulge information that will allow the department to get to the bottom of issues.
Having good negotiation skills is also important if you’re thinking of working in law enforcement. It will come in handy when it comes to interrogations, or getting information from important witnesses on the scene. But more importantly, those with good negotiation skills are better able to de-escalate situations, and not have to use excessive force. Good negotiators:
- Are self aware
- Do not rush towards a resolution
- Are active listeners
- Are emotionally intelligent
- Are able to convey a sense of respect
- Are adaptable
- Are calm
Negotiation skills allow officers to have better control of large groups as well, which makes them better leaders. Negotiation skills are not only important in crisis situations, but when working with other agencies, different departments, or local government too.
If you want to work in criminal justice, evaluate your personality and abilities relative to those required to work in law enforcement. If you pass the test, know that your community desperately needs your help.