Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in Alabama

A new study released by ranked three Alabama cities among the most dangerous in the nation based on the number of violent crimes committed.

Bessemer, Alabama, has one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation, with residents here having a 1 in 47 chance of being a victim of a violent crime. Birmingham has a crime rate of 85 per 1,000 residents; and Gadsden residents have a 1 in 99 chance of being a victim of a violent crime at some point in their lives.

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Further, there were 342 homicides in Alabama in 2013, an increase of 5 percent from 2012.

Alabama’s criminal justice system depends on dedicated professionals at all levels – from state, city, and county law enforcement officers, to crime scene investigators and legal support professionals. Likewise, these dedicated professionals depend on the right kind of education to prepare them to effectively contribute to making Alabama a safe and secure place to live and work for all residents.

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Alabama Criminal Justice Careers in Law Enforcement

Alabama police officers and deputy sheriffs are the foundation of the criminal justice system in the State. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), which represents the consolidation of 12 state law enforcement agencies, reported the following law enforcement employment statistics in Alabama, as of 2013:

  • There were 377 law enforcement agencies in 2013 that employed nearly 18,000 law enforcement personnel.
  • There were 67 county sheriff’s offices in 2013, employing 5,378 sworn and civilian personnel.
  • There were 274 police departments in Alabama, which employed 9,757 sworn and civilian personnel.
  • There were 26 university police departments/campus security agencies in Alabama that employed 633 employees.
  • There were 10 other agencies in Alabama and 2 drug task force units, which employed a total of 1,811 law enforcement employees in 2013.

Police Department Job Requirements in Alabama

Local law enforcement agencies in Alabama generally require a basic set of requirements for law enforcement applicants, including being a U.S. citizen, possessing a driver’s license, holding a high school diploma or GED, and passing a criminal background check.

For example, both the Birmingham Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department require candidates to be at least 21 years old and possess a high school diploma or GED, though preference is shown to candidates with some post-secondary education related to the criminal justice field.

Some of the other largest police and sheriff’s departments in the State of Alabama include:

  • City of Montgomery Police Department
  • City of Mobile Police Department
  • Huntsville Police Department
  • Mobile County Sheriff’s Office
  • Madison County Sheriff’s Department

Detective Job Requirements in Alabama

Detectives are an important part of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and these law enforcement professionals may be part of specialized units, such as homicide units, major fraud units, and vice/narcotics units.

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It is commonplace for detectives, particularly in local police departments, to first work as police officers, and many departments require these professionals to first serve as police officers in the field for at least a few years before they can qualify. In Madison County, for example, detectives must have at least 4 years of experience as a law enforcement officer to qualify.

Basic requirements for local police department detectives include possessing a valid driver’s license, being a United State citizen, and having a clear criminal record.

For example, detectives in the Birmingham Police Department must be at least 21 years old, they must possess a valid Alabama driver’s license, and they must be able to successfully complete a rigorous selection process.

State Trooper Job Requirements in Alabama

The Alabama Department of Public Safety oversees the Highway Patrol Division, the state agency that employs Alabama’s state troopers. Within the Highway Patrol Division, Alabama state troopers may work in a number of capacities, such as:

  • K-9 unit
  • Aviation
  • Accident reconstruction
  • Tactical team operations
  • Special operations platoon
  • Marijuana eradication

Alabama state troopers must be at least 21 years old, possess a valid driver’s license in Alabama, possess a high school diploma or GED, be a United States citizen, have no felony convictions, and be willing to work anywhere in the State of Alabama.

Federal and State Criminal Investigator Job Requirements in Alabama

Alabama is home to a number of federal law enforcement agencies that work on cases involving the breach of federal law, or that otherwise cross state lines. These agencies also provide significant support to state and local law enforcement agencies. As of January 2015, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) will serve as a consolidated agency, consisting of the following law enforcement agencies:

  • Alabama Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Alabama Bureau of Investigation
  • Fusion Center
  • Criminal Justice Information enter
  • Marine Police
  • Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Enforcement
  • Department of Revenue Enforcement
  • Forestry Commission Investigations
  • Agricultural and Industry Investigations
  • Public Service Commission Enforcement
  • Office of Prosecution Service Computer Forensics

It is most common for criminal investigators at the state level to first work as Alabama State troopers for a number of years. In general, criminal investigators at the federal level must meet specific U.S. federal requirements, which include being between the ages of 21 and 37, being a U.S. citizen, and possessing a bachelor’s degree in an area of criminal investigations.

Alabama Criminal Justice Careers in Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation

The forensics and crime scene investigation (CSI) professionals in Alabama work with federal, state, and local agencies to gather evidence at crime scenes and process that evidence in a laboratory environment.

Forensic Scientist Job Requirements in Alabama

Forensic scientists provide forensic services for Alabama law enforcement agencies. Alabama’s Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS) completes about 60,000 forensic cases every year. The ADFS has laboratories throughout the state in:

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  • Auburn
  • Florence
  • Birmingham
  • Dothan
  • Mobile
  • Jacksonville
  • Tuscaloosa
  • Huntsville
  • Calera
  • Montgomery

Forensic science jobs in the ADFS include:

  • Medical examiner
  • Pathology specialist
  • Forensic scientist
  • Laboratory technician

The majority of forensic scientists in the ADFS possess, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree with a major course of study in chemistry, toxicology, pharmacology, medical technology, or the like.

CSI Job Requirements in Alabama

Crime scene investigators are required to identify and collect evidence for the purpose of crime scene investigations. These professionals generally work at the scene of the crime, ensuring that evidence is expertly collected.

Many agencies employing crime scene investigators require, at a minimum, a four-year degree in an area such as criminal justice or forensic science, although much of an investigator’s training often occurs on the job.

A number of Alabama agencies employ crime scene investigators, such as:

  • Alabama Bureau of Investigation
  • Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Crime Scene Unit
  • City of Mobile Police Department, Criminal Investigation Section
  • Hoover Police Department, CSI Unit
  • City of Montgomery Bureau of Forensic Science, Crime Scene Bureau

Correctional Officer Criminal Justice Careers in Alabama

Correctional officers are an important component of the criminal justice system in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Corrections alone has an average monthly population of more than 25,000 inmates in its state institutions and about 2,100 in its county institutions. About 3,000 correctional officers work throughout its many facilities.

State and Local Correctional Officer Job Requirements

Some of the largest correctional institutions in the State of Alabama include:

  • Limestone Correctional Facility, Harvest
  • Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer
  • Bibb Correctional Facility, Brent
  • Bullock Correctional Facility, Union Springs

Candidates for correctional office jobs with the Alabama Department of Corrections must be at least 19 years old, must have no felony or domestic violence convictions, must possess a high school diploma and a driver’s license, and must be in good health and physically fit.

Federal Correctional Officer Job Requirements

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operates a number of federal correctional facilities in Alabama, all of which require qualified correctional officers:

  • Aliceville FCI
  • Montgomery FPC
  • Montgomery RRM
  • Talladega FCI

To qualify as a federal correctional officer, candidates must be under the age of 37, they must be a U.S. citizen, and they must be able to pass a medical and physical examination and drug test.

Candidates must also meet the minimum requirements at the federal GS-5 level, which include either possessing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or at least 3 years of full-time experience equivalent to the GL-4 level.

Legal Support Careers in Alabama

Legal support professionals in Alabama, who are most often referred to as paralegals or legal assistants, serve the State’s legal professionals by preparing legal documents, conducting interviews, and performing research, among other tasks.

In addition to private attorneys and law firms, paralegals and legal assistants may work for non-profit organizations and corporations throughout Alabama. Just a few of Alabama’s largest law firms include:

  • Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Birmingham
  • Maynard, Cooper and Gale PC, Birmingham
  • Sirote & Permutt PC, Birmingham
  • Hand Arendall LLC, Mobile
  • Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne PC, Huntsville
  • Rosen Harwood PC, Tuscaloosa

Education for legal support professionals in Alabama is not set in stone, with paralegal programs often offered at the certificate, associate degree, and bachelor degree levels. Most employers seek legal support professionals who have completed a course of study that is recognized by the American Bar Association.

The standard among paralegals, not only in Alabama but throughout the country, is national certification, which is generally earned after working in the legal field for a number of years. National certification is offered through the following organizations:

  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
    • Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) for entry-level paralegals
    • Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) for advanced paralegals
  • National Association of Legal Assistants (Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification)

Degrees by State