Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in Arizona

Arizona’s criminal justice system has been challenged in recent years due to the meteoric population growth in this Western state. In fact, from 2000 to 2020, the population in Arizona increased by nearly 25 percent, from 5.1 million to 6.4 million residents.

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The National Institute of Corrections reported that between 2000 and 2010, the number of felony cases increased by nearly 38 percent, from 40,137 to 59,385. The crime rate in Arizona, as of 2011, was about 25 percent higher than the national average. Violent crime in Arizona is about 17 percent higher than the national average. Further, Arizona has an incarceration rate about 42 percent higher than the national average.

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Arizona’s criminal justice system currently has more than 480 agencies and related organizations. Careers in Arizona’s criminal justice system may range from law enforcement officers to criminal investigators and forensic scientists, with many of these professions experiencing large increases in employment, thanks to the population growth here.

Opportunities for Law Enforcement Careers in Arizona

Law enforcement officers in Arizona are called upon to patrol a specific geographic division within the department’s district. Their job also includes responding to the scene of an accident or crime, interviewing witnesses and suspects, arresting suspects, writing crime reports, and coordinating vehicular traffic, among others.

How to Become a Law Enforcement Officer at the Local Level

At the city and local level, it is quite common for individuals who want to become law enforcement officers to be at least 18 years old, to possess a driver’s license, to be a U.S. citizen, and to be free of any felony or domestic violence convictions.

For example, police officer recruits for the Phoenix Police Department must be at least 20.5 years old at the time of application and at least 21 years old before they complete the Academy. They must also be a United States citizen, have 20/20 corrected or uncorrected vision, have no DUI convictions, and have fewer than 8 driving violation points within the last 3 years, among others. A degree in police science or law enforcement is always beneficial.

Some of the other large city police and county sheriff’s departments in Arizona include:

  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
  • Pima County Sheriff’s Department
  • Tucson Police Department
  • Mesa Police Department
  • Tempe Police Department

How to Become a Law Enforcement Officer at the State Level

State law enforcement officers in Arizona work for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Highway Patrol Division (HPD). The Arizona State troopers of the HPD work to ensure the safe and expeditious use of the State’s highway transportation system. They also often provide assistance to both local and county law enforcement agencies. State troopers for the HPS work out of four patrol bureaus (North, South, Metro West, and Metro East), as well as the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Bureau and the Aviation Section.

The Metro East patrol bureau also administers many of the specialty units within the HPD, including the Canine District, the Motorcycle District, Drug Interdiction, and the DUI Enforcement Squad.

Candidates for Arizona state trooper jobs must meet specific requirements to be eligible for employment, such as:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen
  • Must be at least 21 years old (at the time of Academy graduation)
  • Must possess a high school diploma or GED
  • Must have no felony convictions
  • Must possess a valid Arizona’s driver license

Opportunities for Criminal Investigator/Detective Careers in Arizona

Criminal investigators/detectives are an important part of most law enforcement agencies in Arizona.

How to Become a Detective/Criminal Investigator at the Local Level

Although employment requirements vary from one department or agency to the next, most detectives first earn valuable experience by first working as law enforcement officers. Therefore, to become a detective, candidates must first generally become peace officers and working for a number of years.

For example, the Mesa Police Department has a three-year patrol requirement for its police officers who want to work in criminal investigations. Some departments also look for candidates who possess degrees in criminal justice, criminology, and the like.

Smaller police and sheriff’s departments in Arizona usually have a number of criminal investigators working all criminal cases, while larger departments typically have criminal investigation divisions that are organized into a number of units. For example, criminal investigators of the Mesa Police Department may work out of the following units:

  • Document crimes
  • Family violence unit
  • Homicide
  • Mesa’s Most Wanted
  • Organized crimes
  • Person crimes
  • Recovered property
  • Sex offender enforcement and tracking unit
  • Victim services unit

Just a few of the criminal investigation units in Arizona include:

  • Tucson Police Department, Central Investigations Division
  • Scottsdale Police Department, Investigative Services Bureau
  • Flagstaff Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Glendale Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Investigations
  • Pinal County, Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Investigations Bureau

How to Become a Detective/Criminal Investigator at the State Level

Criminal investigators in Arizona at the state level work for the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the Department of Public Safety. The CID provides investigative and specialized response services to the public and the criminal justice community in Arizona, including statewide criminal investigations, specialized enforcement activities, and high-risk tactical response that supports federal, state, tribal, and local criminal justice agencies.

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Some of the primary investigative responsibilities of the criminal investigators of the CID include:

  • Computer and financial crimes
  • Fugitive apprehension
  • Gangs
  • Human smuggling
  • Intelligence
  • Narcotic trafficking
  • Organized crime
  • Vehicle theft
  • Major criminal investigations
  • Sensitive special investigations

CID Criminal investigators must first become an Arizona state trooper and work for a number of years in this position before qualifying to work in criminal investigations.

Opportunities for Federal Criminal Justice Careers in Arizona

Individuals may work in both law enforcement and criminal investigations through federal agencies operating out of Arizona. Although there are different requirements for these jobs based on the level at which candidates are hired, most candidates must be between the ages of 21 and 37, they must be U.S. citizens, and they must usually possess a bachelor’s degree or relevant experience:

Tough immigration laws in Arizona and high levels of unauthorized immigrants continue to challenge the U.S. Border Patrol. However, 2010 statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI show that their efforts have decreased the number of illegal crossers and violent crime in the past several years.

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
    • Yuma Border Patrol Sector
      • Blythe Station
      • Yuma Station
      • Wellton Station
    • Tucson Border Patrol Sector
      • Nogales Station
      • Ajo Station
      • Tucson Station
      • Brian A. Terry Station
      • Sonoita Station
      • Douglas Station
      • Willcox Station
      • Casa Grande Station

Opportunities for Careers in Corrections in Arizona

There are 30 jail facilities throughout Arizona’s five counties, which house about 15,000 inmates. In November 2011, the Arizona Department of Corrections housed nearly 46,000 adults in 10 state facilities and another 6,300 in privately operated correctional facilities. During the same period, the Department employed about 10,238 employees.

There are state correctional facilities located throughout Arizona, including:

  • Douglas
  • Florence
  • Buckeye
  • Goodyear
  • Phoenix
  • Safford
  • Tucson
  • Golden Valley
  • Marana
  • Eloy
  • Winslow
  • San Luis

To work for the Arizona Department of Corrections as a correctional officer, candidates are required to be at least 21 years old, have no felony convictions, possess an Arizona driver’s license, and possess a high school diploma or GED, though preference to shown to candidates with an associate’s degree in corrections.

Opportunities for Paralegal Careers in Arizona

Paralegals—also commonly referred to as legal assistants—provide a great deal of support to the legal professionals working in Arizona. The work of paralegals often includes researching, interviewing witnesses, and creating reports for the lawyers they serve.

Because the paralegal profession in Arizona is not regulated, meaning that paralegals are not licensed or registered by the State, no state-mandated educational requirements exist. However, most paralegals pursue a formal certificate or degree program in paralegal studies and, further into their career, pursue national certification through a national certifying body, such as:

  • National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
  • The American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI)
  • The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)

Just a few of the largest law firms in Arizona where paralegals may find plentiful job opportunities include:

  • Snell & Wilmer LLP, Phoenix
  • Fennemore Craig PC, Phoenix
  • Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, Tempe
  • Gust Rosenfeld PC, Phoenix

Opportunities for Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigation Careers in Arizona

Both forensic scientists and crime scene investigators are skilled in the sciences. As such, individuals who want to pursue either of these professions typically complete bachelor degree or graduate degree programs in forensic science, criminology, genetics, and the like. Crime scene investigators are responsible for collecting and preserving the evidence found at the scene of a crime, while forensic scientists are responsible for analyzing the evidence in a laboratory environment.

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The largest forensic laboratory in Arizona is the Department of Public Safety’s Crime Lab within the Scientific Analysis Bureau. This bureau operates out of four regional crime laboratories:

  • Central Regional Crime Lab, Phoenix
  • Southern Regional Crime Lab, Tucson
  • Northern Regional Crime Lab, Flagstaff
  • Western Regional Crime Lab, Lake Havasu City

Crime scene investigators most commonly work through police departments. The Mesa, Phoenix, and Tucson Police Departments, for example, all have well-developed crime scene investigation units.

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