Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in California

According to a November 2014 publication released by the Public Policy Institute of California, the violent crime rate in the state is at its lowest level in 47 years, thanks to increased policing and a highly refined criminal justice process that incorporates incarceration, probation, treatment and rehabilitation.

Each additional police officer on the street has been shown to reduce the violent crime rate by 1.3 percent and the property crime rate by 4.2 percent.

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Still, recent national data shows that California’s violent crime rate is still higher than the national average, ranking it 16th among all states. In 2013, 59 percent of violent crimes in California were aggravated assaults, while 35 percent were robberies, 5 percent were rapes, and 1 percent were homicides.

Crime rates in California vary dramatically by region. The lowest rate of violent crime and property crime in 2013 was in the Sierra region and the South Coast (Ventura, Orange, and San Diego Counties). The highest rate of property crime and violent crime was in the San Joaquin Valley.

From the police officers and sheriff’s deputies that combat crime, to the forensic scientists and crime scene investigators that support criminal investigations, to the correctional and probation officers that enforce sentences, dedicated professionals are key to the effectiveness of California’s criminal justice system.

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State and Local Law Enforcement Job Requirements in California

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the size of California’s law enforcement workforce is impressive: In 2012, there were 77,060 law enforcement officers in California, broken down as follows:

  • 48 percent were municipal police officers
  • 39 percent were county sheriff’s officers
  • 10 percent were with the California Highway Patrol

There were 28,838 police officers in Los Angeles County in 2012, accounting for almost 31 percent of all law enforcement officers in the State. During the same period, there were 236 officers per 100,000 residents, a bit higher than the national average of 235.

Police officers in California may work for county, city, or state agencies, and minimum requirements for employment are generally quite similar.

Job Requirements for State-level Law Enforcement Officers

California Highway Patrol officers work for the California Highway Patrol (CHP), which requires candidates to be between the ages of 20 and 35 and to possess a high school diploma or GED.

The CHP considers candidates who possess a degree (associate degree or higher) from an accredited college or university to be “highly desirableā€ candidates. The CHP also recognizes candidates who have completed college-level coursework that support the following competencies:

  • English
  • Reading and comprehension
  • Mathematics
  • Typing/computer skills

Other desirable qualities for candidates include being bilingual and being physically fit.

Job Requirements for City and County Law Enforcement Officers

Minimum requirements for law enforcement job candidates in California, whether at the county or city level, are usually quite similar. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, enforces these requirements for police officers candidates: U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, possessing a high school diploma or GED, and possessing a valid California driver’s license.

Although not always a requirement, candidates who possess a two- or four-year degree in a related field, such as criminal justice or police science, may be considered highly desirable candidates and may also rise in the ranks at a quicker pace.

Just a few of the police/sheriff’s departments where law enforcement officers in California may work include:

  • San Francisco Police Department
  • San Diego Police Department
  • San Jose Police Department
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
  • San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
  • Orange County Sheriff’s Department

Detective and Criminal Investigator Job Requirements in California

While law enforcement officers are responsible for patrolling the streets and responding to calls for police assistance, criminal investigators are responsible for handling the investigation of a criminal case. Criminal investigators, like police officers, generally work for state, county, or city law enforcement agencies within a criminal investigations division. Smaller police departments may have just a few criminal investigators, while larger departments may have many criminal investigators who work for different units within a multi-layered criminal investigation division.

Specialized criminal investigation units may include: cold cases, homicides, Internet crimes, and crimes against children, just to name a few.

The general route to becoming a criminal investigator is by first becoming a police officer. Most police departments require criminal investigators to put in a specific number of years before they can be eligible for promotion to investigations.

In addition to experience as a law enforcement officer, many police departments require criminal investigators to possess a college degree in areas such as crime scene investigations, forensic science, and criminal justice.

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State-Level Criminal Investigators and Detectives – Criminal investigators for the California Highway Patrol must first work as a CHP officer four 4 years before they can be promoted to a detective position. Detectives for the CHP conduct specialized or follow-up investigative work. Their assignments may include:

  • Undercover narcotics
  • Juvenile crimes investigator
  • Family violence
  • Internal affairs
  • Robbery
  • Homicide
  • Traffic accident

Criminal investigators at the state level may also work for the California Bureau of Investigation, which is responsible for providing investigative services to assist local, state, and federal agencies regarding major criminal investigations throughout the State of California. Specialized services include:

  • Criminal profiling
  • Polygraph examinations
  • Sexual predator tracking
  • High-tech crime investigations
  • Violent crime investigations

City and County Criminal Investigator and Detective Requirements – The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is representative of many of the local police departments in California regarding criminal investigator job requirements, as it requires candidates work as patrol officers for at least a few years before they can apply for specialized positions, such as criminal investigations.

Other city/county criminal investigation divisions found in California include:

  • Pasadena Police Department, Criminal Investigation Division
  • Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Richmond Police Department, Investigative Services Division

State and Local Correctional Officer Job Requirements in California

The Public Policy Institute of California recently released the following statistics about the State’s correctional system:

  • Between 1980 and 2006, the adult prison population increased more than sevenfold. The number of prisons also increased during this period, from 12 to 33.
  • Spending on corrections rose from 2.9 percent of the State’s General Fund in 1980 to nearly 11 percent in FY2010.
  • During the same time period, however, felony crime rates dropped by 52 percent, sparking a debate about whether mass incarceration has been an effective remedy or a costly response.
  • Realignment has reduced the State prison population from 144,500 to119,900 between 2012 and 2014.
  • Violent offenders continue to be a growing majority of the prison population in California.

At the county level, all of California’s 58 counties, with the exception of Alpine County, have their own jail facilities. At the state level, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation oversees 35 correctional facilities, such as:

  • California City Correctional Facility, California City
  • California Institute for Women, Corona
  • Folsom State Prison, Represa
  • Kern Valley State Prison, Delano
  • San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin

The minimum requirements to become a correctional officer, whether at the state or local level, are usually quite similar. Candidates must typically be at least 18 years old, must possess a high school diploma/GED, must possess a valid driver’s license, and must be a U.S. citizen.

A degree in an area such as criminal justice or police science, although generally not required for employment, often provides correctional officers with more professional opportunities down the road. A comprehensive program is also designed to prepare correctional officers for the rigors of working in California’s criminal justice system.

Crime Scene Investigator and Forensic Science Job Requirements in California

Crime scene investigators are responsible for ensuring that all evidence from a crime scene is collected and preserved, while forensic science technicians and forensic scientists take the collected evidence and analyze it in a laboratory setting. Because of the highly technical nature of these professions and because of the quickly advancing field of forensic science, college degrees are virtually always required for employment.

As such, individuals who want to work as crime scene investigators or forensic scientists are best served by pursuing an associate or bachelor degree in the natural sciences or in an area such as forensic science and investigative forensics.

At the state level, forensic scientists work for the Bureau of Forensic Services, the scientific arm of the Attorney General’s Office. It currently operates the largest working DNA databank in the U.S., processing more than 200,000 DNA samples.

The Bureau has 10 regional laboratories throughout the State, including Chico, Eureka, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Riverside, and Sacramento.

Most police departments at the city and county level employ crime scene investigators, and a number of larger departments, such as the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department, have their own crime laboratories and therefore their own forensic scientists on payroll.

Legal Support Job Requirements in California

The State Bar of California reports 184,397 actively practicing attorneys in California which, of course, spells opportunity for individuals seeking legal support careers here. Paralegals, also often referred to as legal assistants, are responsible for supporting and assisting attorneys by researching, interviewing, and creating reports, among others.

Paralegals typically complete a certificate program or an associate or bachelor degree program to prepare for a career in one of California’s law firms. It is quite common for employers to seek paralegals who have completed a formal course of study in paralegal studies or who possess national certification from one of the nation’s accrediting bodies:

  • National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations
  • National Association for Legal Professionals

Paralegals may work for private law firms, corporations, or non-profit organizations. Just a few of the State’s largest law firms include:

  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles
  • Munger, Tolles & Olsen, LLP, Los Angeles
  • Morrison & Forrester, LLP, San Francisco
  • Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, & Rosati, Palo Alto
  • Knobbe, Martens, Olsen & Bear LLP, Irvine

Federal Criminal Justice Job Requirements in California

Federal jobs are in abundance in California, particularly in the criminal justice field. The majority of criminal justice professionals are hired at the GS-5 or GS-6 level, which requires candidates to be between the ages of 21 and 36; be a United States citizen; and have a clear felony record.

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Further, candidates must either possess a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or relevant experience.

Some of the federal criminal justice agencies operating in California include:

  • United States Park Police
    • San Francisco Field Office
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
    • Atwater USP
    • Dublin FCI
    • Herlong FCI
    • Lompoc FCC
    • Long Beach RRM
    • Los Angeles MDC
    • Mendota FCI
    • Sacramento RRM
    • San Diego MCC
    • Taft CI
    • Terminal Island FCI
    • Victorville FCC
    • Western RO
  • Federal Protective Service/Homeland Security
    • Regional office, San Francisco
  • United States Secret Service, field offices:
    • Fresno
    • Los Angeles
    • Riverside
    • Sacramento
    • San Diego
    • San Francisco
    • San Jose
    • Santa Ana
    • Ventura
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, field offices:
    • Los Angeles
    • San Francisco
    • Sacramento
    • San Diego
  • United States Custom and Border Protection, ports of entry:
    • San Diego
    • San Francisco
    • Los Angeles
  • United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, field offices:
    • San Francisco
    • Los Angeles
    • San Diego

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