Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in Iowa

At least 8,112 violent crimes took place in Iowa in 2012 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The violent crime rates in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Davenport remained about the same between 2011 and 2012. In contrast, the crime rate in Cedar Falls decreased by 25% between 2008 and 2013.

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Working with citizens and communities alike, Iowa’s criminal justice community is making a significant impact on decreasing crime in the state. For instance, the Police Chief in Cedar Falls considers the work of the department’s Violent Enforcement Unit to be a major part of the reason why its crime levels dropped so substantially in recent years.

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But Iowa’s law enforcement officers don’t work alone in protecting the state’s citizens. While police officers, state troopers, and detectives are the most visible, forensic professionals work behind the scenes to help secure convictions, while paralegals support prosecutors during criminal trials, and the state’s correctional officers help to rehabilitate incarcerated offenders.

Iowa’s criminal justice community is increasingly substantially:

  • The number of police officers will grow from 4,750 to 5,020 between 2012 and 2022
  • An additional 95 correctional officers a year will be hired through 2022
  • The number of paralegals will increase by 1.5% each year through 2022

As the field of criminal justice becomes increasingly complex, the requirements for these jobs are becoming more stringent and public safety agencies are increasingly hiring candidates with college degrees in criminal justice.

Iowa Law Enforcement and Criminal Investigation Jobs

The number of police officers working in Iowa is expected to increase by 175 positions a year between 2012 and 2022 according to Iowa Workforce Development. An increase of this magnitude makes it a good time for Iowa residents to consider careers in law enforcement. Iowa presents a number of options for police work, ranging from being a municipal police officer to becoming a state highway patrol officer.

Qualifications for Iowa Police Officer Jobs

Municipal Iowa police departments that may be hiring include:

  • Dubuque Police Department
  • Davenport Police Department
  • City of Des Moines Police Department
  • Cedar Rapids Police Department

While specific hiring requirements can vary slightly between municipal police departments, all candidates have to pass a physical fitness test established by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council. Additional requirements include:

  • Having or being able to get a valid Iowa driver’s license
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Having good vision and hearing
  • Not having any felony convictions
  • Being able to pass civil service exams
  • Being able to complete the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy basic law enforcement course

Applicants must have at least a high school education, but departments prefer applicants with criminal justice degrees in such areas as law enforcement or police science.

Iowa State Trooper Jobs

About 580 sworn peace officers worked for the Iowa State Patrol in 2014. While the agency is headquartered in Des Moines, it has a number of districts throughout Iowa:

  • Cedar Falls
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Council Bluffs
  • Denison
  • Des Moines (three districts)
  • Fort Dodge
  • Mason City
  • Mt. Pleasant
  • Oelwein
  • Stockton

In addition to their standard law enforcement duties, Iowa state troopers serve the public in times of disasters such as floods, tornadoes, or heavy snow events. In addition, nine of these officers operate seven aircraft that have missions ranging from surveillance to identifying stranded motorists.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety has strict requirements for those who seek to become state troopers:

  • Being at least 22 years old when they graduate from the academy
  • Having good vision and hearing
  • Having a valid driver’s license
  • Not having committed any felonies, serious misdemeanors, or acts of domestic violence or child abuse
  • Passing the Police Officer Selection Test (POST)

The minimum educational requirement for highway patrol jobs is a high school education. However, applicants commonly obtain degrees in criminal justice, law enforcement, or police science to increase their chances of being hired.

Becoming an Iowa Detective

The number of detectives is increasing throughout the country according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It predicts a 2% increase between 2012 and 2022. The rate of growth for detectives in municipal police departments is expected to increase three times as quickly.

Iowa offers a number of opportunities for detective jobs at the local and state level. These range from positions at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations to those in local police departments. Some of Iowa’s larger police departments have dedicated detective squads:

  • Detective Bureau – City of Des Moines Police Department
  • Criminal Investigative Division – Cedar Rapids Police Department
  • Criminal Investigation Division – Dubuque Police Department

Becoming an Iowa municipal detective typically involves joining the force as a police officer and working at this level for a couple years. Officers that show an aptitude for detective work can be promoted to become criminal investigators.

A college degree is a strict requirement to become a special agent with the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation for applicants who do not have previous law enforcement experience. The Iowa State Police prefers degrees in criminal justice, business, political science, social science, or accounting. Those with three years of experience must have an associate’s degree, while applicants with five years of law enforcement do not need formal college training to apply.

Iowa Forensic Scientists and Crime Scene Investigators

Forensic scientists help secure convictions by analyzing physical evidence from crime scenes. They frequently specialize in particular types of evidence such as DNA, firearms, or latent fingerprints. Cybercriminals are growing increasingly sophisticated, and this has led many crime labs to develop dedicated cyber crime units.

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The accredited Criminalistics Laboratory at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation completed 14,354 cases in fiscal year 2014. Its Cyber Crime Unit alone conducted 1,393 forensic exams that year.

These forensic scientists provide support to law enforcement agencies throughout Iowa and help to train personnel who go on to work at other crime labs in the state. They provide advanced training in areas such as DNA collection and marijuana analysis.

Forensic Science Job Requirements in Iowa

Since forensic scientists perform sophisticated lab tests, they are generally required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in forensics or a hard science that involves lab work. Applicants for criminalist jobs with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations are allowed to substitute a year’s experience in a crime lab for one year of this required education.

This division also hires forensic science technicians. Applicants must have at least an associate’s degree in a science field and have college lab experience. Some specialties such as latent fingerprint development or firearms analysis require at least six months of full-time experience.

One way to obtain forensic lab experience is to work as an intern. The Davenport Police Department’s crime lab offers internships to undergrads in biology, chemistry or the physical sciences. It requires a GPA of at least 3.0.

Iowa Crime Scene Investigation Job Requirements

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) run the gamut from forensic lab scientists who specialize in collecting evidence to criminal investigators who have received advanced training in securing evidence from crime scenes. Some Iowa police departments use sworn officers as their CSIs, while other departments use civilian technicians.

Iowa civilian crime scene investigation jobs require a college degree in forensic science, another hard science, or photography. Applicants with two years of continuous lab or crime scene experience can apply if they have an associate’s degree in one of these fields. Otherwise a bachelor’s degree is required. The hiring process includes a thorough background check.

Law enforcement personnel who specialize in crime scene analysis can improve their skill set and distinguish themselves by getting certified. The Iowa International Association for Identification provides a variety of certifications through the national organization. The federal Department of Justice is another source of advanced training in areas such as DNA collection.

Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigation Units in Iowa

In addition to Iowa’s state Criminalistics Laboratory in Ankeny, two municipal police departments have their own crime labs:

  • Cedar Falls Police Department Crime Lab
  • Dubuque Police Department Digital Evidence Forensic Laboratory

State and Local Correctional Officer Jobs in Iowa

Correctional officers maintain security and manage offenders. More than 3,100 of these officers had jobs in Iowa in 2012 according to Iowa Workforce Development. It expects their numbers to increase by 0.4% a year through 2022.

Iowa Department of Corrections Correctional Officer Jobs

The Iowa Department of Corrections is one of the Iowa government’s largest employers. Iowa state correctional officers oversaw more than 8,200 inmates in December 2014 at facilities in nine different cities. About 70% of these inmates were located at prisons in these cities:

  • Fort Dodge
  • Anamosa
  • Newton
  • Oakdale
  • Mount Pleasant
  • Clarinda

Applicants for correctional officer jobs with the Iowa Department of Corrections undergo a thorough screening process to make sure they are capable of properly managing inmates. These include psychological testing, a background check, and health and drug screening.

A high school education is the minimum educational requirement, but many applicants obtain degrees in criminal justice or sociology to enhance their chances of being hired.

Homeland Security Jobs in Iowa

Twenty-four Iowa counties received a Presidential Disaster Declaration as recently as August 2014 due to tornadoes, severe storms, and flooding. Iowa’s history of severe weather incidents led state officials to develop the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to mitigate the effects of these disasters.

Another vital aspect of homeland security is securing the state’s infrastructure from attack. Iowa formed the Threat Information and Infrastructure Protection Program (TIIPP) in 2006. It is the interface between Iowa state efforts and those of the private and public sector. TIIPP staff work with the State of Iowa Intelligence Fusion Center.

Iowa homeland security jobs range from those with state agencies to a municipal police department:

  • Iowa State Patrol Homeland Security and Analysis Bureau
  • City of Des Moines Police Department Homeland Security Bureau

Homeland security experts range from being specialized law enforcement agents to having formal college training in emergency management. Applicants for homeland security jobs with the Iowa State Patrol’s Division of Intelligence and Fusion must apply to become special agents.

Special agent applicants for this division who lack law enforcement experience must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, accounting, social science, business, political science, or a related field. Applicants who have been a sworn officer for three years need an associate’s degree to apply, while those with five years of experience do not need formal college training.

Iowa Paralegals and Legal Support Professionals

Iowa Workforce Development expects fifty paralegal jobs a year to become available in the state through 2022.

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Most paralegal and legal support positions require a college degree. Students get the best education from schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). It has approved programs in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids that offer associate’s degrees. Students have the option of one of these programs:

  • Legal assistant program
  • Paralegal program

Paralegals and legal support professionals can benefit from joining the Iowa Association of Legal Assistants.Paralegals (IALA.P). This organization offers scholarships and encourages its members to take the exams to become a certified legal assistant (CLA) or certified paralegal (CP). Having these credentials should help professionals in their job search.

Iowa’s Major Law Firms

Iowa’s most notable law firms are those recommended by a U.S. News and World Report 2011 ranking of the best firms in Iowa:

  • Ahlers & Cooney, P.C.
  • Belin McCormick, P.S.
  • Bardley & Riley PC
  • Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C.
  • Brown, Winick, Graves, Gross, Baskerville & Schoenebaum, P.L.C.

Degrees by State