Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in Washington

Expertise in the field of criminal justice is important – lives can depend on the quick thinking and concerted efforts of Washington’s criminal justice professionals. From law enforcement and criminal investigations, to crime scene investigations and forensic science, to legal support and corrections, more that 22,500 dedicated professionals contribute to making Washington’s criminal justice system fair, judicious and effective.

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Washington’s community of criminal justice professionals is made up of professionals from a variety of specialized fields:

  • 8,160 law enforcement officers patrol the state’s municipalities and public roads
  • 2,320 detectives and criminal investigators work to crack some of the state’s toughest cases
  • 5,500 paralegals offer their expertise researching legal precedents and providing support to attorneys
  • 6,290 correctional officers serve the public by ensuring that justice is carried out fairly and humanely
  • 280 forensic science technicians analyze evidence at crime scenes and in labs

Earning a criminal justice degree in one of these specialized fields provides the knowledge essential to ensuring Washington’s criminal justice system remains effective at combating crime and exemplary in its handling of criminals.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Investigation Opportunities in Washington

Law enforcement officers in Washington safeguard the state’s neighborhoods and are the first on the scene when a crime is reported. From municipal police department to county sheriff’s offices to the Washington State Highway Patrol, Washington’s law enforcement agencies are some of the best funded in the nation.

Law enforcement agencies in Washington include:

  • Seattle Police Department
  • Tacoma Police Department
  • King County Sheriff’s Office
  • Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Requirements to Become a Police Officer or Deputy Sheriff in Washington

Washington offers a higher average salary for its police officers and sheriff’s deputies than 90 percent of all other states in the nation. This is in recognition of the hard work and service that Washington’s 8,160 law enforcement officers provide each day.

Each law enforcement agency in Washington has its own employment requirements, which generally include a high school education and a clean criminal record. In some agencies, law enforcement officers are required to have some college education. For example:

  • Spokane Police Department – requires the completion of 45 quarter or 30 semester college credits
  • Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office – prefers candidates with at least an associate’s of arts (AA) degree or 90 college credits that include courses in:
    • Law Enforcement
    • Criminal Justice
    • Any other closely related field
  • Bellevue Police Department – requires the completion of 90 quarter or 60 semester college credits or one of the following:
    • Three years of experience as a police officer
    • Three years of active-duty military experience with an honorable discharge
    • Three years of military reserve duty with over 180 days of continuous activation by presidential order

Becoming a State Patrol Officer in Washington

The Washington State Highway Patrol ensures that interstate travel stays safe, and offers assistance to local law enforcement authorities as needed. While a degree in Criminal Justice or Law Enforcement will make applicants highly competitive for these positions, the minimum requirements to become a Washington State Trooper are:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Be a US citizen with a clean criminal record
  • Be in good physical as well as mental shape

Headquartered in Olympia, the Washington State Patrol has district offices in:

  • Tacoma
  • Bellevue
  • Yakima
  • Spokane
  • Vancouver
  • Wenatchee
  • Marysville
  • Bremerton

How to Become a Detective or Criminal Investigator in Washington

Key in becoming a detective or criminal investigator is experience, while education can also be an important factor. These professionals work at all levels of government in Washington, from the criminal investigation divisions of municipal police departments and the State Patrol to Special Agents with the FBI.

Job requirements for these positions include:

  • Detectives with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department must have at least three years of service as a Deputy Sheriff
  • Criminal Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department must have a bachelor’s degree with a major in Criminal Justice or other related field plus four years of experience; additional education can substitute for a lack of experience, and vice-versa
  • To work as a Special Agent with the FBI candidates will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a high-value subject major such as:
    • Criminal Justice
    • Law
    • Computer Science or IT
    • Foreign Languages
    • Political Science

In recognition of the challenging work detectives and criminal investigators face, Washington ensures its professionals in this field are well taken care of:

  • Detectives in the Bremerton-Silverdale area earn the seventh-highest average salary of all metropolitan areas in the nation
  • Criminal investigators in the rural regions of Northwestern Washington earn the highest average salary in the nation compared with their counterparts in all other non-metropolitan areas
  • Detectives in the rural Eastern Washington area earn the fourth-highest average salary in the United States compared with their colleagues in all other non-metro areas

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Jobs in Washington

Legal support professionals can be described as the backbone of the legal system. While there are no formal certification or degree requirements to work as a legal assistant in Washington, many employees require either one or both of these qualifications.

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Colleges and universities throughout Washington offer paralegal education programs at several levels:

  • Paralegal Studies Associate’s of Applied Science (AAS) Degree
  • Paralegal Studies Post-Secondary Certificate
  • Paralegal Studies Post-Baccalaureate Certificate

Washington residents can find paralegal certification programs through state schools as well as at their fingertips online, with organizations such as:

Washington Organizations and Law Firms That Employ Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants work for law firms, commercial business, or government. These professionals may be in demand anywhere legal services are needed. The following are some recent examples of companies seeking paralegals across Washington State:

  • Starbucks Corporation in Seattle was recently advertising a vacancy for a legal assistant with the preferred qualification of having a paralegal certification
  • The Office of U.S. Attorneys in Tacoma and Seattle was recently searching for a paralegal with at least one year of college education beyond the equivalent of a two-year associate’s degree, or one year of specialized work experience
  • Amazon in Seattle was recently looking for a legal assistant with the preferred qualification of a bachelor’s of arts (BA) or bachelor’s of science (BS) degree
  • RCO Legal in Bellevue was recently looking to hire a paralegal who preferably had a four-year degree
  • The Department of Public Defense recently advertised a vacancy for a paralegal who had a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies, a certification from an accredited paralegal training institution, or an equivalent combination of education and certification
  • Vertafore in Bothell was recently seeking a legal assistant who had a paralegal certificate or comparable education

Crime Scene Investigator and Forensic Science Careers in Washington

Crime scene investigators and forensic scientists work with the investigations units of sheriff’s offices, police departments, the Washington State Patrol’s Forensic Laboratory and Investigative Services Bureau, as well as with federal agencies like the FBI at its field office in Seattle.

Requirements for Washington Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigator Jobs

While each law enforcement or scientific agency can set its own hiring requirements for CSI agents and forensic scientists, candidates who are interested in pursuing careers in this field should have some specialized training in the form of a bachelor’s degree in fields like:

  • Forensic Science
  • Police Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Physics
  • Human Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Information Technology
  • Computer Science

To improve one’s qualifications or meet the requirements determined by an employer, prospective crime scene investigators and forensic scientists can also consider certifications offered by any of these agencies:

Candidates can gain an idea of commonly required qualifications by reviewing the job descriptions for the following positions with the Washington State Patrol. Contained within this organization are the WSP Criminal Investigations Division, WSP Investigative Services Bureau, and the WSP Crime and Forensics Laboratory.

  • Forensic Scientist I – bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in Forensic Science, Natural Science, or any other closely related field such as Pharmacology, Medical Technology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Toxicology, or Biochemistry
  • Crime Lab Technician – preferred qualification of a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree that includes at least 20 semester credits or 30 quarter credits of chemistry, or an equivalent combination of experience and education
  • Fingerprint Technician I – preferred qualification of at least one of the following:
    • One year of college courses in law enforcement
    • One year of experience with fingerprint pattern identification using an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)
    • One year of experience working in a law enforcement agency

Federal Bureau of Prisons and Washington State Department of Corrections Careers

Working at federal, state, and local facilities, correctional officers in Washington earn a higher-than-average salary compared with their colleagues across the nation. Working as a corrections officer requires at least a high school education and a clean criminal record. Having a bachelor’s degree is one way of qualifying for federal Bureau of Prison jobs in Washington, and can also be advantageous for career mobility and initial competitiveness for all corrections agencies.

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Washington State Correctional Officers

The Washington State Department of Corrections states that candidates can improve their chances of being hired for correctional officer jobs by earning a college degree. For example, being promoted to a Community Corrections Officer I position requires a bachelor’s degree.

Facilities within the Washington State Department of Corrections where correctional officers may work are:

  • Airway Heights Corrections Center
  • Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock
  • Clallam Bay Corrections Center in
  • Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell
  • Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt
  • Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair
  • Monroe Correctional Complex
  • Olympic Corrections Center in Forks
  • Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen
  • Washington Corrections Center in Shelton
  • Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor
  • Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla

Federal Correctional Officers in Washington State

The Bureau of Prisons hires correctional officers for its federal correctional facilities at two Washington locations:

  • Federal Detention Center (FDC) SeaTac in Seattle
  • Residential Reentry Management (RRM) Seattle facility

Correctional officers who work with the Bureau of Prisons are federal employees who must meet the qualifications to be hired at the GS-05 level or higher, which can be accomplished through one of the following:

  • Have at least a bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Have at least three years of work experience at the GS-04 level
  • Have one year of specialized work experience in prisons or law enforcement

To enter at a higher rank candidates will need to have at least 14 college quarter credits in any of these subjects:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Law
  • Social Science
  • Criminology
  • Other related fields

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jobs in Washington

Homeland security and emergency management positions in Washington have taken on an increasing prominence ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Today these professionals are integrated at all level of government, working with law enforcement agencies as well as disaster management organizations.

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields may be appropriate for jobs in emergency management and homeland security:

  • Police Science
  • Logistics
  • Public Administration
  • Homeland Security
  • Criminal Justice
  • Computer Science or IT
  • Law Enforcement
  • Emergency Management

Homeland security and emergency management jobs in Washington can be found with these agencies:

  • Puget Sound Counterterrorism Working Group based in Seattle
  • Inland Northwest Regional Terrorism Task Force based in Spokane
  • Joint Terrorism Task Forces based in Everett and Tacoma
  • Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils in Spokane and Seattle
  • King County Regional Criminal Intelligence Group
  • Washington State Fusion Center
  • Washington Emergency Management Division
  • Emergency Operation Center in Camp Murray

Degrees by State