Criminal justice careers in the federal government

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Working for the federal government can provide a rewarding career path for criminal justice professionals. There are a multitude of opportunities available at federal agencies that suit a variety of criminal justice career interests, from working in prison reform to identifying corporate fraud. If you have a specific field of interest or niche of expertise, there is likely to be a federal job opportunity to match it.

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The Master of Science in Criminal Justice Program at the University of Cincinnati can help prepare criminal justice professionals to pursue career opportunities with the federal government. Just check out this testimonial from Alexander Toth, Graduate of the Class of 2014:

“I attended the UC DL Master’s in Criminal Justice Program while employed as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Special Agent in charge of operations in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, and Argentina. The program at UC fit my busy work schedule and allowed me to tend to my coursework while traveling all over South America. The education that I received at UC was outstanding in every sense of the word. The knowledge that I gained in the program made me a better DEA Special Agent and a more insightful law enforcement manager. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking to enter the federal law enforcement arena for those who are already employed in law enforcement.”

Here is an overview of some of the criminal justice opportunities available in the federal government:

FBI agents and support staff

The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers many interesting career opportunities for criminal justice professionals, depending on your specific skills, background and interests. The FBI Jobs website outlines the diverse career paths the agency provides. These include jobs in Operations & Intelligence, such as special agents, intelligence analysts, surveillance specialists and foreign language experts.

FBI Officers

Law enforcement officers can find careers within the FBI. Working for the FBI can be a fulfilling career path for criminal justice students specializing in law enforcement or for police officers looking for a change in environment. If selected for the role, FBI Police Officers are required to undergo a 12-week Uniformed Police Officer Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, followed by courses at the FBI Academy and on-the-job training. After completing the training, police officers are assigned to a permanent duty location. More information about working as a police officer for the FBI can be found here.

FBI agents and support staff

FBI special agents are separate from uniformed officers. They receive all of their training at the FBI Academy, and their career paths can bring diversity in assignments and locations. Candidates must meet a series of requirements to be eligible to become special agents, including being between 23 and 36 ½ years old and meeting physical fitness standards. The FBI Jobs website has more information about the demands of the position.

According to Payscale, FBI agents:

  • Earn a median salary of $64,313, typical of entry-level roles.
  • Spend careers at the agency, as the 20 percent of agents polled for Payscale have at least 10 to 19 years of experience.
  • Can earn more than $90,000 per year with decades of service.

There are also specialized professional teams at the FBI that work in a range of areas, including:

  • STEM professionals.
  • Financial crime specialists.
  • Administrators and administrative assistants.

It should be noted that FBI special agents are considered separately from uniformed officers.

Homeland Security Special Agents

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are both very large agencies, and because of their size present perhaps the best opportunity for those seeking to be hired as federal special agents.

Homeland security special agents work for the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the department. Special agents can be assigned to a posts around the world and can be called to investigate activity in a range of areas, including:

  • Cybercrime
  • Terrorism
  • Drugs and weapons trafficking
  • Export issues
  • Human rights violations
  • Commercial fraud

“HSI’s successes in combating terrorism and enhancing national security have resonated throughout the global law enforcement community, private industry and general public,” notes the unit’s website.

HSI is organized into several different divisions, including Information Management and National Security Investigations, in which further career opportunities are available.

Secret Service

The Secret Service is hoping to hire large numbers of employees in the coming years, making it a great place to look for individuals hoping to find a criminal justice position with the federal government.

According to FedWeek, the Secret Service needs to fill 8,200 positions in the next five years, citing states made by DHS Inspector General  John Roth.

The Secret Service hires for a range of roles, including Special Agents, Uniformed Division Officers, Administrative and Support Staff and Special Officers.

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent

If you are interested in reducing the incidence of financial crime should consider applying to work as a Criminal Investigation Special Agent with the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agents:

  • Earn a median salary of $52,060 per year.
  • Fill more than 67,000 positions in the U.S.
  • Require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

The position is located within the law enforcement branch of the IRS and supports its mission ”to serve the American public by investigating potential criminal violations of the Internal Revenue code, and related financial crimes, in a manner that fosters confidence in the tax system and compliance with the law.”

There are three divisions within the Criminal Investigation Office: Legal Source Tax Crimes, Illegal Source Financial Crimes and Narcotics Related Financial Crimes. CI Special Agents coordinate their investigations and research efforts with state and local police departments as well as other federal agencies including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The position of IRS CI Special Agent comes with a certain amount of prestige – these hard-working experts are generally considered the top financial investigators for the federal government, as the IRS website notes. It is a sensitive post – especially considering the IRS is responsible for collecting more than 90 percent of all dollars that go to the federal government.

These agents are law enforcement officers who have the keen ability to dig through financial data and spot outliers or patterns that may suggest criminal activity. As such, the position requires strong accounting and analytical skills as well as criminal justice knowledge. As the agency continues to increase their use of technology to investigate crimes, digital forensics skills are also important to have.

Inmate Custody & Programs roles with the Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employs 39,669 people at their facilities and offices across the country. The bureau was created in 1930 to help improve the state of corrections in the U.S. The BOP and its employees are dedicated to supporting humane and safe prisons and implementing rehabilitation programming that helps inmates successfully return to society.

The agency is responsible for 188,658 federal inmates, and released inmates were found to have a 34 percent recidivism rates, which is about half of the rate of many large state Departments of Corrections, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Part of the BOP’s approach to prison management is use of data. The organization’s website maintains a detailed statistics page, and administrators collect and dissect information on inmates, staff members, prison safety and much more in order to adjust management techniques within its facilities.

Employees with the BOP help support this progressive mission in many capacities. Correctional officers represent the majority of the workforce at the agency, and work at prisons and other correctional facilities to ensure their smooth operation and humane treatment of inmates. The qualifications for the correctional officer role include strong oral communication and interpersonal skills as well as a high stress tolerance, sound decision-making skills under pressure, organizational awareness and the ability to manage human resources and personnel effectively.

There are two tiers of correctional officers that mandate pay grade:

  • GS-05: Requires a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, or at least three full years of general experience or one year of specialized experience. Entry-level pay starts at slightly more than $40,000 per year
  • GS-06: The higher of the two tiers, this correctional officer role requires at least nine semester hours or fourteen quarter hours of graduate study from an accredited school in criminal justice or a related field, or the equivalent experience.  At the higher end of the pay scale, officers can earn upward of $50,000 per year.

There are other opportunities for criminal justice professionals at the Bureau of Prisons as well, including case managers, drug treatment specialists and safety compliance specialists.

Investigator or special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

You can help protect the welfare of the public and reduce the incidence of violent crime by working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also known as the ATF.

The agency works to:

  • Prevent acts of terrorism and violent crime.
  • Prevent crime involving guns or explosives.
  • Investigate trafficking of weapons
  • Investigate illegal distribution of alcohol and tobacco products.

According to the ATF, special agents within the organization can:

  • Earn nearly $60,000 per year in base pay, depending on experience.
  • Be eligible for additional compensation depending on type of work and hours worked.

The ATF is looking to hire “self-motivated men and women who possess personal integrity, sound judgment, a sense of pride and loyalty and who want to be challenged in their work,” according to the agency’s website.

The ATF recruits for a range of roles, including special agents, whom investigate crimes dealing with explosives, firearms, arson, and alcohol and tobacco diversion. ATF special agents interview witnesses, conduct surveillance, look for evidence, prepare case reports and perform a variety of other duties. Another available role for criminal justice professionals at the ATF is as an Industry Operations Investigators. These essential employees conduct extensive, detailed investigations into potential crimes, inspect documents and records relating to alcohol, tobacco or firearms to ensure authenticity and review permits and licenses applications. They also analyze data to ensure industry business operations are legal and compliant. If evidence of illegal activity is found in their investigations, these employees then coordinate with special agents who will take action if necessary.

A career with the federal government can be fulfilling when you see your work contribute to the welfare of Americans and make a difference on a large scale. This is just a sample of the federal opportunities out there – with the many diverse agencies in operation, there is tremendous opportunity to find the right role for you.

Recommended Readings:

What a criminal justice degree from the University of Cincinnati can do for you

How to become a federal agent

Planning a criminal justice career in a Federal Department of Justice organization