Your Guide to a Career in Criminal Intelligence
The world of criminal justice and intelligence creates a challenging career field that never becomes stagnant. In recent decades, technology has allowed criminal investigation and intelligence gathering to advance considerably, making reviewing patterns of criminal behavior and tracking rates of crime a pivotal part of prevention and enforcements. This is also a necessary skill no matter what criminal justice career path you pursue.
Leading professionals in law enforcement and crime prevention agree that data gathering and analysis are imperative parts of keeping our communities safe. FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “The more complete the data, the better we can inform, educate and strengthen our resources.”
Those who understand the importance of data analysis, no matter their job title, can:
- help solve crimes,
- prevent future misconduct, and
- improve communities’ overall safety by planning for the future.
According to the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA), “The professionals who perform crime analysis, and the techniques they use, are dedicated to helping a police department become more effective through better information.” Thus, it’s evident that clear, accurate, and high-quality data is essential to helping law enforcement agencies and criminal intelligence professionals investigate and combat crime. Fortunately, we now benefit from many different types of advanced technologies that can help verify the accuracy of information.
Even if they don’t hold the title of analyst or work for a police department, many criminal justice professionals use intelligence analysis in some way to complete their jobs. Those working as detectives, policymakers, or in one of the many other in-demand roles in the field need to understand analysis techniques in order to keep their communities safe.
Many degree programs in criminal justice and criminal intelligence highlight these data analysis skills and ensure graduates are prepared for the field’s evolving nature. By pursuing an education that focuses on the future, you can potentially have a long lasting and impactful career.
In This Guide:
- Criminal Justice vs. Criminal Intelligence
- What Roles are Available in Criminal Justice and Intelligence?
- Salaries for Criminal Intelligence Professionals
- Skills Needed to Work in Criminal Justice or Criminal Intelligence
- How Do I Become a Criminal Intelligence or Criminal Justice Professional?
- Working Conditions for Criminal Intelligence & Criminal Justice Careers
- Conducting Extensive Research on Criminal Career Requirements
- Criminal Justice Field Continues to Evolve
Criminal Justice vs. Criminal Intelligence
Although criminal justice and criminal intelligence are related, they refer to different things.
“Criminal justice” is the system of laws, policies, institutions, and procedures used to process crimes and deliver sentences to criminals at the federal, state, or local level. The criminal justice system in the United States has evolved significantly over the last century.
“Criminal intelligence,” on the other hand, refers to the process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information with the objective of tracking, preventing, and combatting crimes. Federal agencies such as the FBI and DEA often share data about suspects, victims, and criminal activity with local law enforcement departments when conducting investigations. Due to the rapid growth of technology, these organizations can exchange information to stop and fight crimes extremely efficiently.
What Roles are Available in Criminal Justice and Intelligence?
Criminal intelligence and criminal justice experts are in high demand in public and private roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 3% increase in demand for police officers, detectives, and investigators between 2021 and 2031. This may seem slow, but it equates to about 68,500 new job openings every year.
While many of these roles involve active patrolling, a growing number of jobs call for data analysis skills, an understanding of psychology, and a firm foundation of technology knowledge as well. Police departments and other law enforcement organizations today use a wide array of sophisticated technology such as facial recognition software, surveillance cameras, drones, body cameras, gunshot identification systems, and several different types of databases to investigate, prevent, and respond to criminal activities.
Because of the vast nature of the field, it’s important to research and understand the dynamic variety of roles available to professionals interested in crime prevention and law enforcement before choosing a degree. Some criminal justice specialists work for major federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, or the Department of Homeland Security. Others work for local police departments or private agencies.
Those with a background in criminal intelligence can also apply their skills to nonprofit or research endeavors. One notable example of a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to allocating funds to support law enforcement with criminal intelligence work is the Law Enforcement Intelligence Units Foundation (LEIUF). This institution strives to help law enforcement agencies fight terrorist organizations and other organized crime groups
Here are just a few of the jobs available in criminal justice and intelligence:
- Criminal Profiler: A criminal profiler helps law enforcement or government organizations identify and apprehend suspects through investigative techniques, psychology, and data analysis. Profilers usually work as part of an investigative team to pinpoint behavioral patterns, conduct research, advise, and provide training.
- Criminal Intelligence Analyst: Criminal intelligence analysts use many resources and copious data to identify patterns of criminal behavior to assist officers, detectives, and other professionals. They can work for local police stations, nonprofits, or the federal government, as well as research firms.
- Detective: Detectives gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. Through interviews, records, and other means, they investigate many types of crime. Most specialize in one kind of criminal behavior, such as fraud or homicide. They primarily work for law enforcement agencies or as private detectives.
- Criminologist: Criminologists compile data, conduct surveys, develop policies to stop crime and recurrence, and more. Many hold a master’s degree and work for government agencies or organizations that influence policy.
- Corrections Officer: Corrections officers enforce rules and keep order in jails and prisons, supervise inmates, and report on inmate conduct. Their role is to maintain security and keep facilities safe.
- Fire Investigator: Fire investigators use data science to analyze fire scenes and try to determine the cause of these conflagrations, thereby supporting firefighters after a fire has been put out. Sometimes, fires are simply caused by accidents (i.e., stove left on) or faulty appliances or electrical systems. In other cases, however, fires are caused intentionally (i.e., arson) and are thus investigated as crimes.
- Financial Examiner: Financial examiners scrutinize an organization or individual’s finances for potential monetary fraud or other crimes, such as embezzlement or money laundering. These criminal intelligence specialists often have high mathematical skills and extensive knowledge of the financial services industry.
- Crime Laboratory Analyst: Crime lab analysts assist in solving crimes through the use of DNA, toxicology, weapons used to commit a crime, fingerprints, hair and blood samples, and other forms of evidence. They often use microscopes and other similar high-tech forensic equipment. Crime lab analysts earn an average base salary of $56,000 per year.
- Database Administrator: Database administrators (DBAs) use specialized software to both store and organize data. In the criminal industry, these professionals manage data related to crimes, suspects, and victims. Many DBAs also design their systems from scratch and/or incorporate old information into new databases.
- Forensic Psychologist: Forensic psychologists use in-depth behavioral analysis to develop profiles for criminals and thus expand upon the work performed by profilers. They can work with various law enforcement agencies.
This list is just a sampling of the available roles in criminal justice. No matter where your career takes you, having the right skills and education will help you succeed and make a difference.
Salaries for Criminal Intelligence Professionals
Each criminal intelligence career path comes with its own salary potential and range. Fortunately, the BLS tracks data for many of these positions, though many could be classified under broader categories.
In the following data from the BLS’s May 2021 employment survey, the low end of each salary range represents the lowest-earning 10% of professionals. The high end represents the highest-earning 10%. Salaries may fall outside of the given range.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
- Mean annual salary: $90,370
- BLS-reported salary range: $48,040 to $146,830
- Category may also include: criminal profilers, criminal intelligence analysts, and criminologists.
- Mean annual salary: $53,420
- BLS-reported salary range: $34,00 to $79,340
- Category may also include: jailers and bailiffs.
Fire Investigators and Inspectors
- Mean annual salary: $69,680
- BLS-reported salary range: $40,190 to $100,730
Financial Inspectors and/or Examiners
- Mean annual salary: $96,180
- BLS-reported salary range: $48,830 to $160,850
- Category may also include: financial inspectors in private industries (banking, loans, etc.).
Forensic Science Technicians
- Mean annual salary: $66,850
- BLS-reported salary range: $37,670 to $103,430
- Category may also include: crime laboratory analysts, entry-level technicians, and advanced forensic specialists.
- Mean annual salary: $96,550
- BLS-reported salary range: $48,880 to $151,400
- Category may also include: database administrators in other industries (finance, corporate management, etc.).
Psychologists (All other)
- Mean annual salary: $98,010
- BLS-reported salary range: $39,760 to $133,200
- Category may also include: forensic psychologists and other types of psychologists who don’t operate private practices.
Salaries for criminal intelligence professionals also vary depending on the location (state, city, etc.). For instance, the BLS reports the mean salary for criminal investigators in New York as $107,990 while their colleagues in Vermont have a mean wage of $93,340. Like with other professions, demand, population, and cost of living can influence salaries for criminal intelligence professionals.
Skills Needed to Work in Criminal Justice or Criminal Intelligence
Criminal justice professionals should have many of the same general skills as criminal intelligence professionals. However, it can also be extremely beneficial for criminal justice workers to have empathy, listen attentively, and be well-versed in conflict resolution techniques. These “soft skills” can help alleviate the pressure of working in a fast-paced environment like those that criminal justice and criminal intelligence professionals typically work in, especially for individuals who frequently interact with people with mental illnesses.
Careers in criminal intelligence typically require the following skills.
- Excellent analytical and critical thinking skills
- Strong verbal and written communication skills
- Strong knowledge of federal and/or state and local laws
- Strong research skills and attention to detail
- For some jobs: strong mathematical skills, including statistical analysis
- Use geographic information systems (GIS) to monitor and analyze criminal activity
- Proficiency in criminal intelligence software
- Ability to use databases for suspects and victims
- For some jobs: firearms training and physical training
- For some jobs: ability to use open-source databases such as USPS, Google, and Bing for research purposes
Additionally, criminal justice professionals should have extensive knowledge of legal precedents and statutes of limitations, which are maximum times for initiating legal proceedings for certain crimes.
How Do I Become a Criminal Intelligence or Criminal Justice Professional?
The first step to becoming a criminal intelligence professional is choosing the right degree program for your goals, education level, and interests.
Associate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees
Associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees are available with concentrations in law enforcement, intelligence analysis, and more. Many government agencies and private organizations require at least a bachelor’s degree, although an associate’s degree — which typically takes no more than 2 years to complete — maybe enough to qualify for certain entry-level positions.
Examples of bachelor’s degrees that can help prepare you for a career in criminal intelligence or criminal justice include:
- Political science
Be sure to verify that the university you choose to study at is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education, as this will make it less likely for prospective employers to question the validity of your degree. Most bachelor’s degrees take 4 years to complete, while master’s degrees typically take between 1.5 and 3 years to complete.
Online Degree Programs
Many universities also offer online degree programs, which are excellent options to consider if you prefer to study at your own pace (while potentially saving time and money as well). Some online programs have synchronous learning formats, while others have asynchronous formats. Be sure to fully understand all the differences between these two learning styles before deciding about enrollment, as it’s best to choose the format that aligns best with your individual preferences and abilities.
Criminal Justice Degrees
Programs focused on criminal justice offer a well-rounded education for law enforcement and criminal investigation jobs.
Methodist University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, which allows students to advance their careers in many areas, including enforcement and analysis. The degree prepares graduates for jobs as crime scene investigators, detective roles, or a plethora of government positions (federal prosecutors, special agents for the FBI, CIA, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service, etc.).
Southern New Hampshire University is another option for students interested in criminal justice degrees. The university offers programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s level with various concentrations, including Corrections, Homeland Security & Counterterrorism, Human Services & Advocacy, and Substance Abuse.
A degree in criminology prepares you to understand the causes of criminal behavior.
The University of St. Mary’s online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology Completion Program is one such degree. The behavioral-focused program covers psychology, sociology, and history, preparing graduates to understand human motivations and participate in de-escalation practices in the field such as using a calm voice, displaying relaxed body language, and communicating from a safe position to alleviate the tension and exhibit empathy in certain situations. This is thus one of the most human-centered and interdisciplinary programs available for students interested in pursuing a career in criminology. Additionally, this program includes a hands-on curriculum, one-on-one opportunities for mentorship, and small class sizes, which means you can benefit from greater individual attention. Graduates can become:
Criminal Intelligence Degrees
Degrees in criminal intelligence offer a specialized look at data analysis and criminal behavior.
Utica College’s Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice prepares students to find data-driven ways to lower the rate of violent crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery. There are five distinct types of specializations students can choose from for this degree program, including Homeland Security, White-Collar Crime and Cyber Criminology and Policy. Graduates of the program pursue roles as intelligence analysts, tactical analysts, and more. Most graduates of programs of this type support law enforcement efforts through information and crime-reduction projects in both small communities and major cities. This program can be completed in 40 months (around 3.5 years).
Other Degree Options
Another option for those looking to enter the intelligence field is choosing a major outside of criminal justice or intelligence. Many programs focus on data analytics, which can be used in many fields and prove useful for a variety of criminal intelligence careers, such as criminal intelligence analyst and criminal profiler. For those already working in criminal justice, a data analytics degree could help them transition into a career primarily in intelligence.
As the field grows and changes, professionals will likely have to continue learning. Certificate programs are another effective way to learn new skills and advance your career. Certificates often take less than a year to complete and allow credits to be transferred into a full degree program down the line. Additionally, certificate programs are typically more affordable than bachelor’s degree programs. One notable certificate program is the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts’ (IALEIA) Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA) Professional Certification Program. This program is designed for professionals who have acquired practical experience in the criminal intelligence analysis field. The CICA certification is awarded once an individual has passed the corresponding examination with a minimum combined score of 70%.
Purdue University Global also offers three different certificate programs in criminal justice: a Crime Scene Technician program, a Private Security program, and a Management and Supervision in Criminal Justice program. These certificates teach students about topics related to the collection and documentation of evidence, private and corporate security, criminal justice organization management theory, human resource development, and employment law.
Working Conditions for Criminal Intelligence & Criminal Justice Careers
Professionals in the criminal justice and criminal intelligence fields can operate in many distinct types of work environments depending on their specific roles. For example, U.S. attorneys (federal prosecutors) often work in courthouses and other government buildings, while other criminal justice professionals and criminal investigators typically visit many different public sites (both indoor and outdoor) to collect evidence from crime scenes, even in inclement weather.
Investigators are also often exposed to many different types of hazards at crime scenes, including weapons (firearms, knives, explosives, etc.), bodily fluids (blood, urine, vomit, saliva, sperm, etc.), and chemicals (liquids, acids, etc.). Therefore, they must sometimes wear protective equipment such as gloves, hats, masks, and goggles to avoid infection and/or shield themselves against certain smells.
Meanwhile, criminal intelligence analysts and database administrators work in laboratories and offices, including offices for law enforcement organizations (police departments, FBI headquarters, etc.). Professionals who work in laboratories often use many different types of medical equipment such as microscopes, while those who work in offices typically use advanced technologies such as computers and other information technology (IT) devices.
Corrections officers typically work in jails and prisons and thus deal directly with criminals.
Conducting Extensive Research on Criminal Career Requirements
Before picking a career or degree program, explore the roles you are interested in to find out about the:
- Necessary education and licensure
- Work environments
- Employment opportunities
Mentors and Networking Opportunities
Regardless of the career within the field of criminal justice or criminal intelligence that you wish to pursue, be sure to connect with industry veterans and other professionals who can guide you toward your objectives. No matter the path you choose, finding mentors will open doors.
Be sure to get involved in the area that you hope to specialize in through volunteering, entry-level jobs, and projects to network and learn more.
If you live in a major city, it may also be helpful to attend networking events and career fairs, whether they are specifically designed for professionals in criminal justice or criminal intelligence or for professionals in general. Before attending these events, be sure to prepare a brief “elevator speech” to introduce yourself and describe your background and create as many business cards as you can. For career fairs, be sure to update your resume and make multiple copies of it.
Taking all these steps can help you give a strong first impression when meeting experienced professionals in criminal justice or criminal intelligence.
It may also be a good idea to speak to an academic advisor (if one is available to you), as this type of professional can help you make the right career decisions based on your interests, skills, and experience. Make sure to clearly explain your career interests and goals to your mentors, as this will help ensure you pursue professional opportunities that you are a strong fit for. Also, keep in mind that in some cases, a master’s degree in criminal justice, criminal intelligence, or criminology — which you can complete in 1.5 to 3 years — can help you earn a higher salary and/or become promoted to higher-level positions.
Criminal Justice Field Continues to Evolve
The criminal justice field will continue to evolve due to global changes in technology and the types of crimes that are committed. For example, an increasing number of cybercrimes (such as ransomware attacks) now involve criminals demanding payment in the form of cryptocurrency (e.g., Bitcoin, Litecoin, etc.).
However, with the right educational foundation, you will be ready to evolve with it. If you are interested in making communities safer and ensuring policies are data driven and effective, a career in criminal intelligence is right for you.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for detectives and criminal investigators, corrections officers, fire investigators and inspectors, financial examiners, forensic science technicians, database administrators, and psychologists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.