16 Criminal Justice Skills That Employers Value

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The criminal justice sector can be a rewarding career choice for people who are interested in law, police work, and social work. Geriann Brandt, program director and assistant professor for the Criminal Justice/Criminology program at Maryville University, has this to say about the field: “Some of the career opportunities with this program of criminal justice and criminology, aside from law enforcement, are victim advocacy centers, FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals … and many, many have gone on to graduate school and to law school, because it’s not just law enforcement. It is a myriad of different pathways that you can go on.”

Criminal justice professionals need to excel in a slate of skills in their jobs. A solid background in the criminal justice concepts that a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree can provide is an excellent foundation for a career in this vital field.

A police officer standing

Knowledge of Criminal Law and Concepts

Aspiring professionals need to understand the legal, psychological, and sociological concepts that underpin criminal justice. The following criminal justice skills are part of this crucial knowledge base:

1. Criminological Theory

A vast range of criminological theories exist. Many have long histories; some have fallen out of favor as society gains a more sophisticated understanding of criminal behavior. Some theories are:

  • Broken window theory. This theory holds that neglect is more likely to lead to criminal behavior. By cleaning up an environment, a community discourages crime.
  • Labeling theory. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, stereotyping groups or individuals as criminals causes criminal behavior.
  • Deviance and strain theory. Society may pressure people into committing crimes if societal norms break down.
  • Differential association theory. Peers and friend groups can influence individuals to commit crimes.

2. Criminal Law and Procedure

Whether planning for a career as a police officer, defense lawyer, or corrections officer, having knowledge of criminal law and procedure is necessary. The consequences of disregarding procedure can be dire. Police detectives and prosecutors who make procedural missteps can violate suspects’ rights and jeopardize their cases.

3. Multicultural Policing

In light of recent tragedies and the subsequent spotlight on policing, multicultural policing has become a fundamental element of criminal justice education. This skill helps students understand issues of diversity and communication across different cultures and languages. Addressing these challenges is an essential criminal justice skill.

4. Correctional Practices

Most people think of jails and prisons when they hear the phrase “criminal justice,” and correctional practices are a major part of the criminal justice system. Corrections also includes probation and parole; a judge may order probation for an offender in lieu of a prison sentence, and prisoners who’ve served part of their sentences may be released on parole. Whether working as a prison guard, social worker, or police officer, understanding the corrections system is a necessary skill for criminal justice professionals.

5. Domestic and International Terrorism

Terrorism isn’t just the responsibility of federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals. State and local police also need to be knowledgeable about terrorism. Criminal justice professionals learn counterterrorism tactics and techniques, as well as how to identify the ways in which terror groups operate.

6. Family Violence

Police and social workers need to have a solid foundation in understanding the signs of domestic violence as well as its treatment and prevention. They work with emergency room doctors and community social services providers to protect victims and prosecute abusers. Family violence is a challenging issue and understanding how to identify and support victims is a vital criminal justice skill.

Criminal Justice Job Skills

While defense attorneys and police officers play different roles in the criminal justice system, their jobs require many of the same skills. The following are some job skills that employers in the criminal justice system value highly:

7. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is fundamental for criminal justice professionals. Police officers and detectives, prosecutors and defense attorneys, social workers and counselors all need to apply critical thinking skills in their work. These skills include active listening, open-mindedness, and keen attention to detail. Other critical thinking skills include analytical skills and the ability to conduct research and analysis without bias.

8. Communication

Police must communicate with suspects, victims, and the community. They have to coordinate with other criminal justice colleagues, from the forensics team to their commanding officers. Likewise, communication is essential for attorneys, parole officers, corrections officers, social workers, and others. Written and oral communication skills are needed.

9. Teamwork

Being able to work as part of a team is an important skill in the criminal justice system. Police work with partners, others on the force, and prosecutors. A team mentality is an asset for working within a police department and within a community.

10. Physical Fitness

Policing can be a dangerous career, and physical fitness is important for police officers. They may have to chase and physically detain suspects and need to be knowledgeable about effective self-defense tactics. This also applies to certain roles in corrections.

11. CPR and First Aid

CPR and first aid are key elements of a police officer’s or corrections officer’s tool kit. They need to be able to perform CPR on citizens or on a fellow officers until EMTs can arrive. In some emergencies, officers may be the first responders on a scene.

Character and Education

The criminal justice system calls on people to be fair and just and to stand up for what’s right. Strong character and up-to-date training are crucial to those who want to meet the criminal justice system’s high ideals and work to make that system more equitable. The following skills and traits can help make criminal justice work for everyone:

12. Courage

While physical courage can be important in policing, corrections, and similar criminal justice jobs, moral courage — putting ethics into action — is even more so. Moral courage requires professionals to act ethically and legally. An example of moral courage is intervening if a fellow officer commits or is about to commit an unjust, illegal, or unethical act.

13. Ethics

Ethical behavior is a central tenet of the criminal justice system. All criminal justice professions have codes of ethics. Examples are:

  • Social work. The social work code of ethics covers the duty to act with the following in mind: social justice, the dignity of the individual, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.
  • The law enforcement code of ethics calls for officers to serve their community, protect the innocent, safeguard lives, and practice honesty in thoughts and actions.
  • Defense attorney. The American Bar Association lays out standards for criminal justice that attorneys must follow.
  • The American Correctional Association’s ethical principles include a duty to respect individuals’ civil and legal rights as well as respect all disciplines in the criminal justice system.

14. Empathy

The term “empathy” is defined as the ability to understand the perspective and feelings of another person. Empathy is a valued skill for criminal justice professionals and can have a positive impact on their effectiveness. This may mean using community policing techniques to gain rapport within a neighborhood. Empathy is also part of a social worker’s tool kit in counseling and supporting an individual client or the individual’s family. It may also help parole officers be more effective in keeping former offenders out of jail.

15. Community Involvement

Getting involved in the community is a great way to build relationships. Criminal justice professionals who work with the public — answering questions and solving problems or volunteering in community programs, for instance — can help cultivate a positive environment for the citizens they serve.

16. Continuing Education

A criminal justice education doesn’t begin and end with a degree. As with any profession, growth should continue throughout a person’s career. Continuing education and updating training demonstrates a commitment to a career in criminal justice and to personal growth. It can pay off in job satisfaction, increased career advancement opportunities, and higher compensation.

Explore Rewarding Careers in Criminal Justice

A degree in criminal justice can open the door to a wide range of exciting career opportunities. If you’re interested in a role in criminal justice, investigate the online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program at Maryville University. See where this path can lead.

Recommended Reading

Resources and Tips for a Career in Criminal Justice

How Criminal Justice Professionals Will Fight Future Crimes

Victim Advocacy: Guide to Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence

Sources

American Bar Association, Defense Function

American Correctional Association, ACA Code of Ethics

Attorney at Law Magazine, “5 Qualities of a Professional Criminal Defense Lawyer”

Greater Good Magazine, “Empathetic Parole Officers Can Help People Stay Out of Jail”

Indeed, Correctional Officer Skills: Definition and Examples

Indeed, 7 Types of Detectives

Indeed, 13 Skills for a Police Officer

International Association of Chiefs of Police, Law Enforcement Code of Ethics

Justia, Parole and Probation

National Association of Social Workers, Code of Ethics

POLICE Magazine, “3 Not-So-Obvious Areas of Focus for Police Trainers in 2022”

Simply Psychology, Criminology Theories

SpringerLink, “Police Officers Do Not Need More Training; But Different Training. Policing Domestic Violence and Abuse Involving Children: A Rapid Review”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Detectives