Careers in criminal justice are not only exciting and rewarding, they are also lucrative. These trained professionals play an important role in protecting and serving the public, but also earn a great salary. Police departments, sheriffs, and correctional facilities around the country are always on the lookout for trained, skilled, and dedicated workers prepared to serve the public.

If you have been wondering how to become a police officer or how to become a correctional officer, read on to find out what these different careers entail, the duties and responsibilities for each, what the job market is like nationally and in Florida, and how to become a criminal justice professional. Each of these careers is similar, yet different. To make the best choice for your career, you need to know more about your options.


The National Outlook for Criminal Justice Careers


Criminal justice careers range from police desk jobs to forensic laboratory work to personal security. Two of the biggest jobs available in this field are for police officers, who patrol our cities and towns, and correctional officers who maintain order and help run prisons and jails. In general, these protective service jobs are growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the industry will grow by about four percent between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reports that the median annual salary for these professions together was $38,660 in 2016, a figure that is higher than the national average for all types of careers.


Police Officers

Among all criminal justice careers, police officers command some of the higher salaries. While the requirements for being hired vary by department and state, police officers generally need to have more education and training than some other careers in criminal justice, like correctional officers or security guards. Police officers are expected to be more highly skilled, to be able to act independently and make quick decisions, and to be able to work in stressful, dangerous, and physically demanding situations.

The median salary for police officers across the country in 2016 was $61,600, but officers earning the most commanded a salary of more than $102,750. The market growth for police officers is four percent, with more than 33,000 new jobs expected to be added by 2024. Police officers also have room for growth, with the potential to become sergeants, captains, detectives, and investigators.


Correctional Officers

While police officers patrol the streets and investigate crimes, correctional officers patrol prisons, jails, and courtrooms. They enforce rules and keep order in courts and jails; they supervise activities for prisoners; they keep visitors safe and inspect facilities; correctional officers also have the rewarding job of helping to rehabilitate and counsel inmates.

As with police officers, there is expected to be growth for correctional officers with nearly 18,000 new jobs available by 2024. The median salary in 2016 was $42,820 with the top ten percent of earners in corrections making more than $74,000 per year.


Criminal Justice Careers are Hot in Florida


Careers in criminal justice are growing nationwide, but Florida has some of the highest employment levels for both police officers and correctional officers. Florida has the fourth-highest employment level for police officers out of the 50 states, with nearly 40,000. The mean annual salary in the state for police officers is $57,160. Northeast and South Florida have some of the highest employment levels in the nation for police officers.

Florida is also fourth-highest in the country for correctional officer employment levels. There are nearly 33,000 correctional officers employed in the state currently, earning a mean salary of $42,360. Northeast Florida has particularly high employment levels for corrections. For both police and correctional officers in Florida, those employed by state and local governments earn the most.


What it Takes to Work in Criminal Justice


Careers in criminal justice are not for everyone. It takes a certain type of personality and specific skills to be able to perform well in these demanding jobs. Officers are dedicated people willing to put their own safety on the line to protect others. They have to make quick decisions under pressure. If you have an interest in criminal justice, you are starting in the right place, but be sure you are prepared for what these careers demand.


Skills Needed to Be a Police Officer

Police officers patrol neighborhoods and cities, enforce laws, respond to emergencies, make arrests, conduct traffic stops, write reports, testify in court, and collect and analyze evidence. To thrive as a police officer you must have certain skills and be:


  • Physically fit.
  • Ethical with good judgement.
  • A good problem solver.
  • A good team member.
  • Able to work with community members.
  • A good leader
  • Calm under pressure.


Skills Needed to Be a Correctional Officer

Working as a correctional officer is similar to police work, but there are some crucial differences. Like police officers, they enforce rules and protect people. They also must establish relationships with inmates, treat them with respect, yet be firm and maintain order, work with inmates to help rehabilitate them, counsel them, and lead them in activities. Correctional officers also make reports and maintain records on inmate conduct and any infractions. To be a correctional officer, you must be:


  • In good physical condition.
  • Fair but firm.
  • Able to establish a rapport with inmates.
  • Able to communicate with inmates and other officers.
  • Alert and prepared to act.


How to Become a Police Officer or Correctional Officer in Florida


The requirements for becoming a police officer vary widely by both state and department. Every police and sheriff’s department has its own requirements and prerequisites for being hired. In Florida, the Department of Law Enforcement sets minimum standards for both police and correctional officers. Each individual department may then set additional standards. In Florida, officers must:


  • Be at least 19 years old and a U.S. citizen.
  • Have at least a high school diploma or GED.
  • Be free of any felony convictions or dishonorable military discharges.
  • Pass the Basic Abilities Test.
  • Complete the Florida Basic Recruit Training Program.
  • Pass a background check.
  • Pass a physical examination.


It is important to remember that these are the minimum requirements. Many departments throughout the state and in other states require more skills and training. It is not unusual for departments to require that applicants have some type of post-high school degree. For example, in Florida, the Miami Beach Police Department recently added the requirement that new applicants have a college degree. A college degree is less typically required for correctional officers, although may be necessary for those interested in advancing into the position of a probation officer.


Other Careers in Criminal Justice


Police officers and correctional officers make up a big part of the criminal justice field, and it’s likely you’ll choose one of these career paths. You should know, however, that there are some other options in criminal justice. Private security is an important part of keeping people safe and there are many opportunities to work for companies and individuals in this capacity. Private investigators do detective work, but are not official officers. They may be hired by companies or individuals to collect information. They often work for themselves, so this is a great choice for motivated workers with an entrepreneurial spirit.


Schools for Criminal Justice


While not all departments or states will require that you have a degree or any type of post-secondary education to be hired, many do. In order to have the best and greatest number of career options, getting a degree makes sense. A degree will also give you an advantage over other candidates and will give you the skills and knowledge you need to succeed once you do get a position with a correctional facility or police department.

One of your choices for  schools in Florida for criminal justice is City College. The program awards students an associate’s degree in criminal justice and takes just 18 months or less to complete. The instructors are actual experts in police, corrections, and other areas of criminal justice, and they have real-world experience to bring to the classroom. Students in the program learn about the psychology of the criminal mind, criminal law and procedures, domestic violence, corrections systems, ethics, analysis of crime scenes and evidence collection, computer crimes, and much more.

In learning how to become a police officer or how to become a correctional officer, there is a lot to know. Schools like City College can prepare you for a career in criminal justice by giving you the knowledge and skills that will put you ahead and give you the basic requirements needed to be hired. As you are about to embark on this exciting and rewarding career, weigh your options carefully and decide which kind of officer you really want to be.