by AMBER KELLY Photographer
At the end of students’ high school careers, they are always asked what job they want when they graduate college. While many do not know the answer to that question, a lucky few do, and some of those lucky ones choose to pursue a career in criminal justice. When people choose criminal justice as their major, there are many fields available for them to get involved in.
A lot of students who are studying criminal justice want to become police officers after they graduate. In order to become a police officer, candidates most likely need a high school degree, some collegiate criminal justice knowledge, and a completed police academy program under their belt. Applicants for a police officer position will need to be tested not only intellectually, but also physically, medically, and psychologically.
Positions in local police units, as well as federal ones, fill up fast, and it can be very competitive. It is especially difficult for those who have just graduated from college, as veterans who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan get priority when it comes to jobs like these.
Being a police officer is not how it is depicted on television. The most realistic show is “Cops,” and that is arguably the least exciting and adrenaline fueled cop show on cable. Many officers go their whole career without getting shot at, while on many of these television shows, the actors are getting shot at every other day.
The amount of action a police officer experiences depends largely on the location. A Monroe Township police officer is not going to experience the same number of violent crimes as a police officer in Camden or Trenton.
“One of the hardest parts of this job is having to tell families that a loved one has died. Whether it’s from a car accident or some other unfortunate event, informing someone that a person has died is difficult. Their reaction is always hard to deal with, and, as a cop, you always have to be professional. It’s hard to be professional when an innocent person has died,” says Manalapan police officer Robert Kelly.
A lot of police work is paperwork and databases. Whenever there is an arrest, paperwork has to be filled out, and the perpetrators’ information has to be put into criminal databases.
As a cop, there are strict instructions and regulations that must be met. One mistake in a case and a suspect can be acquitted in court. Even the smallest deviation from regulations can lead to crime scene contamination, and all that work done to catch the suspect is put to waste.
One of the most famous cases where this happened was the O.J. Simpson case, where police officers were sloppy and did not do what they were supposed to. Because of this, O.J. Simpson’s lawyer was able to argue evidence contamination. While it is not certain that these mistakes were the irrevocable cause of Simpson’s acquittal, many continue to criticize the officers for their mediocre police work.
One bad case can negatively affect a cop’s reputation for the rest of his or her career. Police officers are forced into high stress situations and, if they break under the pressure, then a guilty person can walk free.
A police officer position is not the only thing a a graduate with a criminal justice degree can pursue. Steven Fawzy, a Rutgers Newark senior, is studying criminal justice, and after graduation, hopes to get involved with the Marshals.
The Marshals is the oldest American federal law enforcement office, as it was formed in 1789. In order to get involved with such a prestigious government agency, it is practically a requirement to intern with them.
Fawzy, since he is interested in becoming involved in the Marshals, applied for the Washington Center Program and was accepted into it.
“I interned with the internal affairs division of the Marshals; they audit and keep track of all the workers, they also make sure that there is no corruption. While involved with this division, I saw that there is a lot of abuse of the badge by officers. As an intern, I was able to see court cases play out. I sat in on a lot of celebrities’ cases, where they were being charged with tax evasion. I was able to sit in on Teresa Giudice’s case. There was a lot of media surrounding the court house, it was crazy. While I was really busy during the internship, I loved it and it will help me get a permanent position with the Marshals after I graduate,” says Fawzy.
Internships are very important for college students, especially if they want to get involved with criminal justice on a federal level. The competition is tough; therefore, internships can greatly help in the process of getting a job.
When interning, Fawzy often worked with those in the courthouses. Each courthouse is assigned a warrant squad, which is another position a college graduate can pursue with a criminal justice degree. These warrant squads, according to Fawzy, are like “bounty hunters.” When a warrant comes in, the people in the warrant squad throw on their bullet proof vests, run down the stairs, and get into the trucks, ready to go find whoever the warrant tells them to find.
For the warrant squad, the most dangerous suspects are made first priority. When the warrant squad is not out searching for someone, they are generally doing intelligence work. They usually search DMV records to see if there is one name with multiple addresses.
Once they do arrest someone with a warrant, all their information, including things like height and weight, are put into a database to show that a suspect has been apprehended.
“The warrant squad sounds pretty cool. Being a local police officer, especially in the suburbs, seems kind of boring. While I do not want to get involved in criminal justice, the warrant squad definitely sounds like the most interesting thing. It seems like there is always stuff going on in the courts,” says senior Kimberly Cangelosi.
The schooling in order to become a local police officer or to get involved in a federal branch of a government agency is not as easy as people once believed. It takes a lot of hard work and even more patience.
Knowing everything you do now, would you want to get involved in the field department of criminal justice?