These two degree programs have some courses in common as they both endeavor to teach students about crime scene investigation techniques. However, the criminal investigation degree may also include courses on law enforcement techniques and criminal interrogations. A crime scene investigations program typically focuses on the science of analyzing the crime scene itself and may be more laboratory-based.
Criminal investigation degrees are generally two-year programs consisting of 60 credit hours focusing on the fundamentals of proper evidence handling, law enforcement techniques, and interrogation. This degree can help graduates qualify for a position as a law enforcement officer or criminal investigator. There are many options for earning such a degree through on-campus and online criminal investigation programs. While a degree may not be necessary for entry-level positions, advanced training may help with career advancement. According to O*NET OnLine, criminal investigators and special agents make a median salary of $79,970 and should see 5 to 9% jobs growth through 2026.1
CJDS Fact: Employers of criminal investigators include private firms, local police agencies, and federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Criminal Investigation Training and Courses
Formal criminal investigation training includes learning how to collect and record evidence and establish crime scenes, important aspects of work for most law enforcement officers. Students earning criminal investigations degrees also learn about methods of analyzing evidence in the field of forensic science.
Many departments appreciate at least 60 credit hours of college credit (which is the equivalent of an associate’s degree) for entry-level law enforcement positions and therefore a criminal investigations degree can be a good choice for students who want a career in law enforcement or police work. Keeping in mind that entry-level applicants for law enforcement jobs still face a four-to-six-month period of training at an academy, taking coursework in criminal investigations can give you an advantage over other recruits. According to O*NET OnLine, 40% of criminal investigators and special agents currently in the field recommend new applicants to have either a post-graduate certificate or some college education.1
Common courses in a criminal investigator program include:
- Introduction to Law Enforcement
- Forensic Psychology
- Interview & Interrogation
- Juvenile Delinquency
- Criminal Evidence
- Forensic Techniques
- Cyber Crime
- Security Operations
- Homeland Security
- Police Administration
- Leadership in Criminal Justice
Traditional Criminal Investigator Degree Programs
The Fox Valley Technical College certificate program in Criminal Investigations introduces students to various aspects of investigation, including crime scene analysis, interviewing, and computer crime investigations. The program comprises 16 credits and can be completed in one year. Courses include Interview & Interrogation, Basic Crime Scene Photography, and Investigating Internet Crime. Qualifying credits from previous study can be transferred towards the certificate program and the certificate credits can be used towards another associate’s or bachelor’s degree program at many of the college’s affiliates. Further study is available through the university’s associate’s degree in criminal justice, associate’s degree in forensic science, or technical degree in law enforcement. Students benefit from the National Criminal Justice Training Center, which provides additional training opportunities and professional development to law enforcement professionals in all areas.
Saint Peter’s University offers a Bachelor of Arts with several concentrations that may appeal to individuals interested in a career in criminal investigations: Corrections, Police Administration, and Investigative Sciences. All program tracks require students to complete 48 credit hours of criminal justice-related courses, including core courses such as criminology, criminal procedure, and criminal evidence. In the Corrections concentration, students study psychology and criminal behavior and prepare for employment in correctional facilities or law enforcement. In the Police Administration concentration, the courses focus on various aspects of law enforcement training. The Investigative Sciences concentration prepares majors for work opportunities in crime analysis and leadership. All students complete an internship as part of the degree that allows them to connect classroom learning to practical environments. Saint Peter’s University is a Jesuit institution and many spiritual and community-oriented resources are available to students.
Online Criminal Investigations Degree Programs
At Bellevue University, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Investigations degree online or on-campus. This program is designed for students interested in working as law enforcement officers specializing in crime scene investigations. Students learn how to collect, secure, and preserve physical evidence at crime scenes and become familiar with methods of investigation and forensic psychology. Students also learn a range of investigative skills that are applicable in the public and private security sectors. The bachelor’s degree in investigations at Bellevue requires 127 credit hours in total, with 40 of these credit hours focused on the major. The investigations curriculum explores topics such as types of public and private criminal investigations, law enforcement, the legal system, and the courts, as well as ethics and professional responsibility. In addition to academic classwork, students learn real-life skills through case studies, simulation exercises, and hands-on illustrations.
Eastern Kentucky University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Corrections and Juvenile Justice that prepares students to work in many different law enforcement settings. Students are required to complete 120 credit hours of core courses, electives, and general education. Courses are offered in an accelerated eight-week format with new courses starting every six weeks during the year. Completing the degree program typically takes four years with full-time study. The faculty have extensive experience in different areas of law enforcement and criminal justice practice and graduates have found employment in various correctional institutions in Kentucky. The university also offers two undergraduate certificate programs in Correctional Intervention Strategies and Youth Services. These programs only require 24 credit hours and offer an introduction to specific areas of criminal investigation and analysis.
Criminal Investigations Job Description
Positions for criminal investigation degree holders are available at nearly every level of government. Many graduates find employment in local and regional law enforcement or crime scene investigation. Common job tasks for law enforcement professionals include locating and apprehending criminals, interrogating suspects, and securing crime scenes. Individuals who pursue crime scene investigation careers may be involved in locating and securing crime scenes, identifying suspects, and analyzing evidence. Some private laboratories also need help analyzing fluid samples or other evidence-related tasks that criminal investigations students will be prepared to undertake.
A degree in criminal investigations may help graduates get started in criminal justice careers such as:
- ATF Agent
- Arson & Fire Investigator
- Criminal Investigator
- DEA Agent
- Gang Investigator
- Homicide Detective
- Police Officer
- Private Investigator
Criminal Investigations Professional Certification
There is no required professional certification for criminal investigation graduates as individuals may choose different career paths after graduation. Graduates may wish to review relevant voluntary professional certifications offered by organizations such as ASIS International. Many state law enforcement training entities also offer specialized certifications in criminal investigation for sworn law enforcement officers, such as the North Carolina Justice Academy.
Criminal Investigations Salary and Job Outlook
Pay varies depending on the career path you choose, your education and experience level, and the agency for which you work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an annual median wage of $79,970 for detectives and criminal investigators in 2017.2 During the same time period, police patrol officers (including those working in investigations) earned a median salary of $61,050, while first-line supervisors of police and detectives earned a median of $87,910.3,43,4
- Crime Scene Investigation: A Guide for Law Enforcement: An in-depth resource on crime scene investigation for law enforcement professionals created by the FBI.
- International Crime Scene Investigators Association: An online community for crime scene investigators offering courses and a discussion forum.
- Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction: A professional association for law enforcement officials, crime scene investigators, and detectives interested in complex crime scene reconstruction techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a criminal investigations degree and a crime scene investigations degree?
Can I earn a criminal investigations degree online?
Yes. There are many criminal investigations programs at the associate’s and bachelor’s levels that can be completed either completely online or in a hybrid format. Several online master’s degrees in criminal investigations are also available.
1. O*NET OnLine: Criminal Investigators and Special Agents: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Detectives and Criminal Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
3. O*NET OnLine: Police Patrol Officers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3051.01
4. O*NET OnLine: First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-1012.00
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