The value of a criminal justice degree in policing

Maddie Sage, Contributing Writer

I am an undergraduate student in the criminal justice program at the university. Throughout high school, I was able to talk to many of the local police officers about my plans for college. After mentioning a criminal justice degree, they would always say the same thing: “No, you don’t want to study criminal justice. Pick something else.”
It puzzled me each time because these were actual cops telling me that I shouldn’t study criminal justice even though I want to be a cop. The idea was that even though I want to go into law enforcement, I should pick a major that would support me after I get out of the police force, because law enforcement has a retirement age.
This is a problem with policing today. Police are not given sufficient education to be prepared for the situations they may face. The police have been criticized more and more for mistakes that they simply cannot be making.
The defunding of the police movement had several triggers, many of which were the result of police errors. Part of the defunding of the police movement involves spending more resources on community programs in hope that it will decrease the amount of crime, meaning that police, for the most part, will not be necessary. However, this country still needs its police officers, and always will. Students need to prepare for the job they want, not their retirement.
Rather than discourage students from getting a degree in criminal justice, they should be strongly encouraged to at least pick something related to the field. People cannot become surgeons with a degree in business so why should law enforcement recruits be any different? In fact, only eight percent of police departments across the country require their recruits to have obtained a college degree. Not only should a college education be a nationwide requirement, recruits should be required to have obtained a degree related field.
Many officers argue that a criminal justice degree doesn’t prepare individuals for the job and that it’s a waste of time. While a degree may not prepare them for every situation they are going to face, it helps officers build a strong foundation so they are comfortable with the law and police procedure before they even get to the academy.
Furthermore, the education system regarding criminal justice is opening up for change. A prime example of this would be from the Uncommon course at the University of New Haven. In this course, students learn about people with identities that are different from their own, and are taught how to be open to all types of people. The social climate is changing and education must keep up. The police are not only enforcers of the law, but they need to be able to assist members of the community with other things they may ask for. Criminal justice must include more education on serving the community and not just about protecting it. It’s important for students looking to go into law enforcement to be shown the benefits of pursuing a criminal justice degree, aligning with current societal values.
Another issue in law enforcement careers is the influx of students obsessed with true crime. The increase of true crime television, and even crime shows in general, may have caused a spike in the amount of students who are pursuing a career in criminal justice and forensic psychology. This spike may cause some students to worry about their success within a flooded job market. As someone who once experienced that same concern, I would encourage students to focus on their education and not preoccupy themselves with the competition.
Although true crime in the media is based on facts and real events, the professions within those shows, documentaries and podcasts are rarely represented accurately. Certain aspects of what is in the media are correct, but others parts are dramatized or exaggerated to keep people interested. This is called the CSI effect. Students who are pursuing a degree based on their interest in true crime shows will often learn that the job they see on TV is not the job that they will actually be doing. To start, there will be a major increase in the amount of people pursuing a career in criminal justice or forensic psychology. As students learn the realities of the career, they may decide that it’s not the job for them, causing them to switch to other fields––and that’s OK.
The field of criminal justice is vast and there are many options to pursue. You just have to do the research to understand the reality of whichever career you are looking at and make sure you are getting the education that will benefit you the most.