You won't just go to crime scenes, take in autopsies and question potential suspects -- that's the romance part of the job. The nuts and bolts are research and statistics. If you love filling in the big picture with details, criminology may be your sociological and psychological jigsaw puzzle. The tools of the trade are an inquisitive, patient mind, excellent logic and writing skills and a good command of how to use statistics to predict behavior patterns and glean workable psych profiles for law enforcement use.
Uniform Crime Reports
Criminologists peruse mounds of statistics using Uniform Crime Reports, UCRs, to glean insight into possible deviant behavior in regard to a particular crime. UCRs track reported criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson on a monthly basis. Over 93 percent of law enforcement agencies contribute to this report, making it a demographic tool crucial to the criminologist.
Quantitative and Qualitative Tools
Keen psychological insight into sociological patterns, combined with statistician abilities, give criminologists their unique outlooks on criminal behavior. Quantitative methods give those insights a framework so that the criminologist can build qualitative methods into the mix to provide a social profile of a suspect or demographic group that will aid law enforcement personnel. These two methodologies ensure that the criminologist's reports are both empirical and subjective in nature. While the UCR is highly quantitative, the U.S. Census demographic information is both quantitative and qualitative. Taking the crime scene information into account and fitting it into the framework of the statistics is qualitative.
Using statistical and demographical data allows criminologists to piece together information about what potential suspects might think and do. "Social profiling" is controversial, but has been used since the early 1970s to help law enforcement get a handle on what kind of person might commit a type of crime. The criminologist uses behavioral science to create a profile of where a suspect might be from, mindset and motivations. Law enforcement uses that profile to help to solve and prevent crime, making it an invaluable criminology tool.
Criminology is an umbrella term for the many types of jobs a criminologist might hold. They may be police officers, federal agents or college professors. Starting salaries might be under $30,000. Experienced federal criminologists can expect around $60,000 annually. Most states run background, security and criminal history checks and ask that you pass a state licensing exam before starting work. Turnover isn't high, despite the lower wages, as the field is exciting for people with an inquisitive mind and a passion for community service.
- The Disaster Center: United States Uniform Crime Reports 1960 to 2011
- The Princeton Review: Career: Criminologist
- The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology: Quantitative versus Qualitative Methods: Understanding Why Quantitative Methods are Predominant in Criminology and Criminal Justice
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Behavioral Science
- Northern Michigan University: Criminologist
Cheryl Hosmer teaches online courses in writing and community journalism. She has written for various newspapers since 1983. She teamed up with author Marshall Terrill in 2001 as an editor of celebrity biographies. Hosmer holds a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies from Madonna University. Her educational emphasis was poverty studies and journalism.