Forensic criminologists study crime and criminals, considering both hard sciences such as chemistry, and soft sciences such as psychology, to weigh the questions they confront. Professionals in this field apply their research to criminal law and the criminal justice system. In their study, forensic criminologists frequently extend their work to become involved in specific cases in the criminal justice system.
Forensic criminologists are sociologists who build expertise in a range of categories to study crime. Forensic criminologists differ from forensic scientists, who manage and analyze the physical evidence in crimes. However, forensic criminologists do integrate forensic science into their work. They may approach a crime in a variety of ways to analyze it, including studying the physical evidence and using criminal event analysis and event reconstruction to consider a case. They profile criminals and victims, incorporating behavior as it overlaps with physical evidence.
Both law enforcement and defense counsel may turn to forensic criminologists for support during a criminal investigation. Forensic criminologists can help law enforcement surround a case, considering the many elements integral to the crime in order to try to nail down how and why a crime occurred and who was involved in it. They provide context to investigators that may help them understand the case. A defense attorney may use a forensic criminologist in similar fashion, though with the designed function of seeing how an independent scientific investigation of events may help a client.
In addition to the investigation of criminal cases, forensic criminologists are enlisted to participate in the legal process. In this role, they may provide testimony or submit written reports related to particular aspects of a criminal case. Since forensic criminologists are experts at studying the broad context of a crime, they also can testify during the sentencing process to explain the circumstances in which someone participated in a crime.
Training and Career Field
The career field of forensic criminology has a relatively small population, according to "Criminology Careers Today." Academic programs that focus on the topic are rare, and most opportunities exist within criminology programs, rather than as separate programs of their own discipline. Forensic criminologists typically have a master's or doctorate degree in criminology. They may work for law-enforcement agencies, or they may serve as private consultants who are hired for particular cases. Professionals in the sociology career category, which includes criminologists, earned a median annual wage of $72,360 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2016 Salary Information for Sociologists
Sociologists earned a median annual salary of $79,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, sociologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $57,650, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $108,130, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 3,500 people were employed in the U.S. as sociologists.
Tom Gresham is a freelance writer and public relations specialist who has been writing professionally since 1999. His articles have appeared in "The Washington Post," "Virginia Magazine," "Vermont Magazine," "Adirondack Life" and the "Southern Arts Journal," among other publications. He graduated from the University of Virginia.