What are the Key Areas of Study in a Criminal Justice Degree Program?

Many students going to college in order to become part of law enforcement find programs that seem to fit what they need to learn but still wonder, what are the key areas of study in a criminal justice degree program? The question is valid, considering that this is one of the most underemployed college majors in the country. Students, however, can use this degree, provided they find a school that utilizes the key areas below as part of the overall program.

Resource: 50 Best Value Colleges for a Criminal Justice Degree

Chain of Evidence

Chain of evidence is a key area all of its own in law enforcement; the procedures needed in order to keep evidence clean of tampering are important because corrupted evidence is not admissible in court. Students will learn the various procedures needed based on the type of evidence as well as what happens when the chain of evidence is broken and how that could affect a criminal investigation.

Law and Due Process

Law and due process is a key area of study that introduces students to the way the law enforcement, as well as the court, systems work in America. It delivers the necessary information of how to secure a crime scene, interview suspects and witnesses, the arrest procedure for an individual, and how law enforcement works within the court system.

Use of Proper Force

Law enforcement is a dangerous occupation, so the use of proper force continues to be one of the top key areas for students. From learning what proper force entails to differentiating between proper force and lethal force, students learn the limitations put on them by the government when pursuing suspects, maintaining a scene of a crime or terroristic attack, or when involved in situations that turn violent in an instant. This area also emphasizes the laws that protect and don't protect officers as well as what could be considered a crime in the eyes of the law.

Media Relations

Media relations plays a larger role in law enforcement today than before; social media and the growing exposure of law enforcement and its practices at all levels of government means that all officers must be trained in media relations. This is a key area of study in college because knowing how to speak not just to witnesses, but also the media can foster good relations between law enforcement and the community they serve. Courses in this area focus on interpersonal and communication skills, writing skills, and on-camera media practices.

Investigative Principles

One of the largest parts of law enforcement is the investigation itself after a crime; this includes the collecting the evidence, analyzing the scene, talking to witnesses, and finding as well as interviewing the suspect. It also includes research after the fact, such as finding out if a perpetrator has a history with law enforcement and any ties they may have to the victim or crime. Because the bulk of law enforcement work is done in the field, investigative principles are a key area of study at the university level. Following the right protocols for evidence and witnesses allows law enforcement to build a strong case, while minimizing protocol puts the prosecution at risk for a mistrial or an acquittal.

Law enforcement, from the state level to the federal level, need professionals who understand how the system works and who will do the work necessary in order to protect the public. Students who wonder what are the key areas of study in a criminal justice degree program can benefit from learning what those key areas are in order to ensure the program they select meets those needs.