By Liz Mellem - May 15th, 2017
Being part of the criminal justice field doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a police officer or detective; you could be a security manager, college professor, law clerk, counselor, or criminologist. Regardless of your specific role in criminal justice, there are certain personality traits that can make you a better fit for the field. Keep reading to see what CSU Global criminal justice faculty member Dr. Olivia Yu cites as the top 5 traits necessary for a career in criminal justice.
If you’re thinking about a career in criminal justice you should first consider if you’ve got the personality for the job. Of course not all jobs are the same, even if your title is similar, but the demands of the criminal justice field require a certain set of personal traits that are necessary for most roles in the field.
No matter your specific role, you’ll be interacting with, and helping, a diverse group of people. To be successful and happy in your job you need these five essential personality traits:
Much of the criminal justice field is rooted in government regulations and laws. Unfortunately, collaborating with governmental agencies can result in a lot of waiting and paperwork.
As a counselor, lawyer, or police officer you may have to wait months for your client to go before a judge. A criminologist can wait years for statistical analysis to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and a security manager can spend much of their time waiting for a crime to take place. Probation officers often wait weeks, or even months, to see a client if they’re unable (or unwilling) to meet.
We’ve all been told to be patient, but if it’s part of your job, you really do need to master this skill. If you’ve got the willpower to keep cool, wait patiently, and work within sometimes slow systems, then criminal justice could be the right career path for you. On the other hand, if you’re a fast mover with high expectations for efficiency and timeliness, you might be happier in the private sector where you can have more control over processes.
As a criminal justice professional you’re on the right side of the law, and that means integrity is crucial for earning respect from your clients and managers. Integrity is defined as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”
When a criminal justice professional does not have the integrity necessary to put personal bias or beliefs aside, their relationship with coworkers, clients, and the community can be compromised. Worse than that, one professional’s lack of integrity can create or advance stereotypes and stigma around the criminal justice industry all together.
It’s necessary for criminal justice professionals to demonstrate integrity at all times in order to be accepted by society. Almost all sectors of the criminal justice field are built on the mission of helping people, oftentimes people who are socially underserved and living in crisis mode. To best help people, criminal justice professionals need to prove their integrity, commitment, and resourcefulness to establish trust.
Police officers and judges must act based on the laws of the land, rather than their personal feelings about someone’s situation. Counselors have to provide clients with a range of choices and resources, regardless of what they believe to be the ‘right’ choice.
Integrity can be a hard quality to master because it demands that you remove yourself from the situation. Having personal bias doesn’t mean you don’t have integrity; we all have biases based on our backgrounds. However, your ability to identify those biases and prevent them from influencing how you help people is the important part.
As said above, criminal justice is largely based on helping people, which requires empathy. Many people mistake empathy for sympathy. To have empathy is to understand and be sensitive to a person’s situation without pitying them, which is sympathy.
Just as you need integrity to overcome personal bias, you need empathy to provide solutions, options, and resources based on the belief that people have the ability to change, improve their situation, and overcome challenges.
Correctional officers should be empathetic to a prisoner’s sadness about being locked away from family, unable to make decisions for themselves, and the loss of their previous life, because that is something we can all agree would be very sad and hard to deal with. A police officer should be empathetic to the cost of a speeding ticket, or the emotional distress of having to remove a child from their parent because we all understand unexpected costs and loss of stability.
Having empathy for these types of criminal justice situations doesn’t mean that you condone or support the choices that led to these unfortunate circumstances, but you can understand how the aftermath can be difficult, frustrating, annoying, and/or challenging. Your ability to separate the person from the crime will allow you to better serve your mission as a criminal justice professional, regardless of the role you fulfill.
This is a big one. Courage is necessary in most professional environments in order to have your voice heard, move up in the organization, become a leader, and assert yourself as a valuable asset. In criminal justice, courage can mean even more.
Police officers, special agents, corrections managers, and security managers risk their lives every day in order to protect. Handling firearms, confronting conflict head-on, being the first responder to critical situations, and dealing with unstable or possibly dangerous people can all be required of criminal justice professionals.
Of course criminal analysts, law clerks, and college professors aren’t facing these same threats on a daily basis, but their roles also require courage. These types of criminal justice professionals are often defending criminals; identifying external factors as influencers; and advocating for populations that may be thought of as dangerous, threatening, or unsavory. This work requires courage as well, so be prepared to stand up for what and who you believe in.
Discernment is basically the sum of all the traits we’ve discussed so far: the ability to judge something. As a criminal justice professional you’ll be required to exhibit discernment on a daily basis in order to take next steps with the best intentions and outcomes as your focus.
Police, corrections, and security personnel working in the field must constantly make quick decisions on how to deal with a situation. Your ability to make the right decision is crucial for conflict resolution, protection, and preventing a situation from escalating. Making the wrong decision can mean life or death.
Office-based criminal justice professionals also need discernment when providing resources to clients, publishing information externally, completing a scientific study, or teaching a concept. Because criminal justice deals with people, the consequences of not having discernment can negatively impact a person’s life or an entire community.
If you have the ability to employ these five personality traits in a well-thought, unbiased, best-intentioned manner, then the criminal justice field may be the one for you. See how a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in criminal justice can give you the skills you need to land the dream job you want. Learn more about enrolling in a criminal justice program, the skills necessary for success, and changes in the field, in our full interview with Dr. Oliva Yu.
Liz lives in Denver, CO and worked as the content marketing specialist for Colorado State University-Global before freelancing full-time. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Kansas in 2007, and her master’s degree in social work from New York University in 2008. Outside of work, Liz enjoys the outdoors, traveling, and spending time with friends.